US Forces Tighten Military Noose on SE Iraq as UN Countdown Begins
Friday, November 8, while international attention was fixed on the UN Security Council vote by 15 to nothing in favor of the US-UK-Ireland ultimatum to Iraq to disarm, US aircraft dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets over Iraqi troop concentrations that are building up in southwest Iraq, calling on them not to fire on US and British forces. The leaflets fluttered down over a 250-mile strip running close to the Iranian border from the big Iraqi land and air base at Al Kut, 135 miles southeast of Baghdad in the north, to the Shatt al Arb port city of Basra, Iraq’s only outlet to the Persian Gulf, in the south.
In Baghdad’s first comment on the UN vote Saturday, November 9, Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri praised the UN Security Council for thwarting US plans to attack Iraq, clearly disregarding events on the ground. He promised a detailed response would be forthcoming within days.
debkafile‘s military sources report the American leaflets targeted two major Iraqi military concentrations in particular – one divided between at Al Halafyah, 22 miles east of Al Amarah – roughly 25 miles west of the Iranian frontier, and Musallan, 12 miles north of Al Amarah; the other Iraqi deployment guards the strategic town of Al Qurnah, 50 miles north of Basra, and Al Muzayriah, 10 miles south of Al Qurnah, at the point where the Euphrates flows into the Tigris.
In Washington, George W. Bush could hardly wait for the Security Council to finish voting before issuing a grave warning to Saddam Hussein that “his cooperation must be prompt and unconditional or he will face the severest consequences”.
The distribution of those leaflets was pre-planned, debkafile‘s military sources report exclusively, to coincide with the Security Council vote and the Bush warning, as a strong signal that, regardless of UN Security Council Resolution 1410, the fate of Iraq would be determined on the ground, not in the conference chamber.
According to our sources, US-UK and Iraqi forces have been locked for two weeks in the most extensive engagement of the campaign thus for the capture of the entire region from Ali Gharbi in the north up to Al Qurnah in the south. Fighting alongside American and British special forces are elements of Iranian Revolutionary Guards special and intelligence units. They face on the Iraqi side elite units of the Babel and Republican Guard divisions, as well as contingents of the Saddam Martyrs Brigades, made up of fighting men from Saddam’s own Tikrit tribe. They include paratroop and naval commandos and units armed with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Friday’s UN resolution went into immediate effect, giving Baghdad until November 15 to accept UN arms inspectors with broad new powers to go anywhere at any time, backed by the threat of force. Iraq is ordered to declare any illicit weapons programs by December 8.
The inspectors’ efforts will focus on exposing any biological or chemical weapons, while the atomic energy agency searches for signs of a renewed nuclear program. Their report will be handed in 60 days hence.
The blueprint leaves it up to the inspectors to decide what constitutes a violation. Chief UN inspector Hans Blix said an advance team would reach Baghdad on November 18, ready to begin work by December 23. The team is authorized to conduct surprise inspections anywhere in Iraq, including Saddam’s presidential sites and conduct private interviews with any Iraqi citizen.
At the last minute, Syria in a surprise reversal made the vote unanimous. Russia, France and China jointly interpreted the resolution as excluding any automatic use of force.
While this diplomatic point was made in New York, American and British forces are fully occupied in southern Iraq and have been there since early September – as disclosed previously by the military sources of DEBKA-Net-Weekly (Issue 77, Sep. 20) and debkafile.