The decision to kill Saddam Hussein’s two horrible sons instead of taking them alive was made in the corridors of power in Washington a little before 8 a.m. Iraq time on Tuesday, July 22.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources, it was just past midnight local time when a White House A-Team – defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, CIA director George Tenet, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the visiting civil administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer – decided that the two sons, Qusay and Uday, together with Qusay’s son, 14-year old Mustafa, a potential heir apparent, had to go. The group conferred repeatedly with deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who was on a visit to Baghdad and acted as Washington’s point man with American commanders in Iraq.
The decision to cut down Saddam’s offspring was taken as American guns pinned them down in the fortified Palladian mansion owned by the deposed ruler’s third cousin, Marwan Zeidan in the northern town of Mosul Their deaths were deemed essential to the overarching goal of showing the Iraqi people that Saddam Hussein and his like would be eliminated root and branch from Iraq’s ruling system, never to return. Washington needed to hammer this message home to counteract the corrosive effect on Iraqis of the mounting guerrilla campaign on American troops and their failure to take out a single senior member of Saddam’s inner circle since invading the country in March.
Thursday, July 24, American officials overcame their repugnance and released the gruesome post mortem photographs of the dead men to still any lingering Iraqi doubts of their passing.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources reveal that, even now, the Saddam succession lives on in the person of a third, virtually unknown younger son called Ali, who is thought to be in his early twenties. Uday and Qusay had the same mother, Sajida. Ali’s mother is Samira Shahbandar, the daughter of an aristocratic Syrian-Iraqi family. His two half-brothers worked long and hard to keep Ali’s existence dark and unrecognized, but Saddam is fond of his youngest son and always protected him from his siblings’ rancor. For years, Ali and his mother lived in Syria. Just before the war, Ali dropped out of sight and has not been located so far by any intelligence agency. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources estimate that Ali’s father may be hoping to take him into one of the well-fortified underground complexes tunneled somewhere between Tikrit and Samara East. He is most probably in Syria, possibly with his mother. In any case, there is a strong possibility that Saddam Hussein will try and elevate his last surviving son to fill the dynastic gap left by the deaths of Uday and Qusay.
In sentencing the two sons to death, Bush’s advisers were also influenced by concern for American soldiers’ lives. Drawing out the assault in order to capture the two sons would have increased the risk to American troops, whereas a rapid-fire operation showed Iraqis that the US military is capable of a clean “surgical strike” without suffering casualties or causing collateral damage. It was also important to avoid casualties among the Kurdish neighbors of the Zeidan residence who, with their tribal leader Jalal Talabani were instrumental in leading the Americans to the brothers and holding them down.
How will American coup affect Iraqi guerrilla action?
The consensus of DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence experts is that the American military’s successful operation in Mosul will in no way reduce the daily guerrilla threat to US troops. This is because the Iraqi resistance campaign is not the outcome of Saddam’s military prowess or capabilities but of misjudgments by the former war commander General Tommy Franks towards the end of the invasion stage of the war. The foremost of these are:
1. The overconfident American dash to Baghdad, unopposed by a rapidly disintegrating Iraqi army and regime, left large parts of the country out of control to this day. American war planners believed at the time that this turn of speed was vital to prevent Saddam and his forces from rallying for defense and counter-attack. The truth was quite different: Saddam’s rule was a house of cards held together by his reign of terror – not genuine military strength. Prevented by the American invasion and arrival in Baghdad from activating its machine of terror, the regime and armed forces collapsed.
Since the guerrilla war got going, hindsight pundits theorize that Saddam and his sons stage-managed the rapid disintegration in order to pull the Americans into a quagmire. However, these theories have no basis in fact. Saddam was himself taken aback by the speed with which his army crumbled – especially in Baghdad, and he too misjudged the US war command’s tactics.
2. Even before President George W. Bush declared an end to hostilities in Iraq on May 1, Franks began pulling his best combats units out of the country back to the United States – whether in response to demands in Washington to bring them back to home base or because they were needed on other world fronts.
