Saddam Close to Decision on Preemptive Strike

As America piles up a military armada in the Gulf, Red Sea and Mediterranean regions for a general assault on the Iraqi regime, Saddam Hussein is closing in fast on a critical decision on whether – and where – to strike in order to pre-empt the US offensive.

The talk on all hands this week was ominously about the use of “every means at our disposal”.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s disclosures since March regarding US and Iraqi war plans and Washington’s American Middle East re-partition program (DNW Nos. 54, March 22; 66, June 28; 67, July 5) have also provoked an explosion of media coverage.

This week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources find strong evidence in four tactically telling military preparations Saddam has set in train that he is inching closer to his crucial decision. They all signal his active contemplation of biological, chemical – and even a variety of nuclear – weapons against long-range targets:


A. Mirage F-1 with “Spray Tanks”

The Iraqi air force is now taking wing freely in the no-fly zones of southern and northern Iraq, backed by its new radar system and air defenses. Their Chinese fiber optics-enhanced equipment (reported in DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue 67) instantly spots and identifies any foreign plane entering Iraqi air space. Iraq therefore has a running picture at all times of when US, British, Turkish or Israeli planes enter its air space and when the horizon is clear of hostile aircraft.

Given this reconnaissance capability, the Iraqi air force can now fully exploit the French-made advanced Mirage F-1 planes for all-day flights and intensive mid-air refueling exercises.

The F-1’s outstanding feature is its exceptionally long flight range supported by a large fuel tank with a 2,200-liter (1,000 gallons) fuel capacity. These exercises indicate that the Iraqi general staff and the air force command are planning to use the Mirage F-1 planes for long-range missions against three probable targets: Israel, Jordan and US forces deployed in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

US and Israeli spy satellite surveillance have made an even more troubling discovery: The F-1 carries an extra fuel tank with a 1,000-liter (455 gallon) capacity. Both of its fuel tanks can be jettisoned electronically, but the extra tank is apparently a “spray tank” equipped with computer-controlled aerosol spray generators that intelligence experts believe can “crop dust” a seven to 10 square kilometer (three to four square mile) area with anthrax, nerve gas or biological agents. This relatively low-tech device overcomes one of the Iraqis’ basic difficulties in delivering chemical or biological agents by missile: intense friction at launch burns out the toxic substances in its warhead.

Our military sources report the F-1s are stationed in at least four Iraqi military airfields.

Al Jaara Airbase, about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of Baghdad, not far from the southern bank of the Tigris. Covering a 33 square kilometer (13 square mile) area, it is protected by a missile air defense system, an electronic security fence, guard towers and gun emplacements.

Balad Airbase, some 70 kilometers (40 miles) north of Baghdad, is served by two runways — the first, 11,300 feet (3.5 kilometer) long, and the second, 11,200 feet (3.4 kilometer) long.

Talil Airbase, lies some 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Nasariyeh and more than 330 kilometers (205 miles) southeast of Baghdad. This base, which covers 30 square kilometers (11.5 square miles), also has two runways.

Al Baghdadi, about 300 km (180 miles) west of Baghdad and some 270 km (170 miles) east of the Jordanian border. Its paramount task is to defend central Iraq from air attack from the west – the Mediterranean and the Israeli air force. Here, Saddam’s son Uday maintains his command center.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, these installations are also home to light planes equipped with spraying gear for chemical and biological toxins. The L-29 Delfin can carry two 300 liter (80 gallon) tanks, as can the Polish-made BZM-18 crop duster aircraft Iraq has purchased. Both have a range of between 700 and 800 kilometers (420 and 320 miles) and are equipped with global positioning system navigation.


