Saddam’s Mysterious Apathy

A select group of Iraqi district governors was ushered into Saddam’s palace-bunker late last month expecting a last briefing from their president on contingencies for a US offensive. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the Gulf report they were treated instead to a long harangue from Saddam on public sanitation in their respective districts.
“Sanitation is one of the most important foundations underpinning the stability of the Iraqi republic,” he told his guests.
After the meeting, several governors told close confidantes that their president and supreme commander seemed to have lost touch with reality.
Other military and intelligence sources paint a similar picture of Saddam’s apparent mood. If he is indeed on the verge of a mental breakdown, they say, America could win the war against him without firing a shot.
But professional Saddam-watchers, who keep an eye on the Iraqi president through various surveillance systems – notably American, Israeli and British – wonder whether his quirky behavior might not just be an elaborate ruse. Signs that the Iraqi ruler is too depressed to put up a fight have been picked up DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, although they too do not rule out careful staging:
1. Iraq has made no unusual preparations for counter-attacking or withstanding a full-scale war, beyond massing special forces at the Tikrit bunker complex where Saddam and his top leaders are holed up.
2. Iraqi military movements begun in June have come to a halt. The Iraqi forces deployed on the border with Turkey, the southern banks of the Greater Zab and Lesser Zab Rivers remain static. Some have even returned to base. Iraq has suddenly cut back on its heightened air force activity, also ending a series of training exercises focusing on air combat and the mid-air fueling of Mirage F-1 fighter-bombers.
The only military movement detected lately in Iraq is the accelerated call-up of popular militias, most prominently the Jerusalem Brigades, which are made up of elderly volunteers. As one military source told us: “We can all stop worrying about a long and bloody urban guerrilla war.”
3. All of the surface-to-surface missiles deployed in early August north and south of Baghdad have disappeared. Intelligence agencies have been able to find them, but are certain they were not sent back to base.
Here are the some updated intelligence estimates of Iraq’s missile arsenal:
Iraq has between 50 and 60 medium-range surface-to-surface missiles (DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s experts put the number at 75 to 125) capable of hitting targets up to 1,000 to 1,200 kilometers (600 to 720 miles) away. Some can carry chemical and biological warheads. Scraps of information gleaned by US intelligence suggest that Saddam has a handful of missiles, perhaps no more than five or six, able to deliver a nuclear payload. If these numbers is correct, Saddam will have to pick and choose his targets carefully if he wants to produce a bang big enough to resonate in Muslim history books, before he leaves the world stage.
In the face of the US Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC 3) anti-missile missile deployed by US forces in the Gulf and Israel’s Arrow-2 missile killer, Saddam will need to launch volleys of 15 to 20 missiles each for a minimum of two to five to survive long enough to reach their targets. Three or four such volleys will deplete Iraq’s missile arsenal.
Communication between Saddam and his missile units presents him with an equally serious tactical problem. The US military will certainly lay heavy electronic interference on the bunkers where he and his top military echelon are hiding out, as well as jamming Iraqi missile batteries’ communications and operational systems. Back in early June, missile battery commanders were told that if they did not hear from Saddam or his sons for more than three hours into an American attack, to open wax-sealed envelopes, extract the target lists inside and starting shooting without delay. But the built-in weakness of such orders is that the missile commanders might start wondering why on earth they should let loose against alien targets with missiles tipped with chemical and biological warheads when their own leaders may be dead and gone.
US and Israeli intelligence services differ over the scenario. US experts, led by Kadish, expect full obedience to Saddam’s commands from the Iraqi missile commanders, while Israeli experts are much more skeptical – hence the slowdown in Israeli preparations for WMD attack, as reported in a separate article on this page.
4. Although the previous three points suggest a fundamental weakness in the Iraqi leadership, Iraq’s intelligence services, especially military intelligence, are still going strong. The assassination of Palestinian arch terrorist Abu Nidal and four of his operatives in his Baghdad apartment on Friday, August 16 by Iraqi agents indicated strongly that Iraqi intelligence services was operating efficiently at the behest of Saddam Hussein and his minions, together with their ruthless campaign to purge potential defectors in the Iraqi armed forces.
The latter two strengthen the suspicion in the American, Israeli and Turkish intelligence communities that Saddam’s seeming apathy and apparent signs of a mental breakdown are a piece of theater designed to misdirect attention from his war plans, which continue to be a hotly debated mystery in Washington, Jerusalem, Ankara and Amman. He may also be putting on the act to disarm vigilance for the mega-terror attacks he plans to launch in the United States and Israel – as DEBKA-Net-Weekly determined last week.
The full version of his article was run in our intelligence newsletter for subscribers, DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 74, on August 24, 2002. DNW subscribers receiving advance notice of the hottest strategic news of the day, such as the above. To join this distinguished group now, place your order by clicking <B<IHEREI>B>.

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