The timing of the third Saddam Hussein audiotape aired in the last month was precise: Thursday, July 17 marked the 35th anniversary of his Baath party’s seizure of power in Baghdad. Its contents were uncomfortably apt, landing in the middle of the storm gathering in the United States and Britain over accusations that George Bush and Tony Blair had hyped up the threat of Iraq’s non-conventional weapons – including a phony report alleging that Saddam tried to buy uranium in Niger — to win public support for the Iraq war.
Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post reported in his column on Thursday:
“With significant help from his top aides, President Bush has managed to shoot himself and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in their combined four feet in a minor intelligence controversy that threatens to obscure the real problems of U.S. assessments of Iraq before and during the Second Gulf War…Competence is fast becoming the central issue on Iraq. The resonance of the uranium controversy represents a blinking warning light for Bush, who needs to reestablish for Americans that he knows where he is going in Iraq and that the destination is reachable in a reasonable amount of time.”
The Bush administration is under fire and Saddam and his sons Uday and Qusay have picked up the message.
To recap, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported exclusively last week that the trio have taken up positions in the well-equipped secret underground bunkers located in the Samarra region of central Iraq. With them are officers and men of the Special Republican Guard forces, Baath party activists and Fedayeen Saddam.
Scenting a moment of indecision in Washington before the United States embarks on its next moves in Iraq, the Iraqi ruler is broadening the guerrilla war against US forces – not only to kill American soldiers but also to disable strategic targets.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources discern a plan to cut off Baghdad’s international airport from the capital while also disrupting air traffic. In almost daily attacks, Iraqi guerrilla units made up of Special Republican Guards ex-soldiers have been aiming at American convoys on the six-mile (10 km)-long main highway leading from west Baghdad to the airport. Wednesday, July 16, an American soldier was killed and three were wounded in one of those highway attacks.
On the same day, a shoulder-launched Strela missile was fired at a Hercules-130 transport coming in to land at the airport, the third such attack. Last weekend, two missiles missed American aircraft as they approached Baghdad airport, ominous augurs of more to come,
The launching of three ground-to-air missile attacks in less than a week means the Iraqis are capable of deploying several missile squads around the airport and US forces are powerless to stop them. Downing an aircraft and hitting a US convoy on the road linking airport to city would give Saddam loyalists a huge boost, encouraging them to hope for a turnaround in the military situation.
An offensive of this kind would settle the debate between defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who denies the attacks in Iraq are guerrilla warfare, and the new commander of US forces in Iraq, General John Abizaid, who after a tense day in Iraq said quite emphatically on Wednesday, July 16, that a guerrilla war was indeed being waged against American troops.
Saddam’s broadcast coincided with Blair’s visit to Washington for talks with Bush.
It also followed the inauguration of a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, whose first act was to abolish national holidays honoring Saddam Hussein, such as the anniversary of the Baath party’s seizure of power. Saddam’s messengers evidently found ways of getting his latest tape to the Saudi television station Al Arabiyeh which broadcasts from Abu Dhabi in time to wreak the most damage.
It was important for the Iraqi ex-ruler to have his voice aired accusing Bush and Blair of lying about his weapons of mass destruction to justify the war, on the very day that Blair called on Bush to decide how to handle their credibility crisis on this issue. In all his pronouncements the deposed ruler has attempted to sow doubts in America and Britain about the credibility of their leaders. Lately, his seeds are falling on fertile ground. Some 75 percent of Britons are convinced the war was not justified. A similar turn in American public opinion would be a major victory for Saddam and rattle the confidence of US soldiers now fighting against him.
Yasser Arafat’s tactics are somewhat similar to those employed by the former Iraqi leader.
Both men find themselves under siege and fighting armies superior to theirs in numbers and technology. But while absorbing stinging defeats, both men successfully twist the facts so as to present themselves as victors and the real victors as losers.
How do they do it?
By an authoritarian clarity of resolve and a ruthless adherence to their goals. Both know exactly where they want to go and unscrupulously force or brainwash their followers into fighting under their leadership up to those goals – even to laying down their lives. Their opponents confronted with unrelenting violence find themselves steered into a reactive posture, hesitantly groping for ways to double-guess the enemy’s next steps and plans, instead of strikiing swiftly.
Last week, the US governor in Iraq, Paul Bremer, pulled off the extraordinary feat of installing an all-Iraqi Governing Council, one of the Bush administration’s most important objectives in going to war. Reflecting the population makeup, the IGC is comprised of 15 Shiite representatives, four Kurds, members of the Iraqi Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Assyrian and Turkomen delegates and even a representative of the communist party.
This is the first step toward a democratic Iraq with a new constitution and general elections. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report the council’s composition is not complete. There are still empty chairs for the representatives of the Sunni Muslim belt around Baghdad and Tikrit, where fighting is under way between the US army and Saddam loyalists. Our sources in Washington and Baghdad report the White House and Bremer as having decided it would be pointless amid these hostilities to name Sunni members to the IGC because they would automatically become the targets of pro-Saddam assassins. First, US forces are attempting to purge the area of forces of the old regime and flush out Saddam and his sons. After restoring stability to Sunni central-west Iraq, Bremer will appoint Sunni members to the IGC.
But the deposed ruler does not propose to wait for this to happen. Wednesday, July 16, he inflicted another setback to American plans by having the pro-American mayor of the western Iraqi town of Haditha, Mohammed Nayel al-Jurayfi, murdered.
Time is therefore is critical. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources cite highly sensitive intelligence information suggesting that Saddam and his men have begun infiltrating the new governing council, planting networks as Trojan horses. Agents of the ousted leader have even begun putting out cautious feelers to some American-appointed councilors.
Arafat followed the same method to restore his fortunes after he was defeated in a major Israeli offensive in the spring of 2002 and besieged in his government compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. In the interim, his agents invaded Palestinian ruling bodies rebuilding his influence from within. He repeated the exercise against the new Abu Mazen premiership administration, thereby spiking the peace moves undertaken by President Bush, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the Palestinian prime minister.
Our sources reveal that in Baghdad, a similar scenario has begun to be played out. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources are committed to withholding names for reasons of security, however they have discovered more than one central member of the IGC in clandestine contact through diverse channels with Saddam’s cronies and passing messages to him.
In short, Iraqi figures committed to embodying the country’s US-backed transition from Saddam’s tyranny to its first democratic government, a component of Washington’s New Middle East, are making sure of a lifeline in case the Americans fail and the deposed ruler returns to Baghdad.
This reality may lie behind the words on Saddam’s latest tape to the Iraqi people: “Pay no attention to this council. Of what importance are its members, whether Sunni or Shiite, if they agree to collaborate with the occupier?”
It is not hard to draw an analogy between the happenings in Ramallah and Samarra.