The extraction of vital units seriously depleted American elite operational strength in the field. Elements of the 101st Airborne Division who stayed on amply proved their worth in the battles across the Syrian border and at al Qaim in western Iraq on June 18 and in other operations culminating in the raid on Marwan Zeidan’s villa in Mosul on Tuesday, July 22, which ended the lives of Saddam’s sons.
The rest of US strength in Iraq, including Baghdad, is made up of regular army units untrained and inexperienced in standing up to guerrilla warfare.
Exploiting US military weaknesses
Iraqi anti-American forces, former army-men, members of the Special Republican Guards and Baath party functionaries, shocked at first by the defeat, then stripped of privilege, a steady wage and food to put on the table for their families, soon began to look around them. They saw long lines of slow-moving US military supply convoys crawling between cities and bases hundreds of kilometers apart, manned by officers who had no idea how to protect their charges from sniper attack from ambush and were not trained to think on their feet and improvise.
These chinks in American armor were open invitations to the Saddam loyalists bent on armed resistance. At first, they lacked organization and a centralized command for waging a guerrilla war proper and started out by sabotaging oil installations. Soon, Iraq ex-soldiers standing at roadsides and junctions in civilian clothes realized no one would stop them taking potshots at American military vehicles using small arms or even rocket-propelled grenades, or catch them when they melted away.
From late May, the attacks mounted and casualties began rising as newly established local command centers began to manage what was turning into a wide-scale guerrilla war.
Since then, more than 40 American troops have lost their lives in these hit and run strikes.
Saddam, in his third audio tape, recorded two days before his sons’ deaths and aired Wednesday, July 23, opportunistically addressed his call to arms to the former members of the Special Republican Guards, urging them to step up their strikes against US forces.
Saddam had spotted who the shooters were and was egging them on.
In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military experts, cutting short the lives of Qusay and Uday will not halt or even reduce the momentum of the guerrilla war against US troops. At best, their disappearance may arrest the elevation of collaboration among local commanders to regional levels. Instead of being integrated into regional commands, the local guerrilla chiefs will continue to operate independently. This has the benefit of rendering major revenge attacks improbable since few individual Iraqi guerrilla fighters will want to risk their lives to avenge Uday, who was targeted for assassination attempts and regarded by many Iraqis as a brutal, rapacious psychopath – or Qusay, whose lust for power and unbridled taste for mass murder were legendary. It may be left to a small group of Iraqi intelligence agents, personal cronies of Saddam, to attempt acts of vengeance, such as killing or abducting American soldiers and officers or assassinating a high-ranking civil administration official in Baghdad.
3. By the second half of June, the American field command and the government in Washington knew that dealing with the deteriorating situation required the return to Iraq of elite units.
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military analysts estimate that the US armed forces do not have available enough trained commandos capable of countering guerrilla warfare, like the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions or the Delta special operations unit. To find these troops for Iraq, Washington would have to take a strategic decision to deplete its 100,000-man force in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is actively fighting to regain power, or draw on its bases in the Horn of Africa, where US forces are holding down the al Qaeda threat.
As things stand now, the American command in Iraq is short of a minimum of 20,000 troops trained in counter-guerrilla tactics.
The rotation plan published by the Pentagon this week reflects this lack.
Similarly, the only foreign government which has so far offered troops is Poland. Most others are shilly-shallying on Washington’s request for peacekeepers or have refused outright, like India, Japan, the Philippines and Italy. The armies of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia are skilled in anti-guerrilla warfare. However they are needed at home to prop up the local regimes against indigenous Muslim extremist insurgencies.
Even after cutting the Saddam succession short, Washington is still faced with coming up with the resources for winning the guerrilla battle put up by the deposed ruler’s diehards. Five American troops were killed in the two days following that victory. US forces need expect no breathing space from the sniping, ambushes and home-made explosives. The situation will further deteriorate if the Bush administration defers curative action until September. Iraqi guerrilla forces are keeping a weather eye not only on their own patch but also on the political arena in Washington.