A senior Iraqi official said yesterday there was no truth in claims by the Pentagon that Saddam Hussein and Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of his aides, were orchestrating anti-US resistance in Iraq.
In an interview with The Independent, the official - a veteran opposition leader to the former Iraqi regime now working for the Governing Council, who did not want his name published - believed the organisers of the resistance came from "the middle levels of the Baath party". He said: "Saddam Hussein is not able to communicate effectively because he is in hiding, so he could not organise a guerrilla campaign."
In response to criticism that the US military has no idea who had carried out the attack on al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad last week and other assaults on US troops, high-level US officials said Saddam was playing a role in the resistance.
US officials also claimed that Izzat Ibrahim, former chairman of the Revolution Command Council, was co-ord- inating links between the resistance and al-Qa'ida. However, the Iraqi official said: "Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is old and sick, and not capable of co-ordinating anything. He was almost captured twice in Mosul because he needs to have dialysis regularly. In any case, he was never that important under Saddam Hussein."
Izzat Ibrahim is known to be suffering from leukaemia.
The US administration is increasingly embarrassed about its lack of useful intelligence about who is attacking US troops despite having occupied the country for seven months. It is considering re- allocating personnel, employed in vainly hunting for weapons of mass destruction, in a more general intelligence role.
The Iraqi official said the real organisers of resistance came from middle ranks of the Baath party, as well the Mukhabarat, the intelligence arm of the old regime. He believed the rocket attack on al-Rashid "has all the hallmarks of a Mukhabarat operation. It was obviously going to be a target".
The US decision to disband the 400,000-strong Iraqi army, intelligence and security services and the policy of "de-Baathification" is seen by many Iraqis as counter-productive. It has forced former Baathists together in opposition to the US-led occupation.
There is little guerrilla activity in Baghdad, aside from the suicide bombings, or in Shia districts, but resistance is growing by the day in Sunni Arab parts of Iraq. The Governing Council, its 25 members appointed by the US, has been demanding an increased role in security from the Coalition Provisional Authority. It claims it can obtain far better intelligence than US forces or its local allies. The US has been seeking to build up the police, army and other security forces as an adjunct to its own 130,000-strong army in Iraq.
The shooting down of a US Chinook helicopter on Sunday, killing 16 US servicemen and wounding 20 others, has underlined, once again, that guerrilla attacks are becoming more, not less, effective. Since President Bush declared major combat had finished on 1 May, some 139 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq.
US soldiers continued to seal off the crash site in the village of Buisa on the outskirts of the town of Fallujah yesterday.
A crane was at work lifting pieces of wreckage on to a lorry. Guerrillas in Fallujah, and the string of towns stretching west along the highway to Jordan, not only appear increasingly well organised but enjoy strong local support.
The only piece of good news for the coalition in the past few days is that Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shia leader who had formerly denounced the occupation, now says the coalition forces are "guests" in Iraq. He said the main enemy were supporters of Saddam's regime.