Wednesday, January 9, while the Americans were deep in negotiation for the next Iraqi prime minister, Saddam Hussein called a war council at one of his palaces in Baghdad. For the first time, he seated his two sons, Uday and Qusay, at the same table as top Iraqi officials, announcing, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources, that he had decided to place them in command of the two most important military forces in the land.
The younger son, Qusay, was to head the 6-8 special brigades of the Republican Guards, made up of 35,000 men, while Uday, the eldest, was given command of the 30-40,000-strong Fedayeen Saddam (Saddam’s Martyrs).
Saddam’s sons thus control the 60-70,000 fighting men with responsibility for defending the capital, Baghdad. According to our military sources, these men have converged on the city and each unit assigned a district to defend.
While the Republican Guards special brigades are an elite corps whose fighting skills should in theory match those of the American 101st Airborne Division, the capabilities of the Fedayeen are unknown, one of the deepest and darkest secrets of the Saddam regime.
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources have ferreted out some information on this mystery unit.
A motorized infantry force, it is made up of teenage recruits from Saddam’s own Tikrit clan, fielding an armored force, artillery and a small number of fixed wing and rotary craft. But most important, the Martyrs also have a special chemical platoon with a chemical reconnaissance section. Some of its personnel are scuba-, airborne- and air assault-trained. The unit’s secret training program prepares them for covert operations, assassinations, bombing, kidnapping and chemical and biological warfare. They are taught to hijack airlines, trains and buses. A select few learn the languages of their target destinations such as English, Persian and Hebrew.
It is drilled into these men that they must never fail in a mission.
The Fedayeen, reserved as the regime’s ultimate pre-emptive suicide force, is not the only card up Saddam’s sleeve.
The United States intends to throw state-of-the-art military technology into its war against Iraq, using sophisticated bombers, missiles, aircraft carriers, satellites, surveillance planes and spy ships to paralyze and destroy Iraq’s military command systems, communications, computers and supply networks.
Saddam Hussein is fielding a bogus army of metal and cardboard decoys, cellular and satellite telephone communication and a proxy force of about 300,000 “soldiers” – effectively secret agents of the military and special intelligence services under the direct control of the Iraqi leader and his family.
Iraq is also creating tank, missile, artillery and armored infantry divisions, comprised entirely of decoys. As part of the mock-up, numerous tank and tank carrier divisions have appeared over the past weeks in and around various Iraq cities. Their “armor” is tin or cardboard painted in Iraqi military colors, as are fearsome missiles on their launchers and thousands of uniformed Iraqi soldiers wearing fiberglass helmets seen in formation.
Iraq has planted heat and radiation-emitting instruments among the fake forces, including a large number of cellular telephones that can be remotely activated by simply dialing their numbers. The decoy army was not meant to fool the US airborne divisions that will land at the start of the attack on Baghdad (more about this in HOT POINTS at the end of this issue), but to attract the smart bombs and missiles US warplanes intend to drop.
But it is his system of well-protected and fully-stocked tunnels that has military planners concerned.
Intelligence data obtained by DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources shows that Saddam has built tunnel systems in and around 15 Iraqi cities, including the capital, Baghdad. Each tunnel is believed to be 20 to 25 meters (65 to 80 feet) deep, a record for underground tunnels in active military use. Similar tunnels dug in the West to withstand nuclear, chemical or biological are only 18 meters (60 feet) deep.
The southernmost tunnel complexes are located in Al Qurnah, north of the port city of Basra and span the meeting point of Iraq’s two biggest rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris. The northernmost system is in Tikrit, Saddam’s tribal hometown, midway between the northern oil city of Kirkuk and Baghdad.
The following is a list of 15 cities or towns where intelligence operatives now in Iraq report the military is using tunnel systems:
Southern and eastern Iraq: Al Qurnah, Al Nasiriyah, Al Kut, Ar-Rifai, Amarah.
Central Iraq: Baghad, Al Mahmudiyah, Al Hillah, Afak, As Samawah, Al Haditha, Hit, Fallujah.
Northern Iraq: Tikrit, Baqubah.
The tunnels were built by hundreds of North Korean and Chinese engineers, members of their respective countries’ engineering corps, and trained intelligence officers. Several dozen Bulgarians and Belarusians took part in the construction as well. According to reliable intelligence data, at least 15 to 20 Russian engineers and technicians – most of them military intelligence officers – were attached to the Bulgarian and Belarusian contingents. The special excavation equipment still in Iraq came mainly from China, South Korea and France.
Most of the entrances and exits of the tunnel systems fall within the defensive perimeter of the Iraqi army. They are wide enough to enable forces fighting in the area to seek shelter inside, where they can refuel and rearm before returning to the battlefield. Alternately, they can fight from the upper entrances to the tunnels, some five to six meters (15 to 20 feet) under ground. In the event of an overwhelming bombardment by aircraft, missiles, artillery or tanks, they can abandon their weapons, which will then become an integral part of the tunnel’s fortifications, and move to deeper levels to fight a guerrilla war.
