When US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on November 17 warned Iraqi troops to stay in their barracks, threatening that “any Iraqi use of chemical or biological arms would be dealt with harshly”, he was not just indulging a taste for rhetoric. The rider to that statement – “…but people who stay in their barracks… will not have problems,” – is well substantiated on the ground.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, US intelligence special forces units, some of whom have been operating in Iraq since April, have managed to draw some 120,000 members of Iraqi field units, about one third of the whole, into undercover deals. Their commanders agreed to refrain from engaging US invasion forces in battle. The number of effective combat troops in Saddam’s 400,000-man army is probably no more than 100,000, so the inroads made by the CIA campaign in Iraqi military strength are extensive.
Some of our intelligence sources estimate the number of “turned” Iraqi troops as being as high as about 60 percent of the total.
The US negotiations for these deals got seriously underway in September, after Saddam Hussein played into American hands by ordering the bulk of his army to relocate outside Iraq’s biggest cities, including Baghdad, so that any mutinies would not touch the seats of his government. These units he evacuated to remote corners, as far as western border areas near Syria and Jordan and the southwestern frontier with Saudi Arabia. Placing them there, however, made a large part of the Iraqi army accessible to US intelligence negotiators, some of whom entered Iraq from Jordan and Syria, which permits American military transit across its territory to Iraq.
The first contacts American agents established with local Iraqi commanders were disclosed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly (Issue 78, September 27) in an article titled “Iraq Distances Army from Main Cities”. They were made with extreme caution in case of Iraqi military intelligence traps. But by mid-September, deals had been struck with several Iraqi division and brigade commanders. Since then, these efforts have been stepped up to boost the number of Iraqi units contracting to stay on the sidelines of hostilities.
This exercise is a repeat of the tactics employed by the CIA during the 1991 Gulf War, when agents of Iraqi descent were recruited from the same tribes or clans as the Iraqi officers
whom Washington hoped to “turn”. Now, too, those agents’ kinship ties are invaluable in bringing the officers round.
The written contracts between the parties are simple. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say they consist of bare essentials, chiefly a pledge from General Tommy Franks, the US commander of the Iraq War, not to harm any Iraqi unit honoring its side of the deal, i.e. refraining from participation in military action against US forces and confining its officers, soldiers and equipment to base upon the outbreak of armed hostilities. Any departures from base would have to be authorized by the US intelligence liaison officer detailed to the unit.
Should one of these non-combatant units come under attack from a fellow Iraqi force, the US war command undertakes to extend assistance – insofar as “military circumstances” permit – as well as supplying food, water and medical aid. Additional oral arrangements provide financial remuneration for acquiescent Iraqi field commanders and their families.
Our sources report that, in October, the Iraqi ruler caught on to the US campaign of inducements that were eroding his fighting units and began ordering the men to return to the cities, including Baghdad. His purpose was to remove them from temptation, but also to lure US troops after the assault began into deadly urban combat in Baghdad and Tikrit, by forcing them to fight from street to street and house to house and thereby prolonging the war and generating a high US casualty toll.
Saddam’s counter-action effectively severed US intelligence’s links with the Iraqi field commanders who had committed to the non-combatant deals. For the moment, the operations and intelligence officers of American units in Iraq – and those due to arrive – have no way of knowing if those transactions with Iraqi commanders in the field will still hold up in the cities.