Saddam Hussein in Iraq – More than a Taped Voice
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The US troop withdrawal from the Iraqi town of Falluja only 50 km west of Baghdad on Friday, July 1, is the first major American military retreat since going to war against Iraq on March 18, 2003. It comes amid spiraling attacks on US troops by “unidentified” snipers and ambushers and follows what sounds like the voice of Saddam Hussein announcing his return to Iraq on two audio-tapes and calling Iraqis out to fight the Americans.
While American sources present the pullback as limited to Falluja police station, debkafile‘s military sources report it is more extensive. In effect, US Falluja unit is in the process of redeploying outside the town. This is one surface symptom, but not the only one, that American forces and elements loyal to Saddam Hussein are building up to a significant military clash. Territorial positions are taking shape – as will be seen on the debkafile Special map attached to this article.
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DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 116 describes the forces mustered by Saddam Hussein as consisting of elements of the Special Republican Guards, Fedayeen Saddam suicides, Baath militiamen and thousands of Syrian fighters arriving in a constant stream. It is more than probable that Saddam and his two sons are very much present in underground fortresses built after the 1991 Gulf War and conducting the current campaign against US troops in person, assisted by officers who commanded the Special Republican Guards Divisions in the March-April War.
These assaults are reciprocal. US forces are initiating military action too under their new commander, US Army General John Abizaid, who took over from Gen. Tommy Franks on July 7. Such forays are mostly unreported. Our military experts judge the clashes flaring with increasing frequency in the last few days in Baghdad, the towns of Balad, Ramadi and Falluja to the north and northwest, and the Al Qaim region on the Syrian border, to be probes in which both sides are testing the mettle of the opposition in advance of the main action.
The 10 to 15 daily attacks mounted against US troops every day by the Iraqi resistance attests impressively to military professionalism. Their objectives are clear: To dampen American troop morale by building up the casualty score and, more importantly, to repel American military incursions into an enclave beneath whose surface Saddam and his allies lurk in their underground fortress cities.
This enclave ranges from the city of Samarra, about 70 miles (110 km) northwest of Baghdad to a point some 35 miles (55 km) south of Tikrit. It is separated from the Falluja-Ramadi “probing” arena by about 75 miles (120 kilometers). US troops have begun advancing on this enclave and reached as far as Balad, only 23 miles (37 kilometers) north of Samarra. Saddam’s presence in this enclave means that his forces control a slice of central Iraq that is 100-110 mile (160-175 km) long and 60-70 mile (96 and 112 km) wide and delimited by Lake Tharthar in central-western Iraq and the Tigris River in the east. Our military sources report that inside this sweep of territory, American military strength is sparse save for a handful of small special forces units.
Intelligence sources tell DEBKA-Net-Weekly that these underground facilities were only recently been populated by skeleton command and operational centers representing all of the six Republican Guards divisions that took part in the war – al-Nida, Nebuchadnezzar, Hamurabi, al-Medina, Adnan and Baghdad – together with Fedayeen Saddam and Baathist militia contingents. Their officers initially stayed at home with their families, waiting to see which way the wind blew under the US administration before declaring their military, political, national or religious allegiances. By early June, US civil administrator Paul Bremer, who took over in Baghdad in mid-May, had made it clear he had no intention of mobilizing Saddam’s troops to the new Iraqi army or handing them paychecks. Then came the rumor that spread across Iraq that Saddam and sons were back, rebuilding the Iraqi army and offering double the salaries they earned before the war. Thousands began wending their way toward his Samarra enclave.
A senior Western intelligence source familiar with the Iraq scene confided to DEBKA-Net-Weekly this week: “I don’t want to criticize ambassador Bremer’s management,” he said. “It essentially represents policy dictated from Washington and is based on a rule set in concrete: The US administration may not recruit ex-soldiers who belonged to any of Saddam’s elite units for military and civil administration posts. The effect of those restrictions,” the source pointed out, “was to provide the former Iraqi ruler with a potential reserve force of up to one million trained and disaffected combatants who might be ready to fight for his comeback. Half are ex-army men, half members of the ruling Baath party which Bremer dissolved.”
It is estimated that between 12,000 and 14,000 men have begun drawing salaries against Saddam’s account. “Since the underground complexes contain vast amounts of military equipment and munitions – enough to sustain months of fighting – it must be admitted that some of the elite units we thought had scattered may be under arms again,” said the source.
Saturday, the US administration was working hard to launch a 25-member governing council for its first meeting on Sunday, July 13, the first Iraqi executive body in government in Baghdad since the overthrow of the Baath regime. Representatives of Iraq’s main seven political groups and independents will be tasked with writing a constitution and organizing elections.
debkafile‘s analysts suggest that the US initiative to start handing over power to Iraqis may have come too late now that the deposed ruler appears to be setting up a military presence in the heart of the country. Some of the newly appointed counselors, while cooperating with the Americans, may also in secret be taking care to cover their backs – just in case Saddam Hussein ever comes back.
debkafile will continue its examination of the current situation in Iraq and the direction it is taking in a second article Sunday night.