A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

— From debkafile‘s Special War Diary —

6 April: Even amid crucial battles in Iraq, US President George W. Bush has made the gesture of leaving his capital again this week for a second attempt to shore up his foremost war ally, British prime minister Tony Blair, in the fight for his political life at home.

Blair believes he can win support by persuading Bush to allot the United Nations and Europe a major role in Iraq’s post-war administration and the disposition of its oil resources. He thinks Europe will be impressed if he can win the US president round to their perceptions of Middle East peacemaking. He is unlikely to get very far with Bush on either.

The Bush administration has set in train its post-war blueprint for Iraq without turning to partners. Three developments are worth noting:

1. The US President’s choice as head of the interim government in Baghdad is retired Lieutenant General Jay M. Garner. According to debkafile‘s Washington sources, a plan is in place for the creation of 14 “departments”, each headed by an American soldier, technocrat or diplomat supported by a staff of eight senior local officials representing Iraq’s religious-tribal-ethnic makeup. An advance group of American diplomats and technocrats is already standing by in Kuwait to start setting up the new authority.

2. Bush has still to decide between the opposing views of the leaders of the Pentagon and the State Department on the final shape of the interim administration, namely the ratio between its American and international personnel.

3. The governments who opposed the American war in Iraq will be barred from partaking in its fruits. France, Germany, Russia and the other nations are seen as having fought the United States every inch of the road to the war, placing obstacles in every international forum, including the UN and NATO, and continuing to place cogs in the war wheel.

The same world leaders are just as unlikely to be afforded the lead role they seek in the diplomacy for settling the Israel-Palestinian conflict and forging a peace, a process allotted a space in the same broad scheme charted by the Bush presidency.

debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report a showdown last Thursday, April 3, between Yasser Arafat and the first Palestinian prime minister-designate, Abu Mazen.

Back from a few day sin the Gaza Strip, Abu Mazen asked to be relieved of the appointment. Arafat told him angrily he could not accept an historical appointment one minute and drop it the next. Sources close to Abu Mazen reveal that he has despaired of making inroads on Arafat’s powers and acquiring any real authority. And, as long as Arafat is in charge, Palestinian terrorism will continue to surge, closing the door to reform, an accommodation with Israel and any change in the fortunes of the Palestinian people.

At present, Israel lives with between 50 and 60 suicide terror alerts per day! Most are only averted by the presence of Israeli forces in every Palestinian urban center and constant round-ups, searches and surprise raids against terrorist strongholds.

Even if President Bush had decided to meet Tony Blair, the Arabs and the Europeans halfway by forcing the Quartet’s road map unamended down Israel’s throat, Arafat and his terror machine would sabotage any progress towards a settlement.

Day 19 of war-  April 7

While the world’s gaze is fixed on the sensational developments in Baghdad and Basra, US weapons of mass destruction specialists are using a toothcomb to go through one of the grimmest sites of the Saddam era: Salman Pak, center of biological weapons development and training ground for foreign Islamic terrorists. The site, 25 km southeast of Baghdad, was captured by the American 1st Marine Expeditionary Force last Friday, April 4.

Its situation on a 20 sq.km area inside a curve formed by the Tigris River made it easier for Saddam’s Directorate of General Intelligence to isolate the site, which was fenced off and patrolled by a large guard force. The American soldiers found the buildings of this dreaded place intact, like so many other locations in this war, as though its owners thought they were coming back soon. Two of those buildings are luxury private villas owned by Saddam and his half-brother Barazan al-Tikriti.

Salman Pak is where, up to 1991 at least, the Iraqis developed their biological weapons. Dr. Rihab Taha, known to US intelligence as “Dr. Germ”, engaged in research on a massive scale on anthrax, botulinum toxin, ricin and other poisons to man. Its facilities are expected to yield promising leads to hidden WMD locations around the country.

debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources report that as soon as the advance forces ascertained that there were no guerrilla, suicide or sniper forces in Salman Pak, they sent in special US units created and trained since mid-2002 for the purpose of ferreting out and identifying unconventional weapons. The force made up of American military intelligence, CIA and FBI experts includes some of the finest scientific brains specializing in biological weaponry. Within hours of their arrival, they dove in with their science fiction equipment, attired in what looked like space suits and threw a huge plastic dome over the buildings.

The same swat team when finished at Salman Pak will move its operation to other similar unconventional warfare locations known to exist in Iraq. Their biggest task is likely to be the research facilities and WMD stores thought to be concealed in Saddam Hussein’s underground bunker labyrinths once they are exposed to the light of day.

Day 19 of Iraq War – April 7

One of US war commander General Tommy Franks’ favorite aphorisms for his troops is that speed can kill the enemy. He was as good as his word Monday morning, April 7, when he sent an armored column made up of two brigades of the 3rd Mechanized Division on a lightening thrust from the Dora district in the south into the heart of Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris River on what was first described as a mission to probe enemy defenses.