Each tunnel system is self-contained and most have enough water, fuel and ammunition to sustain three weeks of fighting. The tunnel system around the Tigris River running through Baghdad includes purification facilities in the event of nuclear, chemical or biological attack and two fuel reservoirs. The larger reservoir holds 250,000 liters (58,000 gallons) of mainly diesel fuel. The smaller one contains 140,000 liters (33,000 gallons).
Intelligence officials believe that soldiers or other government forces using a given tunnel will require an average of 80,000 to 100,000 liters (19,000 to 25,000 gallons) of fuel per week. With frugal use, the supply could last up to two months.
Those inside will also be able to tap another source of supplies: the essential commodities – fuel, candles and first aid kits – which the government has been handing out to the civilian populations of the 15 cities over the past 10 days. Water should be no problem because underground sources were discovered during construction. Water can also be pumped in from aquifers scattered over vast areas of Iraq.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, a total of 50,000 to 70,000 soldiers and government functionaries will be able to use the 45 tunnel systems. Tunnel entrances and exits have been found so far in heavily populated urban areas – mainly in narrow alleyways – and on open ground in or near cities. In a bid to confuse US reconnaissance planes and satellites, millions of reeds have been planted in open areas where the tunnels are located. It is an old Iranian trick, used by Tehran in its war with Iraq in the 1980s. The Iranians found that US reconnaissance satellites over the Shaat al-Arab area had a hard time picking up troop concentrations and military movements – mainly speed boats hidden during the day but moving at night – in the reed marshes.
Several Iraqi tunnel entrances are linked to nearby rivers by wide canals obscured by reeds. These channels will be used as escape routes or conduits for reinforcements.
Saddam’s courier legion
According to DEBKA-Net Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources, Saddam will order troops inside and outside the tunnels to maintain complete radio and data transmission hush before the US attack, on the assumption that the invading force will try to shut down Iraqi communications lines and centers.
Therefore, the sophisticated US monitoring equipment will pick up only static and be unable to track Iraqi forces movements by their usual electronic trails.
Even the communications and public address systems in the tunnels will be silenced. With communications down, Saddam will use an army of as many as 50,000 couriers in small, fast vehicles, including motorcycles and motor scooters, or even on foot. Saddam got the idea from Chinese intelligence officers who operated until recently out of Baghdad and from al Qaeda operatives, who have arrived in the Iraqi capital over the past two months or maintained courier contact with the Iraqi leadership.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that the Chinese intelligence officers who helped the Iraqis set up the courier service, modeled it on a similar system run by the Chinese MSM intelligence agency. The MSM has no communications networks and uses couriers instead for delivering orders to its agents in the field.
Keeping casualties down – at first
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, Saddam was busy last week holding meetings in his central bunker in Baghdad with small groups of senior political figures and military and intelligence officers. He personally assigned each group its mission, its tunnel or bunker and its area of responsibility, whether political or military.
Information reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly indicates that Saddam told his officers and followers frankly that hard times lay ahead of them and their families. Some would be
called upon to lay down their lives for “the noble cause of the Iraqi people”. Iraqis, he said proudly, were the only people prepared to fight for “Moslem, Arab and Iraqi honor”. But he gave each the chance to opt out. Those who felt unable to move into the tunnels or other assigned positions, were removed from duty and allowed to rejoin their families.
Saddam also shared some of his thinking on the tactics he planned for the opening phases of the American assault. His primary goal, he said, was to lead the first stage to a stalemate – no major US victory and no massive Iraqi defeat. By waging war from fortified tunnels inside Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, he would prevent the Americans from capturing those cities as quickly as they had planned – that is, if those defenses hold up. The Americans and their allies will have no option but to pour massive reinforcements into the campaign and revise their war plans.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources, Saddam left his audience impressed by his determination to spare no means to achieve this objective.
As soon as the US assault begins, he intends to order the use of chemical and biological weapons against what he described as “the attacking forces and their helpers”, and inflict as many casualties as possible. Saddam did not disclose the location of the non-conventional weapons systems or say who would operate them. He also gave no clue about any nuclear weapons in his arsenal. But in several conversations, he raised the following two points:
A. Iraq’s cities will not suffer alone. Key cities in the United States and in European countries taking part in the war will also come under attack. Saddam did not name them or say how they would be struck. But he did mention that “Iraqi-made weapons” would almost certainly be used. It was the first time Saddam has given any sort of clue that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would be used by Iraqi military intelligence’s secret terrorist cells or by other terrorist groups. He said he believed the number of casualties in Iraqi cities and in those Iraq punished would be “colossal in relation to any previous war”.
B. Saddam dwelt on the fighting spirit of the US army. He claimed that several of his most loyal officers had recently talked to CIA officers serving under cover in Iraq and found that US morale was not high. He said that there were deep differences of opinion within the Bush administration on the conduct of the war, its final goals and the ways in which Iraq would be remolded.
Saddam declared that the combination of Iraqi fighting prowess, high American casualties and strikes on US and allied cities would guarantee Iraq’s survival in the first stage of the offensive. After that, Saddam said, the world will have changed and countries and their armed forces will rally to Iraq’s side. He did not name his potential allies.