Saddam’s Pre-War Feints and Maneuvers

Last week’s “discovery” by UN arms inspectors of a dozen empty chemical 122 mm missile warheads at an Iraqi ammunition dump in Ukhaider, 70 miles south of Baghdad, was not the outcome of intelligence but subtle Iraqi manipulation. The UN inspectors were led by the nose to their discovery. debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources report this after tracking it down to source.
Wednesday, January 15, US president George W. Bush declared he was sick and tired of Saddam Hussein’s games and deceit – with effect on the US timetable. Hearing this, the Iraqi ruler understood the American president was near his limit and must be calmed down to give Iraq more time to manufacture fresh delays. Iraqi intelligence, a world-class practitioner of deceit, trickery, diversion and disinformation, was instructed to organize 12 empty chemical shells in sealed crates and place them in a military ammunition depot. Double agents planted among the UN arms inspectors’ technical aides, most of them from Middle Eastern countries, were told to pass the “tip” on to the Blix team.
The effect of the find was electric.
A. In Washington, London, Paris, Moscow and UN Headquarters in New York, everyone waited with baited breath for tests to be carried out on the empty shells – gaining valuable time for Saddam to play with.
B. US spokesmen said the find was an important pointer to the WMD that Iraq was concealing. Washington showed itself willing to wait for the UN team to turn up real substance, whether chemical, biological or nuclear. The US president was forced to curb his impatience and grant the inspectors more time for their search. After all, America could hardly go to war on the strength of 12 empty chemical shells.
Their discovery brought home to the American people the possibility of a brutal war with a high casualty count. One publication estimated that US troops would suffer as many as 3,000 dead and 10,000 injured. The tide of domestic opinion was turning against the war. In the absence of proven Iraqi possession of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, only 29 percent of Americans canvassed last week favored going to war, while 63 percent were against.
C. Shortly after the empty shells discovery, Wall Street stocks dipped and the US dollar fell against the euro. The international trading community was clearly unimpressed by the find and far from convinced that the UN team would come up with the solid proof needed to justify an American offensive against Saddam Hussein.
This uncertainty and lack of confidence were reflected in international trading, although the markets are not always infallible in their interpretation of political trends. But Saddam’s stratagem had netted him another gain: He had manipulated the markets and rewarded the Europeans for their help in postponing the US attack by boosting their currency, however briefly.
D. Time was also bought to rally sympathizers in the region and divide the pro-American front. The Saudis, Turks and Egyptians began muddying the waters. As will be reported in a separate item on this page, Jordan decided – if not to opt out of US military action against Iraq, to hold back permission for a US invasion force to gather on its frontier with Iraq.
King Abdullah thus lined up with the majority of Muslim Middle East governments who prefer to stay aloof from the American campaign – though certainly not foregoing their say in the shaping of the post-war regime in Baghdad – after US troops clear the Saddam and his regime out of the way.
To disguise this gain-without-pain aspiration, the Saudis began planting rumors alleging that the Iraqi ruler is on the point of agreeing to self-exile for the sake of preventing war.
According to debkafile‘s sources, these rumors are unfounded. Saddam has no intention of doing anyone the favor of voluntarily departing Iraq. However, the planted rumor spread over the weekend like wildfire and even German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was taken in, affording the Iraqi ruler the gift of more time to dream up tricks while gearing up for the coming confrontation.
All in all, even before the shooting begins, Iraq is deep into its war of information manipulation with some neighborly help.

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