DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources, reporting on the view from Baghdad, say Saddam Hussein has picked late March, or the first week of April, as the timeframe for the US military operation to topple him. In conversations with close associates, he refers to a piece of intelligence that fixes the date on the closing day of the Arab League summit in Beirut – March 28 or 29.
Senior Iraqi officials passed these suppositions on to Arab leaders during their rounds of Arab capitals this week. Realizing it was too late to try and avert the US offensive, Saddam sent his emissaries on a mission of exploration, to find out what his fellow Arab governments were prepared to do to help him stand up to the US attack.
Those emissaries told Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Syrian president Bashar Assad that the Iraqi estimate of the offensive’s date was based on deductions from the tracks left by the small US special forces contingents already inside Iraq. The first contingent went into the north on February 15; the second group entered southern Iraq on March 8.
Iraqi sources believe the second group came from Camp Doha in next-door Kuwait in two sections that split into several teams of between three and five men each. One section headed for the city of Basra and the southern Iraq-Iran borderlands. The second divided up, one unit heading for the al-Hejira desert, another going northeast to the Shi’ite town of Najaf.
In view of the conflicting dates put out by Washington, Saddam and his heads of government and army have removed themselves from Baghdad to pre-assigned shelters so as not to be taken by surprise.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports from some of its Gulf sources Saddam’s conviction that the Americans are in contact with a number of high-ranking serving officers in the Iraqi armed forces with a view to instigating a coup against him. He believes those officers are primed to rise up shortly after the onset of the military offensive. Their first act will be to allow US troops to land in the bases they control. The incoming US force will thereupon assume command of the rebel units and provide air cover and oversight for their attempt to overthrow the Saddam regime and capture Baghdad – on the Afghanistan War model.
The Iraqi ruler is certain Washington has a list of potentially rebellious Iraqi generals, intending to install them in high government posts – much in the way the Americans sponsored Uzbek general Rashid Dostum and Tajik general Mohammad Fahim in Afghanistan. Fahim is now defense minister in the interim Afghan government and Dostum, his deputy.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say that, while Saddam suspects this is the American game plan, he has no proof and cannot tell who are the traitors in the top ranks of his armed forces. Desperate for information, the Iraqi ruler recently posted a $20,000 reward for any soldier, officer or group of fighters capturing an undercover US serviceman and delivering him for interrogation – so far to no avail.
Saddam is meanwhile keeping a tight watch on his officers, as well as sending agents out to spy on the 150 separate tribes that make up the population of Iraq.