Saddam Hussein and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, are cited by intelligence reports reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly from Iraq to be seriously considering taking a page out of the al-Qaeda handbook and staging a collective disappearance, Osama bin Laden style.
In intense discussions in the palace-bunker near his home town of Tikrit, the Iraqi ruler is examining the notion of evaporating with his entire entourage like the al Qaeda leader, who went to ground with his top lieutenants and the Taliban high command. The group accompanying the Iraqi ruler would include such top officials of the ruling Baath party as Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan and Vice Chairman of the Baath Revolutionary Command Council, Izaat Ibrahim, who have stood by him through thick and thin, as well as a number of Iraqi intelligence chiefs.
The bunker discussions also turned on a plan for Iraqi intelligence to rescue Yasser Arafat from his besieged headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, in an operation staged concurrently with Saddam’s disappearance. The Palestinian leader would also then drop out of sight.
After learning of the “Great Escape” plan for Arafat, the Israeli army strung razor wire three meters (10 feet) high around the only building left standing in the wasteland of the administration complex.
Arafat’s fate is still under discussion; not so is the plan to make use of the radiological, biological and chemical weapons Saddam has so painstakingly developed before he makes his own exit.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources learn that the Iraqi ruler is examining three strategies:
1. Hours after he has successfully vanished with family and following, a signal would go up to unleash the entire Iraqi arsenal of missiles, aircraft flown by suicide pilots, warships, naval commandos and local terror cells, for massive assaults on the oilfields of the entire Gulf, including those of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saddam intends to go out on a dense biological/ chemical cloud that will poison the region’s atmosphere and contaminate the oil fields and waters of the Gulf.
He may also opt for the use of radiological bombs or devices.
It is believed in Baghdad that an operation of this nature will completely shut down Gulf oil production and its refineries and cut off the flow to international markets for at least six weeks. Even if nuclear, chemical and biological decontamination squads reach the region swiftly, the variable Gulf winds will quickly undo their work and re-contaminate any area they have cleansed.
In any case, there are not enough trained squads at the disposal of the Americans, the British or the Japanese to decontaminate an area as extensive as the Gulf region.
B. Spreading pollution outside the Gulf to such strategic waterways as the Suez Canal and Red Sea. Proponents of this course argue that fouling the Red Sea would prevent Saudi Arabia from re-directing its oil exports through outlets on its western coast after its eastern coast ports become inoperative; closing the Suez Canal to shipping would create mayhem; cleanup crews and equipment would have to go round the long route to the distressed region and the American war effort would be stymied since its logistical system is oriented on the canal and Egypt’s giant Cairo-West airbase.
C. Sending a toxic chemical, biological or nuclear-radiological cloud over Israel, a country the Iraqi leadership anathemizes as much as it does the United States. Such an assault would portray Iraq as the only Arab country directly supporting the Palestinian uprising. It would also make the Jewish state unsafe as America’s alternative logistical base, in place of the contaminated Gulf facilities.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources report that Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, calling on Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in Jeddah on Saturday, September 21, laid before him confirmation of Iraq’s reported plan to employ weapons of mass destruction to contaminate the Gulf and its oil-rich coastal regions.
Verification came the following day from a second source, the US war chief, General Tommy Franks, when he visited Abdullah in Riyadh. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say the Iraqi assault plan against Gulf targets and Saudi oil fields dominated the Riyadh talks, together with a review of the ways in which the United States can help the oil kingdom.
The Iranian president offered to cooperate with the Saudis in fighting the Iraqi attacks off or at least battling their lethal effects. He said his government had begun instituting damage control measures in three main areas:
1. It had agreed to join America’s military offensive against Iraq (See separate article on the secret US-Iranian military cooperation pact), trading this consent for Washington’s aid should Iraq launch a nuclear, biological or chemical attack in the Gulf region.
2. Essential installations and equipment had been evacuated from Gulf coastal areas, Iranian islands and oil terminals.
3. A large military force had been transferred from its Gulf bases to the Caspian area of Mazandaran for comprehensive training exercises in combating nuclear, biological and chemical warfare.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, Saddam and his sons are examining this radical once unthinkable course after concluding the cards are stacked against them. They do not expect the Iraqi army to hold out in the face of a joint US, British, Turkish and Jordanian assault bolstered by logistical backing from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Moreover, even before the US offensive gets underway, they know they cannot take the loyalty of Iraqi military units for granted. The answer, Saddam and his advisers believe, is a punishing pre-emptive military and economic blow to the West, devastating enough to make the conquest of Iraq not worth the candle. In the meantime, Saddam and his sons would emulate the Taliban and al Qaeda and conduct the war from secret hideouts.
Saddam’s escape plan relies on America’s lack of success in tracking down al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
But Iraq is not Afghanistan and his neighbors are not willing to abet the butcher of Baghdad in his escape. It stands to reason, therefore, that the Iraqi ruler has already located distant hideouts where a substantial Iraqi intelligence staff is ready and waiting. The infrastructure is there. Over the last 25 years, Iraq has built up extensive intelligence networks, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts, across the Middle East, Australia, Eastern Europe, the Far East and South America.
If Arafat and his top men can be smuggled out of his beleaguered compound in Ramallah, Iraqi military intelligence will band together with Palestinian, Lebanese Hizballah and al Qaeda assets to create a formidable military intelligence coalition that will carry on the war on the United States and its allies. This war will be rooted ideologically in the concept of jihad versus the Christian world.