Who Will Rule Iraq Now? The Riddle of Saddam’s Vanishing Army

Several thousand adherents of the deposed Iraqi president gathered in his former power base of Tikrit Monday, April 28, to celebrate Saddam Hussein’s 66th birthday. They bore his pictures aloft with congratulatory slogans.
In Baghdad, retired US general Jay Garner, interim administrator in charge of Iraq’s reconstruction, organized his second conference to plan the provisional government the country needs so desperately to put it on its feet. The first conference he called two weeks ago at Ur was poorly attended by around 60 Iraqi representatives. Monday’s attendance was almost a full house, including even delegates of the pro-Iranian SAIRI, the Supreme Shiite Council for the Iraqi Revolution, which boycotted the first get-together of Iraqi factional leaders.
Garner’s opening words were: “Today on the birthday of Saddam Hussein, let us start the democratic process for the children of Iraq”. His words reflected the message gaining ground now: The king is dead, long live the king! Whether or not the Bush administration turns up forbidden weapons to justify the war is beginning to fade in importance against the overpowering recognition that the Iraqi people’s agony at the hands of a tyrant is over and a better future beckons.
Rumors continue to surround that tyrant’s fate. Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress – settled in Uday Hussein’s palace in Baghdad, after decades of being supported in exile by Washington and London – says Saddam and his two sons are most certainly under surveillance. He claims knowledge that the deposed ruler had his bodyguards tie explosive belts round his and his sons’ waists in case the Americans ran them to earth. All three would then blow themselves up with their captors.
debkafile‘s intelligence sources strongly doubt that Saddam Hussein and his sons are made of the stuff of suicides. Chalabi’s interest in the Hussein’s total disappearance from the Iraqi scene is understandable. However, according to our information, the deposed ruler and his sons were carried to safety in Minsk in late March aboard two chartered airliners. This week, the Polish news agency PAP sent a team of reporters to the Belarus capital to check on this account. They quote Natalia Pietkiewicz, spokesperson at President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s bureau, as evading a direct reply when asked if the former Iraqi ruler was in the country. She said: “We have no information that Saddam Hussein is in Belarus.” This is a long way from a flat denial.
The big question is how did the trio and its following of several hundred manage to elude coalition air forces, by then in full command of Iraqi skies, a question which leads to another: How did the men at the pinnacle of enemy power come to survive the two wars the Bush administration fought in less than two years?
In 2001, Osama bin Laden, Dr. Ayman al-Zuwahri and Mullah Omar escaped from Afghanistan; in 2003, Saddam Hussein and his sons broke out of besieged Iraq. In Afghanistan, most of the deposed Taliban combatants were absorbed in the general population or disappeared in the lawless Pakistani-Afghan border regions, while al Qaeda’s foot soldiers scattered around the Persian Gulf emirates, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Central Asia as well as the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. But where are the half million fighting men of Iraq’s 45 armed forces divisions? Failing evidence of a mass exodus from the country, the only conclusion must be that they removed their uniforms and went home to their families – much like the Taliban. Both left behind vast ammunition dumps – though not weapons.
This distinction is important. According to debkafile‘s military sources, a surprisingly small number of burnt-out Iraqi tanks were seen strewn across battlefield landscape and routes of retreat – no more than tens, when Iraq is known to have had thousands of tanks. Masses of Iraqi artillery and rocket launchers have likewise disappeared.
A partial solution of the mystery emanates from an intelligence method known as “deep enemy penetration”, whereby enemy forces are engaged in clandestine negotiations in advance of or during a conflict. This type of operation, traditionally carried out by a small department in US military intelligence was expanded for the Iraq War to become a primary intelligence arm of the coalition war command.
The “deep enemy penetration” tactic was first employed for the 1991 Gulf War, when US intelligence officers went behind the front lines in Kuwait armed with personal data on targeted Iraqi battalion and divisional commanders. Their mission was to negotiate surrender terms before coalition forces came on the scene.
This time round, US war planners were determined to persuade as many as possible Iraqi field commanders that capitulation was the better part of valor – especially the officers of the elite Special Republican Guards and Fedayeen Saddam divisions – in order to keep US and British casualties down to a minimum. The plan was to close as many bargains as early as possible to show Saddam and his sons Qusay and Uday who directly commanded Iraqi forces that the ground had been stolen from under their feet and their best bet was to go into exile before hostilities got under way.
The outcome of this exercise is detailed in Part II of this series

Print Friendly, PDF & Email