Spreading unrest in Iraq is making some in Washington wonder if armed opposition to US and British forces there is more organized and pervasive than previously believed.
US defense officials say they have no evidence that they are facing an underground national Iraqi resistance movement. The recent spate of fatal attacks on allied troops simply reflects the fact that security in the country is "a little uneven," in the words of Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Coordination of these attacks is "undetermined," he says.
But violence in the previously quiet south, combined with apparent sabotage of oil equipment, leads other analysts to suspect that small networks of hardened fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein are beginning to reconstitute themselves. The next few weeks thus might be a crucial time in the US-led effort to rid the country of all vestiges of the Hussein regime.
These small groups "have been doing a halfway decent job of slowing down the US effort to stabilize the country," says Patrick Garrett, a military analyst at GlobalSecurity.org.
If nothing else, the pockets of violent resistance to the US and British presence have been inflicting a steady toll of casualties.
Since President Bush declared on May 1 that major fighting in Iraq was over, 56 American troops have been killed.
By way of contrast, in the war that preceded Mr. Bush's statement, there were 102 US combat fatalities.
In the latest troubling incident, six British soldiers were killed on Tuesday while training police in southern Iraq. Eight other British troops were wounded.
At time of writing, the circumstances of these attacks - the worst suffered by the British since the end of the war - were still unclear. Witnesses told reporters that local residents had become incensed as British forces aggressively searched their homes for guns.
Meanwhile, in recent days much of Baghdad has gone without electricity or water. The cause of this hardship? Sabotage by die-hard believers of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party, said L. Paul Bremer, US administrator in Iraq, in a news conference on Wednesday.
"Almost certainly the saboteurs are rogue Baathist elements," said Mr. Bremer. "They are trying to hinder the coalition efforts to make life better for the average Iraqi person."
Many different elements that benefited from Hussein's rule pose a threat to coalition forces, notes one defense official who studies the situation. These include former military members, some religious leaders, terrorists, and outright criminals.
More than half of the attacks against coalition forces have come when they have gone out looking for such people, notes this source.
"They are sticking their hand in the hornet's next and getting stung," he says. "That comes with the territory while you do your job."
Some aspects of recent attacks have been troublesome. The British had previously thought southern Iraq to be so safe that some patrols were carried out on bicycles, for instance. The sheer number of attacks, and their grouping, suggests that there might be some amount of coordination.
But there seems to be little command-and-control within each attack. They seem almost random. With the exception of Tuesday's attack on British troops, each one by itself inflicts little damage.
Those carrying out the attacks are just opportunists who need money, says Waria Nameek, Washington-based director of a group of formerly exiled anti-Hussein Iraqis.
The Baath Party provides the money, and the guns. "It's not that organized," he says.