Interviewed outside Saddam’s official Northern Palace, an American officer said his troops were securing the palace and moving on to additional government centers and symbols of Saddam’s regime.

Their real objective, according to debkafile‘s military sources, is not visible on the surface of Baghdad at all. It is to find a second entrance to the underground system of tunnels leading to Saddam Hussein’s command and control bunker fortress believed to be located about 20 km away to the west. US war commanders are convinced that members of the Iraqi leadership still present in the country and its high command are running the war from this underground headquarters.

That command fortress is also linked to the international airport now in American hands. The opening to one passage was discovered Saturday in Saddam’s opulent guest suite at the airport. So far, American forces have not been able to reach the secret command post from this opening, whether because its passages are blocked up or turning into false alleys. The American 3rd Mechanized Division troops were sent to raid Saddam’s official palace in Baghdad Monday morning to seek out a second entrance. debkafile military sources add that the resistance to the US advance was relatively light because the bulk of Iraqi’s leadership’s defending forces, especially Saddam’s Fedayeen commanded by Uday Hussein, are hunkered down at this command headquarters and three other underground command bunkers spaced out in and around Baghdad. No one knows where Saddam is or from where he or a stand-in – his sons or other regime officials – may be conducting the war. Last week, there was evidence he had left Baghdad and that top members of his government had landed at Latakiya in Syria. Saddam himself is thought by US war command circles to be determined to fight on. He may be in Tikrit or somewhere else in Iraq – or even returned to the Baghdad region through the underground tunnel labyrinth revealed first by debkafile.

Day 20 of Iraq War – April 8, 2003

Just as crucial is the war of wits and words between the coalition and the Iraqi war commands which ran on into Tuesday, April 8 – although a US military spokesman said: “The war of words is over.” He must have realized that the verbal battle was giving the Iraqi side a useful platform on which to challenge American statements and was not doing their credibility much good.

The Iraqis gained some propaganda mileage Tuesday from the US tank shell that hit the media center at Hotel Palestine in Baghdad, killing two TV cameramen and injuring two more journalists.

debkafile‘s intelligence sources have discovered that the shell did not come from a US tank. The explosion that hurt the correspondents occurred on an upper floor and was rigged and planted by Iraqi military intelligence. To avoid a row with the press corps covering the war and nip the incident in the bud, the US command assumed responsibility and apologized before it went any further. This is unlikely to work.

On Saturday, April 5, hours after the first American tanks rolled into Baghdad, Saddam and his sons went underground, cutting themselves off from most of the Iraqi leadership and observing total electronic hush. There was therefore no chance of the American bomb finding him in a restaurant in Baghdad on Monday, or of a tip-off on his whereabouts from any of his associates.

Neither is there any real proof that his cousin, General Ali Hassan Majid, “Chemical Ali” was killed in Basra, notwithstanding the assertions of local British commanders.

Beneath the heavily exposed surface battles, a fierce secret war is raging in the subterranean tunnels linking Saddam’s four of five command and control fortress-bunkers spread out under the Baghdad region. debkafile‘s sources reveal that US Special forces are locked in hand to hand combat with Special Republican Guards and Saddam’s Fedayeen commanded by Uday Hussein. All that we know about the battle of the tunnels for the moment is that American forces uncovered two or three secret entrances to the underground labyrinth – two of them at the international airport of Baghdad after its capture. At least one of those entrances led to a broad underground highway system with roads some 12 meters wide through which two armored personnel carriers can pass each other comfortably. Some of these passageways are designed as blind alleys to lead interlopers astray; the ones leading to the command and control bunker-fortresses are guarded by Iraqi commandos.

Day 21 of Iraq War, April 9, 2002

The redeployment of the 1st Marines Expeditionary Force and the 3rd Armored Division at the center of Baghdad with very little resistance quickly bisected the city, restricting movement between the northeastern and some of the southwestern districts. US forces will endeavor to keep to the security zone running down the center and, barring extraordinary situations, off the city streets. When the town settles down in a few days, US forces will re-divide the two sections, drawing security belts between the four parts – and so on, city block by city block, until every corner has been cleared.

This unique tactic is designed to secure Baghdad without causing large numbers of casualties -either among the incoming troops or the civilian population. Operation Baghdad promises to be the largest and most significant American military feat after the capture of the international airport – at least on the surface.

debkafile‘s military sources stress that the secret military operation taking place underground and out of sight since the beginning of this week may be as important and audacious. It is there that US forces are fighting their way through the bunkers and tunnels honeycombing subterranean Baghdad, some four to six tiers and buried 60 to 90 ft deep.

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