View Full Version : Iraq: Now the borders....

04-13-03, 02:56 PM


U.S. Forces Guard Against New Fighters

Associated Press Writer

NASIRIYAH, Iraq, (AP) -- As the U.S. military races to close pockets of resistance in Iraq and quell civil disorder, the Americans are also on guard against potentially threatening groups from outside that may slip over unwatched borders.

Intelligence officer Maj. Beau Higgins, with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the southern city of Nasiriyah, said the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime has left Iraq with no border controls.

That raises concern that anti-Saddam exile groups - some of which are also anti-American - could slip into Iraq.

"Now the time is right (for them)," said Higgins. "They may be here to stir up the Shiites against the U.S."

Many Shiite Muslims resent the United States for encouraging a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991 after the end of the Gulf War, then failing to support the rebellion, which was brutally crushed by Saddam.

Higgins said one group of particular concern was the Iran-based Badr Corps, a guerrilla group that has been active since the start of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. The group is the military wing of the largest Iraqi opposition group, the Shiite Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Council leader Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim has said for years that the group had spread guerrillas throughout Iraq in anticipation of a revolution. His spokesman Haj Abu Zeid said last week that the group has told its fighters not to confront U.S.-led forces, but he reiterated his group's rejection of a U.S. administration in Iraq.

"There is a lot of representation ... by Iran-based types," said Higgins, although he said he has no evidence of any moves by the Badr Corps.

The worries about new security threats come as order appeared to be slowly taking hold in the Nasiriyah region of southern Iraq.

Although some parts of town still lack power and water, foot and vehicle traffic has picked up, and Marines on Sunday eased strict controls and searches at one crossroads to allow traffic to flow more easily.

Capt. Pete McAleer, commander of the 15th MEU's Echo company, said their primary task has switched from battlefield duties to humanitarian efforts, such as providing food and water and rebuilding infrastructure damaged by war.

Higgins said "the people want their town back. ... hopefully, the inroads that we make here will make inroads with the population."

Local residents routinely approach Marines to lead them to caches of Iraqi weapons, which can often be seen being destroyed in huge explosions at night.

"There are more weapons than there are trucks to haul them away," said Higgins.

He said locals were also trying to show Marines - who found a torture chamber last week - other sites, including what many residents said was an underground prison used by the regime.

Sporadic shooting can still be heard, but Higgins said it is believed to be between local residents settling old scores or protecting their property. "Most of the gunfire now is not directed at us," he said.