The United States has not procured a scrap of hard on-scene intelligence information from Baghdad since its Tomahawk missile attack on a building where Iraqi leaders gathered on March 19 (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 102, March 21) misfired.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, Saddam Hussein, who was not present when the cruise missile hit – and as we reported was never scheduled to be there – was not slow to strike back. He ordered his son Uday, who commands the Saddam Fedayeen suicide fighters and Iraq’s Ba’ath party militias, to arrest anyone suspected of ties with US intelligence and execute them after the briefest of interrogations.
Various intelligence organizations, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report, are keenly interested in finding out why the operation failed and who provided the misinformation about the venue of the targeted conference and its roster of participants. Preliminary data show that during four days after the failed assassination attempt, from Wednesday, March 19 until the morning of Monday, March 24, the same source continued to recount its “lethal results”. First came an account of Saddam’s death; next a description of how Iraqi engineering units were digging furiously to remove the dead and wounded from the rubble; and finally, the report that Saddam’s second son Qusay had died in the attack.
Certain Middle Eastern intelligence agencies forewarned of the Tomahawk strike were sure of one thing as they tracked its progress and aftermath: Saddam may not have been present, but vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was killed. That information also proved false, and “deep throat” finally disappeared Monday morning, never to be heard from again.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly fell into the trap and wishes now to apologize to its readers for misreporting Ramadan’s death in our last issue. Far from being killed, Ramadan emerged without a scratch and is performing his duties by Saddam’s side. We also discovered later that none of Saddam’s immediate circle was hurt in the US attack, leading some US and British intelligence officers to surmise that “deep throat” was a double agent employed by the Iraqi leader and one of his sons to plant false information to confuse the Central Intelligence Agency about Saddam’s whereabouts.
The deception was put together painstakingly. Pictures from the scene showed Iraqi engineering units clearing rubble. When the cameras were gone, they downed shovels. Ambulance teams carting away casualty after casualty were actually carrying stretchers with rolled up, empty blankets.
It was only when CIA and other intelligence agencies in the Middle East applied their satellite cameras – capable of transmitting real-time photos of every doorway in Baghdad – to analyzing the footage that the real picture emerged.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence source say Washington and London now believe that the Tomahawk with Saddam’s name on it did score a direct hit – on a structure built above a bunker that turned out to be empty.
Since the failed assassination, the CIA and its sister agencies have been shy of using double agents in Baghdad and are relying mostly on satellites and surveillance aircraft as well as agents employed by third countries with skeleton staffs in the Iraqi capital.
Aside from missing Saddam, the current Iraq campaign has not been an unmixed US intelligence success. Iraqi state radio and television continues to churn out propaganda despite the American decision to knock them of the air in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the war. These broadcasts provide valuable support on the psychological warfare front to Saddam’s cause, carrying his messages to the Iraqi people along with images of US and British casualties and POWs. Such scenes are intended to demoralize coalition forces and public opinion.
Other Intelligence Misses
Other key military objectives not yet achieved, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, including the severance of the communications links between the Baghdad-based Iraqi leadership and high command and remote cities, despite several bombing sorties for this goal.
A case in point: Although the Iraqi general command and military intelligence headquarters were bombed on March 26, GC operations remained in direct contact with Iraqi field commanders in Basra, in southern Iraq and Nassariyeh in the center of the country. The Iraqis were ready for targeted aerial strikes and had prepared numerous backup systems. Each time one communications network was knocked out, another switched on almost immediately at an alternative location.
Similarly, the heavy aerial and missile raids intended to grind down the Special Republican Guards guarding Baghdad have been disappointing. Their combat gear, tanks and vehicles in and around Baghdad are buried deep in well-protected bunkers. In the first round of strikes, a number of Special Republican Guardsmen were caught in exposed positions along the line of defense around the capital and took casualties. That soon changed. Most of the men were moved into the city and placed in areas that had not been targeted. A few remained outside as cannon fodder to serve as observers and guards. But coalition war headquarters soon grasped that there was little point in continuing to clobber the Special Republican Guards positions around the city as they were largely unmanned. The troops will only be sent back to forward positions if the Iraqi general command spots US forces approaching Baghdad’s defensive perimeter.
The Iraqi tactic of moving elite units from place to place to keep them out of harm’s way and in good shape for defending Baghdad presents the allies with another intelligence problem:
US and British special forces have found the Special Republican Guards’ forward lines and the city itself to be impossible to penetrate.