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NYT: US military report: Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat


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"Much of this material is included in a secret history prepared by the American military of how Mr. Hussein and his commanders fought their war. Posing as military historians, American analysts interrogated more than 110 Iraqi officials and military officers, treating some to lavish dinners to pry loose their secrets and questioning others in a detention center at the Baghdad airport or the Abu Ghraib prison. United States military officials view the accounts as credible because many were similar. In addition, more than 600 captured Iraqi documents were reviewed.

Overseen by the Joint Forces Command, an unclassified version of the study is to be made public soon. A classified version was prepared in April 2005. Titled "Iraqi Perspectives on Operation Iraqi Freedom, Major Combat Operations," the study shows that Mr. Hussein discounted the possibility of a full-scale American invasion."

"Michael R. Gordon is the chief military correspondent for The New York Times, and Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine lieutenant general, is a former military correspondent for the newspaper. This article is adapted from their book, "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," which will be released Tuesday by Pantheon Books."
The New York Times - nytimes.com
March 12, 2006
Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat

As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital's defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.

But Saddam Hussein and his small circle of aides had their own ideas of how to fight the war. Convinced that the main danger to his government came from within, Mr. Hussein had sought to keep Iraq's bridges intact so he could rush troops south if the Shiites got out of line.

General Hamdani got little in the way of additional soldiers, and the grudging permission to blow up the bridge came too late. The Iraqis damaged only one of the two spans, and American soldiers soon began to stream across.

The episode was just one of many incidents, described in a classified United States military report, other documents and in interviews, that demonstrate how Mr. Hussein was so preoccupied about the threat from within his country that he crippled his military in fighting the threat from without.

Only one of his defenses — the Saddam Fedayeen — proved potent against the invaders. They later joined the insurgency still roiling Iraq, but that was largely by default, not design.

Ever vigilant about coups and fearful of revolt, Mr. Hussein was deeply distrustful of his own commanders and soldiers, the documents show.

He made crucial decisions himself, relied on his sons for military counsel and imposed security measures that had the effect of hobbling his forces. He did that in several ways:
  • The Iraqi dictator was so secretive and kept information so compartmentalized that his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons for the nation's defense.
  • He put a general widely viewed as an incompetent drunkard in charge of the Special Republican Guard, entrusted to protect the capital, primarily because he was considered loyal.
  • Mr. Hussein micromanaged the war, not allowing commanders to move troops without permission from Baghdad and blocking communications among military leaders.
The Fedayeen's operations were not shared with leaders of conventional forces. Republican Guard divisions were not allowed to communicate with sister units. Commanders could not even get precise maps of terrain near the Baghdad airport because that would identify locations of the Iraqi leader's palaces.

Much of this material is included in a secret history prepared by the American military of how Mr. Hussein and his commanders fought their war. Posing as military historians, American analysts interrogated more than 110 Iraqi officials and military officers, treating some to lavish dinners to pry loose their secrets and questioning others in a detention center at the Baghdad airport or the Abu Ghraib prison. United States military officials view the accounts as credible because many were similar. In addition, more than 600 captured Iraqi documents were reviewed.

Overseen by the Joint Forces Command, an unclassified version of the study is to be made public soon. A classified version was prepared in April 2005. Titled "Iraqi Perspectives on Operation Iraqi Freedom, Major Combat Operations," the study shows that Mr. Hussein discounted the possibility of a full-scale American invasion.

"A few weeks before the attacks Saddam still thought the U.S. would not use ground forces," Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told American interrogators. "He thought they would not fight a ground war because it would be too costly to the Americans."

Despite the lopsided defeat his forces suffered during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Mr. Hussein did not see the United States as his primary adversary. His greater fear was a Shiite uprising, like the one that shook his government after the 1991 war.

His concern for the threats from within interfered with efforts to defend against an external enemy, as was evident during a previously unknown review of military planning in 1995. Taking a page out of the Russian playbook, Iraqi officers suggested a new strategy to defend the homeland. Just as Russia yielded territory to defeat Napoleon and later Hitler's invading army, Iraq would resist an invading army by conducting a fighting retreat. Well-armed Iraqi tribes would be like the Russian partisans. Armored formations, including the Republican Guard, would assume a more modest role.

Mr. Hussein rejected the recommendation. Arming local tribes was too risky for a government that lived in fear of a popular uprising.

While conventional military planning languished, Mr. Hussein's focus on internal threats led to an important innovation: creation of the Fedayeen paramilitary forces. Equipped with AK-47's, rocket propelled grenades and small-caliber weapons, one of their primary roles was to protect Baath Party headquarters and keep the Shiites at bay in the event of a rebellion until more heavily equipped Iraqi troops could crush them.