B. Dummy Missile Convoys

US and Israeli reconnaissance planes report recent sightings of long convoys of Iraqi military trucks – converted in the past into mobile missile launchers – heading north towards the northern oil cities of Kirkuk and Mosul and the armored divisions deployed on the eastern banks of the Big Zab and Little Zab rivers (as reported in DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue No. 67 last week). Similar convoys are moving south toward the borders with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

These convoys appear to be decoys, their missile freights dummies, since no attempt is being made to hide them as they travel openly by day along main highways. They look as through they are transporting such surface-to-surface missiles as medium-range Scud Bs, the al-Hussein whose range is up to 650 to 750 km (400 to 470 miles) and the al-Abbas whose reach is 950 km (590 miles). But this may be a trick by Saddam to convince hostile watchers that his missile arsenal is much larger – as many as 500 units – than the 150-200 missiles most intelligence agencies credit him with having.


C. Special Missile Unit 223 Has Chemo-Bio Warheads

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the Al Hussein Missile Brigade and its Special Unit 223 were put on an alert concurrently with the missile convoys’ movements. The six-battalion-strong Unit 223 is the only Iraqi missile unit armed with chemical and biological warheads. Detachments of this brigade are stationed in the Hamrin Mts. north of Baghdad, where many experts believe Iraq has set up secret stores for its nuclear devices, such as radiological bombs.


D. Saddam Calls up “Men of Sacrifice”

What set the alarm bells for a pre-emptive strike jangling in earnest was Iraq’s call-up ten days ago of the 35,000-strong combat force known as Saddam’s Martyrs, or Men of Sacrifice, which is now on high alert. Made up entirely of members of Saddam’s own Tikrit tribe, this force is tougher, more loyal and more arcane than even the most secret elite divisions of the Republican Guard. Commanded by Saddam’s son Uday, the little known about this closed tribal force is that it receives its training in bases to which only members of the Saddam clan have access, that it is structured on modular lines and that it numbers both a chemical combat unit and an intelligence unit for chemical and biological warfare. Persistent reports suggest also a nuclear weapons unit equipped with cruise missiles developed in Iraq from the naval missiles bought from China and Belarus.

Other units of Saddam’s Martyrs are naval commandos, communications and transports – all of which function independently of the Iraqi army – as well as several hundred undercover agents planted clandestinely in other key Iraqi army units as Saddam’s spies and as assassins of those senior officers marked out by the Iraqi dictator for liquidation. These agents are also trained to take swift command of military’s command centers, communications hubs and main weapons depots should they come under threat of takeover by the ruler’s adversaries.

The almost unprecedented full mobilization of Saddam’s Martyrs signaled to the rest of the Iraqi army and the major national tribes that the boss is on the verge of a crucial political or military decision

As we reported two weeks ago, on June 28, special command units of the Republican Guards were dispatched to northern Iraq to engage the Kurds recruited and trained by US special forces and CIA combat units. This week, preliminary reports filtered through of battles raging between Iraqi forces, on the one hand, and US contingents and Kurdish rebels, on the other. The fighting is still ongoing. According to the news reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly, both sides are taking heavy casualties, the Kurds suffering the highest losses. Both sides are pouring reinforcements into the combat zone.

US special forces troops have been detached from bases in Jordan, raising to between 800 and 1,000 US special forces troops believed deployed at present in North Iraq’s Kurdish regions.

Iraq, for its part, has sent in two supplementary forces – another contingent of Republican Guards commandos and one of the six fighting battalions of the Islamic extremist Kurdish group known as Ansar al-Islam, or “The Soldiers of God”. This organization, based in the city of Bayara on the border between the Kurdish-Iranian region and the Kurdish-Iraqi area, is commanded by Abu Abdullah al-Shafi, who is known to have personal links with Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahri.

The semi-official Baghdad daily “Babel” owned by Saddam’s son Uday this week came up with its own tailored version of DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s disclosures relating to the Bush administration’s blueprint for redrafting Middle East frontiers. In an editorial signed “Abu Hatem” one of Uday’s recognized pseudonyms, he writes, “The Saudis were first to realize that the Americans seek to divide their kingdom”. Iraq, he adds, will be willing to come to Saudi rescue if it is asked. Bahrain, according to “Abu Hatem”, is fated to be restored to Iran, while Jordan is designated “a homeland alternative for the Palestinians”.

“The implementation of the partition plan”, according to the Iraqi writer, ” is linked to eliminating the Palestinian intifada, and in order to achieve that goal they have to attack Iraq.”

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