AGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 6 — The American military, in a major revision of strategy, has decided to limit the scope of its raids in Iraq after receiving warnings from Iraqi leaders that the raids were alienating the public, the top allied commander said today.
In its search for Baath Party operatives and other friends of the former government, the American military has carried out large sweeps, some of which have rounded up hundreds of Iraqis.
But Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the chief commander of allied forces in Iraq, said in an interview that the military had virtually exhausted the gains from this approach and that continuing it could be counterproductive.
"It was a fact that I started to get multiple indicators that maybe our iron-fisted approach to the conduct of ops was beginning to alienate Iraqis," General Sanchez said, referring to military operations. "I started to get those sensings from multiple sources, all the way from the Governing Council down to average people."
The change in approach comes at an important juncture for the American-led coalition, which is striving to maintain the support of an Iraqi public that has had to struggle with erratic power supplies, high unemployment and rampant crime and which, despite the disorder, has not always been reassured by the presence of American troops.
American forces have mounted major operations, like one in mid-July that sought to break up a possible insurgent offensive. That operation involved 143 raids across Iraq. General Sanchez said last month that almost 700 loyalists of the old government and criminals were detained and that 64 of these proved to be "high-value targets."
But Iraqis have complained that during these raids too many of those rounded up by American troops were not Baath Party operatives but ordinary citizens. They say the American tactics have been too aggressive and not sensitive enough to Iraqi culture and traditions.
American commanders said they decided to revise their approach after concluding that the number of attacks against American forces had subsided somewhat and that Iraqis were providing more intelligence, a development that American officers say will enable them to take more of a "precision approach" in planning their operations to capture or kill Saddam Hussein and former ranking officials from his government.
But the new American approach also reflects a recognition that widespread raids could unintentionally be creating a reservoir of support for the insurgents or even spurring revenge attacks by ordinary citizens.
General Sanchez said: "After we declared an end to major operations we quickly realized that there was a noncompliant element out there that was very willing to conduct ops against us to kill us and therefore we had to go out there and do these big sweeps.
"Unquestionably, I think, we created in this culture some Iraqis that then had to act because of their value systems against us in terms of revenge, possibly because there were casualties on their side and also because of the impact on their dignity and respect," he said.
The general added that Iraqi leaders who supported the allies had indicated they understood the goal of the American raids, but that some had expressed concern over their effects on the Iraqi population.
Their message, he said, has been that "when you take a father in front of his family and put a bag over his head and put him on the ground, you have had a significant adverse effect on his dignity and respect in the eyes of his family."
General Sanchez said the message from the Iraqis was that in doing this, you create more enemies than you capture.
In the interview, General Sanchez revealed other steps that he was taking to try to improve security. To reduce the risk to allied planes, the allies are beginning a new program to buy shoulder-fired surface-to air missiles from Iraqis. The Americans are offering $500 a missile but have yet to buy any. The missile threat has prevented the allies from reopening the Baghdad airport.
But developing a new approach that eschews large sweeps and relies more on cooperation with Iraqi tribal leaders, clerics and politicians is central to the new strategy.
The American military deployment has gone through several phases. Initially, the Americans were welcomed by many Iraqis. The biggest threat to order seemed to be looting and crime, including robberies by some of the tens of thousands of prisoners that Mr. Hussein freed last year.
But organized attacks began to increase in June. There are about 9,000 former Iraqi military officials who are barred from serving in the new Iraqi military or taking other government jobs because they were senior Baath Party officials. Nobody knows for sure how many are fighting the Americans, but the resistance is believed to number in the thousands. After the upsurge in attacks, American forces mounted a series of big raids.
In recent weeks, the average number of attacks against allied troops has gone down. One senior military aide said that the number of attacks currently averaged about a dozen a day or even a bit less — about the same number that occurred during the middle of June and half the number that allied forces faced in early July, when enemy attacks were on the rise and allied commanders were worried about keeping open the supply lines from Kuwait.
With the attacks on American forces seemingly declining, United States officials think the time is right to change their approach as they try to increase the number of Iraqi police and develop a parallel Iraqi internal security force.
Under the new approach, American forces might withdraw from towns that are quiet and leave the policing to the Iraqis. When a raid is conducted, American troops will be encouraged to carry out a "cordon and knock" procedure in which a home is surrounded and the troops seek permission to enter accompanied by an Iraqi representative, instead of breaking down the door.
When the Americans want to search mosques they will first send in Iraqis working with them. But American troops will not shrink from mounting raids in the locations of their foes that can be pinpointed.
This amounts to a type of approach used by the 101st Airborne Division in its administration of the northern city of Mosul, and by the British in their administration of the southern city of Basra. The tougher approach has generally been used in the troubled Sunni areas in central Iraq and around Baghdad.
"Instead of finding whole areas and taking them down there will be more precision," a senior allied officer said. "You will see more information operations and more dialogue with tribal leaders and clerics."
The need for change in the Baghdad area was advocated by Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the new commander of the First Armored Division, which is deployed in the Iraqi capital. He recently sent General Sanchez a memo in which he recommended that his division focus less on maintaining a constant presence in the capital and more on gathering the intelligence for planning and executing raids.
"During the initial 90 days of our mission, it was important to establish a widely recognized presence in Baghdad in order to restore civil order," General Dempsey noted in his July 30 memo. "We are now at a transition point. I define that transition point as moving from presence as a goal to precision as a goal."
General Sanchez made a similar point about operations not just in Baghdad but in all of Iraq.
"We are in fact at a critical point," General Sanchez said. "The need for us to preserve the support of the Iraqi people that are lined up behind the coalition right now is important."
To do that, he said, it is important to minimize the adverse effects of American military raids on the average Iraqi citizen.