For the new-old Russian counterintelligence faction, Moscow’s and Saddam Hussein’s interests coincide at important points. If he is alive, these Cold War experts may be planning to organize on his behalf an Iraqi “jihad” underground that will spread round the Middle East. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Moscow and Washington, it looks like taking form of a hostile, antithetical companion to the Bush team’s project for re-designing and democratizing the entire region and stamping out fanatical Islamic terror. Saddam could run the Jihad underground and its overseas branches from a distance. If he turns out not have survived after all, the anti-American project will be handed to his sons. The Russian counterintelligence veterans believe that American technological military might, which was demonstrated so stunningly in the first three weeks of the Iraq War, can be impaired if not defeated nonetheless by the asymetrical tactics of guerrilla and paramilitary warfare, suicidal terror and an active underground, for which the Russians will design special weapons. Assassination would be the weapon used against figures willing to help the Americans build the New Iraq.
Joint advance planning
Much of the plan was drafted in meetings Russian intelligence agents held in Baghdad before the war with Saddam and his sons Uday and Qusay, which would explain some of the war’s subsequent enigmas. One decision was for Saddam to leave Baghdad as soon as the first invading American troops set foot in Iraq and head for Syria. From there, he would manage the war out of a newly-established military and intelligence command post. Television footage of his own and his various doubles’ appearances was taped in advance for broadcasts to muddy the trail.
The second part of the Russian-Iraq team’s plan was designed to undermine American control in post-war Iraq, a version of the American-supported local guerrilla resistance in Afghanistan that kept the Soviet occupation army bleeding for years.
Surviving Republican Guards elite troops were given orders to back away from direct confrontations with the coalition troops, shed their uniforms and go home to await further instructions. And indeed the streets of Iraqi cities were littered with abandoned Iraqi military uniforms in the third week of the war. Upon receiving their “jihad” orders, the elite soldiers would form into small guerrilla bands and spread out across Iraq to fight the Americans. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, Saddam signed off on the Russian strategy. He decided not to defend Baghdad or blow up any major bridges over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, counting on drawing the US military as deep as possible into a Vietnam- or Stalingrad-like quagmire.
Last December, the Iraqi-Russian-Syrian intelligence trio was already raising an army of volunteers in the Arab world to fight for Saddam in Iraq. They crossed into Iraq through Syria in a controlled flow of would be fighters prepared to martyr themselves for the sake of turning Iraq into a living hell for the infidels. Some traveled through Jordan, where the authorities turned a blind eye to the traffic and open palms to bribes.
Under Diplomatic Escort
Yevgeny Primakov, former Russian prime minister, intelligence veteran and old friend of Saddam Hussein, would be a leading candidate as senior coordinator of the Russian side of this project.
Russian ambassador Vladimir Titorenko would be the faction’s point man in Baghdad.
This is the background of the attack on the ambassador’s convoy on it way out of Baghdad to Damascus on April 6.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources confirm that the convoy, billed as evacuating the senior Russian diplomatic staff from the embattled Iraqi capital, was in fact attacked by the CIA – not by an F-15 warplane but a Hellfire missile shot by a Predator drone.
It was no mere chance that brought the fleeing Russian ambassador back to Baghdad 48 hours later. In fact, he was flown from Damascus by a special SVR plane directly to Moscow together with his three closest intelligence aids and the precious cargo they were escorting – speculation ranges from one of Saddam’s sons, the Iraqi ruler in person, or his private intelligence archives – and returned to Damascus by the same flight. Titorenko and company then drove in convoy from Syria to Baghdad via Kamishli and Mosul, passing Tikrit en route. By Tuesday, the four were back at the embassy. Saddam’s sponsors in Russian intelligence realize they are playing a dangerous game and do not rule out the possibility of the Americans “mistakenly” bombing their embassy in Baghdad, just as they hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war.
In Moscow, the US president’s national security adviser Condoleezza Rice coldly informed President Vladimir Putin the United States was onto the fact that Russians in authority had promised to provide Saddam Hussein with the wherewithal for keeping the American military on the run after his army was defeated.
She went further. She accused Moscow of being in direct communication with the Saddam at his hideout in Syria through the former prime minister and ex-KGB chief, Yevgeny Primakov. He is the only foreigner whom Saddam trusts completely. Rice demanded bluntly that Primakov be sent to Saddam with a message from Washington. He was given one last chance to go into exile, declare his weapons of mass destruction and call off his planned “jihad” against America. His alternative option is to be hunted to the death. The Americans are determined there will never be a second Osama bin Laden-type disappearance. Whatever it takes, they will never let up. They will come and kill him even in the middle of the Kremlin.
Rice Delivers Last Warning
On top of that warning to Saddam, Bush’s adviser had a stern caution for the Russian leader: “You are playing with fire. Stop or we will lie in wait for you at every turn – and not only in Chechnya but against Russian interests wherever they may be.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that Putin was unabashed. Neither confirming or denying Rice’s allegations, Putin recalled that during their last telephone conversation on March 6 (reported in detail in DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue 101 on March 14, 2003) he implored Bush not to go to war in Iraq, warning him certain elements within Russian, French, German and Iraqi intelligence were preparing a trap to lead the US military into a dead-end situation that would last for years. Putin asked Rice to make sure the US president understood that he could not stand up to Russian intelligence without risking his own neck.
As Rice headed to Northern Ireland to brief Bush before his April 7-8 summit with British prime minister Tony Blair, a high-level gathering at the Kremlin decided not to kowtow to the Americans over Iraq – according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources. As Bush and Blair were winding up their two-day meeting before the media, Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov informed the United States he was canceling his scheduled April 13 visit to Washington.
That way, the Russian minister sidestepped additional American allegations that Russian companies broke the 1990 UN arms embargo by supplying Iraq with prohibited weapons. Those weapons were listed in the production document Rice handed Putin and included 270 tank engines shipped to Syria before the war, night vision equipment from the Russian military industry PPS, gear that found its way to Iraqi tanks and Special Republican Guard and Fedayeen Saddam units, now fighting in tunnels linking underground command centers in Baghdad.
US troops are combing through the secret Iraqi biological warfare facility at Salman Pak, some 35 kilometers (21 miles) southeast of Baghdad, for traces of Russian equipment and material that were ostensibly used to produce animal feed but which US intelligence experts believe were used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
Intelligence officials describe as monstrous the quantities of non-conventional weapons still in the hands of large contingents of Iraqi forces deployed in wide areas untouched by the US military. The arsenal has been kept in reserve for the planned “jihad” guerrilla war. This week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports the US war command began preparing for chemical attack against American troops.
The remainder of Iraq’s non-conventional stockpile, biological and radiological weapons, is concealed in Syria.