Just before closing this edition, DEBKA-Net-Weekly received first fragmentary reports from its intelligence sources that shed some light on the ease with which the US 1st Marines Expeditionary Force was able to reach the heart of Baghdad on Wednesday, April 9, without encountering substantial Iraqi resistance. Those reports also explain why the Republican Guards supposed to defend the Diyala bridges and prevent American forces from entering east Baghdad suddenly stopped shooting and deserted their posts.
These otherwise inexplicable happenings were the outcome of secret discussions between US special forces and CIA officers deployed undercover in the Iraqi-controlled parts of Baghdad and the high commander of the Iraqi elite Special Republican Guards, General Maher Safiyan Takriti, who is one of Saddam Hussein’s cousins.
General Takriti agreed to let US forces roll into central Baghdad unopposed, across bridges that were not blown up, in return for an American guarantee that his troops would be allowed to exit Baghdad unscathed and without pursuit.
Twenty-four hours after the American troops entered Baghdad, American B-52 bombers carried out a “bunker-buster” raid against the presidential bunker command system underneath the Dora district of southern Baghdad. It was the US bombers’ second sortie against the same site. The first raid was the war’s opening shot, carried out on March 19. It was the first US “raid of opportunity” against a leadership target, after which there was much speculation about whether Saddam Hussein was hit or not. The second bombardment of the same site took place after American bomb experts grasped that Saddam’s subterranean edifices can only be destroyed by repeated pounding which eventually make the walls crack and cave in.
American bombing experts have become much more knowledgeable than they were on March 19 about the vulnerabilities of these underground command posts and the movements of senior Iraqis through these subterranean fastnesses. The question is does this knowledge come from data gathered by US special forces teams operating on the ground? Or was it procured as a result of deals, ad hoc or not, with Iraqi commanders?
The secret deal with General Takriti raises two important questions:
1. Was the Baghdad transaction the first one to be closed with this high Iraqi commander? Or were there others? And is he the only Iraqi general to deal directly with the Americans?
2. Were this and any other trades approved by Saddam Hussein or his sons? If so, what did they get in return?
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts, one suggestive fact hints at a possible answer. Until this moment, the only major Iraqi highway kept open by US forces is the route heading north from Baghdad to Tikrit, onto Mosul and thence across the Syrian border to Kishmali. We hear that this highway is to be closed some time on Friday, April 11. Up until now, it was under the control of Iraqi forces, who were neither bombed nor attacked. In other words, both the Americans and the Iraqis took care that throughout the hostilities one road-link would remain open between Iraq and Syria.
It may also be presumed that there was a limited or tacit understanding between the warring sides as to who would use the road and in what way – for two-way trips or only as an exit route?
The fact that this unique route will be shut down now signals the approach of the next crucial battle for Saddam’s heartland which lies north of Baghdad between Tikrit, Samarra and Al-Ramadi, a triangle under which Saddam has tunneled his deepest and most heavily fortified fortress centers. The time for partial deals would therefore seem to be past.
As for the final battle, a last question presents itself:
Did General Takriti deal with the Americans with the knowledge of Saddam and his sons or did he betray them? – and not merely to save his men and officers, but to save the town of Tikrit and his clan’s homes. His treachery, if that is what took place, would mean that Tikrit, like Najaf, al Kut, Karbala and Baghdad, will not have to endure any real fighting.