Controlled by Uday Hussein, a son of the Iraqi leader, the Fedayeen and other paramilitary forces were so vital to the survival of the government that they "drained manpower" that would otherwise have been used by Iraq's army, the classified report says.

Mr. Hussein was also worried about his neighbor to the east. Like the Bush administration, Mr. Hussein suspected Iran of developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Each year the Iraqi military conducted an exercise code-named Golden Falcon that focused on defense of the Iraq-Iran border.

The United States was seen as a lesser threat, mostly because Mr. Hussein believed that Washington could not accept significant casualties. In the 1991 war, the United States had no intention of taking Baghdad. President George H. W. Bush justified the restraint as prudent to avoid the pitfalls of occupying Iraq, but Mr. Hussein concluded that the United States was fearful of the military cost.

Mr. Hussein's main concern about a possible American military strike was that it might prompt the Shiites to take up arms against the government. "Saddam was concerned about internal unrest amongst the tribes before, during or after an attack by the U.S. on Baghdad," Mr. Aziz told his interrogators. Other members of Mr. Hussein's inner circle thought that if the Americans attacked, they would do no more than conduct an intense bombing campaign and seize the southern oil fields.

Steps to Avoid War

Mr. Hussein did take some steps to avoid provoking war, though. While diplomatic efforts by France, Germany and Russia were under way to avert war, he rejected proposals to mine the Persian Gulf, fearing that the Bush administration would use such an action as an excuse to strike, the Joint Forces Command study noted.

In December 2002, he told his top commanders that Iraq did not possess unconventional arms, like nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, according to the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. to investigate what happened to Iraq's weapons programs. Mr. Hussein wanted his officers to know they could not rely on poison gas or germ weapons if war broke out. The disclosure that the cupboard was bare, Mr. Aziz said, sent morale plummeting.

To ensure that Iraq would pass scrutiny by United Nations arms inspectors, Mr. Hussein ordered that they be given the access that they wanted. And he ordered a crash effort to scrub the country so the inspectors would not discover any vestiges of old unconventional weapons, no small concern in a nation that had once amassed an arsenal of chemical weapons, biological agents and Scud missiles, the Iraq survey group report said.

Mr. Hussein's compliance was not complete, though. Iraq's declarations to the United Nations covering what stocks of illicit weapons it had possessed and how it had disposed of them were old and had gaps. And Mr. Hussein would not allow his weapons scientists to leave the country, where United Nations officials could interview them outside the government's control.

Seeking to deter Iran and even enemies at home, the Iraqi dictator's goal was to cooperate with the inspectors while preserving some ambiguity about its unconventional weapons — a strategy General Hamdani, the Republican Guard commander, later dubbed in a television interview "deterrence by doubt."

That strategy led to mutual misperception. When Secretary of State Colin L. Powell addressed the Security Council in February 2003, he offered evidence from photographs and intercepted communications that the Iraqis were rushing to sanitize suspected weapons sites. Mr. Hussein's efforts to remove any residue from old unconventional weapons programs were viewed by the Americans as efforts to hide the weapons. The very steps the Iraqi government was taking to reduce the prospect of war were used against it, increasing the odds of a military confrontation.

Even some Iraqi officials were impressed by Mr. Powell's presentation. Abd al-Tawab Mullah Huwaish, who oversaw Iraq's military industry, thought he knew all the government's secrets. But Bush administration officials were so insistent that he began to question whether Iraq might have prohibited weapons after all. "I knew a lot, but wondered why Bush believed we had these weapons," he told interrogators after the war, according to the Iraq Survey Group report.

Guarding Against Revolt

As the war approached, Mr. Hussein took steps to suppress an uprising. Fedayeen paramilitary units were dispersed throughout the south, as were huge stashes of small-caliber weapons. Mr. Hussein divided Iraq into four sectors, each led by a member of his inner circle. The move was intended to help the government fend off challenges to its rule, including an uprising or rioting.

Reflecting Mr. Hussein's distrust of his own military, regular army troops were deployed near Kurdistan or close to the Iranian border, far from the capital. Of the Iraqi Army, only the Special Republican Guard was permitted inside Baghdad. And an array of restraints were imposed that made it hard for Iraq's military to exercise command.

Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, Mr. Hussein's defense minister who had distinguished himself during the Iran-Iraq war, held an important title, for example. But he had little influence. "I effectively became an assistant to Qusay, only collecting and passing information," he told interrogators, referring to a son of Mr. Hussein.

