Another stitch in time – deep-cover US agents who made contact and entered into negotiations with Iraqi field commanders well in advance of the invasion – was pivotal to the US victory in Iraq. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and military sources report that, months before the war, several hundred American undercover agents organized in tight teams penetrated deep into Iraq, soon to become the key intelligence arm run by the US war command inside enemy territory.
The common practice in the past was to use small groups of agents for direct contact with the enemy. They were operationally on their own and logistically self-sustaining.
The deep penetration of Iraq was carried out this time by well-endowed units. They were protected by special forces, some of which stayed behind to baby-sit Iraqi commanders promising to cooperate with US invasion forces. They were given air support for continuous contact with those Iraqi commanders, logistical back-up and a supply line to make good on the US promises made to the turncoat Iraqi officers. The US war command also set up a special communications network for their use.
The “deep enemy penetration” tactic was first employed for the 1991 Gulf War, when US intelligence officers went behind the front lines in Kuwait armed with personal data on targeted Iraqi battalion and divisional commanders. Their mission was to negotiate surrender terms before coalition forces came on the scene. Most of that data was provided by Saudi, Kuwaiti or Egyptian military and general intelligence from interrogations of the Iraqi officers’ relatives living in Middle East countries, Europe and the United States. The first Gulf War, smaller in scale than the current conflict, entailed a limited penetration operation aimed at winning over a small number of Iraqi commanders. Its effect was nonetheless dramatic. The coalition troops were greeted upon landing with white flags mushrooming in the hands of surrendering Iraqi units along the routes from Kuwait up to the approaches of Baghdad.
This time round, US war planners were more ambitious. They were determined to persuade large numbers of Iraqi field commanders that capitulation was the better part of valor – especially the officers of the elite Special Republican Guards and Fedayeen Saddam divisions – in order to keep US and British casualties down to a minimum. The plan was to close as many bargains as early as possible to show Saddam and his sons Qusay and Uday that the ground had been stolen from under their feet and their best bet was to go into exile before hostilities got under way.
To cast a wide net, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report Washington enlisted all its own intelligence resources plus friendly services for an unprecedented worldwide intelligence effort both inside the United States and overseas.
The mission of identifying and opening up lines of communication to 90 percent of Iraq’s military commanders was entrusted to the CIA, FBI and DIA, as well as the intelligence services of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and most Gulf states. British, Australian, Netherlands and Danish intelligence went to work on their large Iraqi expatriate communities, pumping them for information on their kinsmen serving in the Iraqi military.
Many Willing Ethnic Hands
For this war, the Americans could take their pick of willing intelligence sources inside Iraq – unlike the first Gulf conflict. Opposition groups – Kurds, Turkomens and some Arab Sunni tribal leaders – fell over themselves to make contact with the US war command; so did some Iraqi Shi’ite anti-Saddam groups. A special case was the armed Iranian opposition Mujahiddeen I-Khalq, fighting from bases in Iraq for more than a decade to overthrow the clerical regime in Tehran. This group played a double role in the war. The Mujahiddeens’ Washington office turned itself into a liaison bureau for contacts between anti-Saddam opposition forces inside Iraq and the CIA. The group’s armed force in Iraq served Saddam as a reserve military contingent for oil field sabotage
The tune played by this many-stringed American intelligence instrument was “better than stunning”, a Western intelligence source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly. US, British and Australian special forces were armed with a flood of data for forging contacts with Iraqi field commanders. Two months before the war got underway the number of Iraqi officers willing to lay down arms spiraled under the stimulus of added incentives for commanders who “brought friends”.
As the Western intelligence source told it: “Iraqi commanders competed over who could bring the highest-ranking officer into the surrender chain for the most advantageous deal.” Quite soon, deal was leading to deal at a bewildering rate. “US officers found it hard to keep up with the plethora of individual surrender arrangements and the promises to be met.”
The biggest human intelligence breakthrough achieved by the Americans, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, was landing Iraqi General Waqil Massiri, Officer for Special Tasks. A close associate of Saddam and his sons, Massiri enjoyed unrestricted access to the commanders of the Special Republican Guard divisions and the Fedayeen Saddam, thanks mainly to being married to the daughter of Saddam’s most notorious cousin — General Ali Majid Al-Tikrity, who was known as “Chemical Ali” for organizing the poisoning of thousands of Kurds in Halabja. Ali Majid was given command of the southern warfront.
Our sources report that it was Massiri who brokered the contact between the Americans and General Maher Safiyan al-Tikriti, commander of Special Republic Guard units in Baghdad, which opened the door for the US 3rd Infantry Division and Marine 1st Expeditionary Force to push into the heart of the capital without a real fight.
The surrender agreements included a US pledge not to conduct air or ground attacks on Iraqi units giving themselves up. Commanders and men were given safe conduct and immunity from pursuit during and after the war and allowed to rejoin their families as civilians. The Iraqi commanders’ promised, for their part, not to attack American or British troops or sabotage strategic infrastructure such as bridges, intersections, dams, and gas, oil, water and electrical facilities. They also pledged not to mine or booby-trap military installations, equipment or defense lines.
