The hunt for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction ends its first week on a surreal note. The real job is not in the hands of the chief UN inspector Hans Blix, or even the International Atomic Agency inspector Mohammed el-Baradei. It is certainly not being handled by the teams rushing around ahead of the TV cameras from one suspect site to another.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources have discovered that a special multinational task force, made up of special elite units and armed with combat helicopters and aircraft, spy-planes and satellites, is in fact on top of the mission. Unlike the UN team which is based in Baghdad, the concealed team of investigators has fanned out across the country. One well-placed source disclosed: “Our men in the field know where 90 percent of Saddam’s missiles and unconventional weapons systems are located, even the mobile ones that are moved from place to place every hour. We are keeping them under tight observation because when the war begins and Saddam orders his men to activate them, we want to be there before they hit the triggers.”
According to our sources, this highly sensitive, elaborate and secret inspection project has been going for more than three months. Its success could pre-determine the course of the war before it begins. Its members are drawn from five nations: the United States, Britain, Israel, Jordan and Turkey. They operate under the Special Forces command at Al Udeid in Qatar and its sub-command in the Jordanian base of Mafraq. For the purpose of the search, Iraq has been divided into 16 squares, each the province of an elite unit for a set period. The Talil air base complex in north Iraq, for instance, with its air fields, missile bases and air defense batteries, was assigned for the first three weeks of December to US special forces, while the H-2 air base complex is under the purview of an Israeli unit for the same period of time.
When these units end their tour of duty, they return to base and are replaced.
All the units on this mission are briefed down to the last detail on the unconventional weapons in their zone, their precise locations and the names of the Iraqi officers and men assigned to the site. They keep watch around the clock over the comings and goings inside those sites and are on the ready at all times to move in and seize the facility if ordered to do so.
Conscious of the eyes constantly watching them, the Iraqis have made almost all their weapons systems mobile and are perpetually shifting them. Often the observers jump to false alert as a result of Iraq tricks, such as starting up the engines of giant trucks, usually Mercedes, and making as though to move out. Twenty minutes later, the engines are switched off. A convoy may set out without warning after midnight for an unknown destination. The watchers follow – only to discover them turning round at 4 am in the middle of the desert and driving back to base.
Each of these elite units is afforded broad autonomy of action. They may call up reinforcements as needed, or air assistance from their home base. The Turkish northern Iraqi observation unit, for example, is in the care of the south Turkish military command. Any urgent medical aid requirement will therefore be supplied by the Turkish air force. The same applies to the Israeli units who are at liberty to call up Israeli air force planes and helicopters as needed.
However, when aerial bombardment is called for to prevent the movement of weapons from one square to another, or air cover is required in the frequent cases of the special units coming under artillery or tank gun fire, the request for aerial assistance is routed through the US headquarters in Qatar or Jordan and US and UK warplanes scramble to raid Iraqi military targets.
Most of the dozens of “Western” or “allied” air sorties against Iraqi ground targets that are reported every few days are connected, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources can reveal, with Iraq’s maneuvers around the hiding places of its weapons of mass destruction.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say that this invisible arms inspection project has a dual purpose: it pins down the suspected weapons of mass destruction under close observation and siege; it supplies the Bush administration any data inaccessible to the UN inspection teams that may be needed.
Therefore on December 7, when Iraq submits to the UN Security Council its promised list of arms, to prove it has no long-range missiles of unconventional weapons – 1,000 pages have been promised – President George W. Bush can order General Tommy Franks to produce proof that the Iraqi list is false. All the general needs do is to order the elite unit guarding any one of the 16 squares to seize a weapons system, possibly with its Iraqi crew.
Since no one has any notion of how Saddam Hussein will react to this denouement, all American and allied forces in the Middle East and the Gulf were put on a high state of preparedness as of Wednesday, December 4.
These revelations provide backing for the statement by White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, on Thursday, December 5, that “the United States will provide intelligence to the United Nations inspectors on Saddam’s weapons”. He insisted that the US possesses solid evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, despite Baghdad’s denials.
Asked if the United States was headed towards war, President Bush said: “That’s a question you should ask Saddam Hussein.”