The procedure for putting this agreement into effect was simple: on an agreed signal from US forces, Iraqi officers and soldiers were to shed their uniforms, quit their positions and – leaving their weapons and personal military gear behind – go home.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources, many Iraqi officers and men jumped the gun, making off even before US forces signaled or appeared.
These deals partly explain how Iraq’s 45 army divisions seemed to go up in smoke leaving a comparatively small number of military casualties in hospitals and few prisoners of war in US and British hands. A few officers were taken prisoner by mistake and released. Except for Iraq’s air force chief — a member of Saddam’s immediate family – Iraqi military commanders are conspicuously absent from the US-issued 55-card pack of wanted high-ranking Iraqis.
Less Bridges to Cross
Those pre-war transactions also explain why not a single bridge over the Euphrates, Tigris, Diyala or Lesser Zab rivers was blown up and the country’s oil resources came out of the war by and large undamaged, save for a small number of oil fields torched in southern Iraq.
But some DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources question whether this comprehensive enemy surrender project, which undoubtedly saved many American and British lives, was not of assistance to Saddam as well.
Intelligence information received in recent hours indicates that Saddam, his sons and trusted Iraqi military commanders knew exactly which officers and units had agreed to lay down their arms together with the arrangements and timetables for their surrender. Our sources do not know whether it was Massiri himself or Chemical Ali who gave them away to Saddam. But no sooner had the surrender agreements been signed when the officers who signed them were ordered to present themselves immediately to their superiors – sometimes to Saddam himself or his sons. Fearing the worst, that they would be executed for treason, they were astonished to find themselves recruited as double agents. Their officers, voicing understanding for their desire to protect themselves and families, advised them to continue to guarantee their safety from Iraqi retribution by naming and describing the US liaison officers with whom they dealt, plus the frequencies and codes used in their communications. They were allowed to leave unharmed after giving up this information and told stay in touch with their American contacts until they and their men could go home.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and military experts believe that Saddam and his sons used this data to pass misleading “insider tip-offs” to US forces about their own whereabouts and movements. One result may have been the three abortive American raids against locations after the US war command and the CIA were assured from an “inside source” that Saddam, Qusay and Uday, were present.
In fact, all three were somewhere else. Furthermore, his foreknowledge of which units would evacuate which bridges or positions – and when – enabled Saddam or his double to safely make his famous televised street appearances in various Baghdad neighborhoods not far from American forces.
It must be said that the deposed Iraqi ruler exhibited iron nerve and boldness in the way he managed his survival by using intelligence stratagems. His minute knowledge of his commanders’ surrender deals and coalition troop movements, their timetables and the fate of the various defense lines, enabled him and his henchmen to win the game of hide and seek and eventually make good their escape ahead of capture. Several thousand Iraqi regime officials were also able to arrange their orderly departure from Iraq. To get away, they were not forced through a grueling battle such as the Tora Bora ordeal Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and Ayman al-Zawahri experienced to escape Afghanistan. Saddam, his sons and associates made a quiet, almost leisurely, departure from their country.
Intelligence as Prime Weapon
The Iraq War was therefore essentially an intelligence campaign, a strategic battle of wits. The first round ended in a tie because, like bin Laden in Afghanistan, Saddam and his sons are still on the loose with their weapons of mass destruction.
One of the few clauses of the surrender agreements entered into by the Iraqi commanders affected the disposition of Iraq’s mighty conventional arsenal, often displayed in celebratory parades. The heavy weapons, missiles and aircraft supposed to have been left behind undamaged after Iraqi officers and men made their getaway under white flags, are nowhere to be found. Iraq was known to have deployed at least two thousand tanks and a huge number of missiles, rocket launchers and heavy artillery. All but a handful has been spirited away. Preliminary assessments suggest that the Iraqi tank and artillery positions and depots struck in the early part of the war by massive coalition air and cruise missile strikes were decoys.
The real arsenal could be in several places – scattered around barely accessible hideaways across Iraq; moved out of Iraq before the war via Syria and several Gulf countries – or even sold on the international black market.
All the coalition teams have turned up so far are huge ammunition dumps. Ordnance fetches low prices on world markets, is perishable and hard to transport, unlike tanks and artillery which are in demand. As for Iraq’s missing missiles, just two weeks before the war began, UN weapons inspectors located a few of the 100 to 120 Samoud 1 and Samoud 2 missiles Iraq was known to possess. About 20 were destroyed under the eyes of the inspectors, leaving at least 80 unaccounted for. Could they too have been smuggled out and sold?
Some international black market may also be handling even more precious merchandise plundered by Saddam and his family, the thieves of Baghdad. Coalition military officials and Interpol experts believe that Saddam or his sons were responsible for smuggling Iraq’s weapons into the hands of arms dealers and may also have set up the looting of the Baghdad Archeology Museum of its most valuable artifacts as part of the same deal.
Earlier this week, US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he does not believe Iraqi’s conventional or unconventional weapons will be found any time soon. Efforts, he said, must now be directed toward finding those people who can shed light on their whereabouts, a process that could take years. Those willing to talk about Iraq’s WMD usually know only bits and pieces of the story. The people who can shed light on the entire picture are, like the weapons themselves, no longer in Iraq. As usual, Rumsfeld was being realistic.