To protect Baghdad, Mr. Hussein selected Brig. Gen. Barzan abd al-Ghafur Solaiman Majid al-Tikriti, a close cousin, to head the Special Republican Guard even though he had no field experience, had failed military staff college and was a known drunkard. Asked about his military skills, General Tai laughed out loud. Even so, the Special Republican Guard commander was closely monitored by Mr. Hussein's agents and later told American interrogators that he had held the most dangerous job in Iraq. "They watched you go to the bathroom," he said. "They listened to everything you said and bugged everything."

Once the war began, field commanders faced numerous restrictions, including bans on communications, to minimize chances of a coup.

"We had to use our own reconnaissance elements to know where the other Iraqi units were located on our flanks," the commander of the First Republican Guard Corps told interrogators. "We were not allowed to communicate with our sister units."

Even as the Americans were rapidly moving north, Mr. Hussein did not appreciate the seriousness of the threat. While the Fedayeen had surprised the allied forces with their fierce resistance and sneak attacks, Iraqi conventional forces were overpowered.

At an April 2 meeting, General Hamdani, the commander of the Second Republic Guard Corps, correctly predicted that the American Army planned to drive through the Karbala Gap on the way to Baghdad. General Tai, the Iraqi defense minister, was not persuaded. He argued that the attack in the south was a trick and that the main American offensive would come from the west, perhaps abetted by the Israelis. That day, Mr. Hussein ordered the military to prepare for an American attack from Jordan.

As a sop, General Hamdani received a company of Special Operations forces as reinforcements and was finally granted permission to destroy the Euphrates River bridge southwest of Baghdad. But it was too little, too late.

By April 6, the day after the first United States Army attack on Baghdad, the so-called thunder run, Mr. Hussein's desperate predicament began to sink in. At a safe house in the Mansour district of Baghdad, he met with his inner circle and asked Mr. Aziz to read an eight-page letter.

Mr. Hussein showed no emotion as the letter was read. But Mr. Aziz later told interrogators that the Iraqi leader seemed to be a defeated man, and the letter appeared to be his farewell. His rule was coming to an end.

"We didn't believe it would go all the way to Baghdad," a senior Republican Guard staff officer later told his interrogators. "We thought the coalition would go to Basra, maybe to Amara, and then the war would end."

The New York Times - nytimes.com
March 12, 2006
Iraqi Leader, in Frantic Flight, Eluded U.S. Strikes

Saddam Hussein turned to his sons. as American troops were fanning out across Baghdad. "We are leaving now," he said.

Mr. Hussein, the Iraqi leader, was determined to make his escape before more checkpoints were set up around the capital. He had not anticipated the fall of the city, and his plan was simple: drive west toward Ramadi, where there were few United States forces.

In an examination of Iraq's military strategy, the United States Joint Forces Command prepared a day-by-day reconstruction of Mr. Hussein's movements, which shows that his escape was desperate and improvised. The study also indicates that American intelligence knew little about his whereabouts during the early part of the war and that Mr. Hussein was nowhere near the site of two failed bombing raids intended to kill him.

For Mr. Hussein, the first strike was a surprise. Relying on Central Intelligence Agency intelligence, President Bush ordered a March 19 bombing at the Dora Farms complex southwest of Baghdad. A C.I.A. operative had reported that Mr. Hussein was in an underground bunker there, and Mr. Bush hoped to end the war with one blow.

Two F-117 Stealth fighters dropped bunker-busting bombs on the site, while warships fired nearly 40 cruise missiles. The fighters scored a direct hit, and for a while American officials believed that Mr. Hussein was wounded or dead. But the Iraqi leader was not at Dora Farms and had not visited it since 1995, according to statements made to American interrogators by Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Mr. Hussein's personal secretary. The airstrike nonetheless appeared to rattle Mr. Hussein. After the attack, he arrived at Mr. Mahmud's home. The two men went to a safe house in Baghdad so the Iraqi leader could watch the international news reports and draft a statement to the Iraqi people.

After an Iraqi man with thick glasses read the televised speech, American officials speculated that he was a double. In fact, it was Mr. Hussein, according to the secretary's account. Typically, large text was printed on cue cards for him, but no printer was available and he needed glasses to read his writing. The tape was sent to the Information Ministry for broadcast.

For the next several weeks, Mr. Hussein moved among a network of safe houses. The United States bombed military command sites in the capital, but Mr. Hussein stayed in civilian neighborhoods. The United States never came close to killing him. "Most of the leadership strikes were offset from where Saddam stayed during the war, denying use of government buildings, but not threatening his life," the classified study says.

The Americans made a final attempt to kill Mr. Hussein on April 7 after the C.I.A. was tipped that he was in a safe house near a restaurant in Baghdad's Mansour district. A B-1 bomber dropped four 2,000-pound bombs. The blast killed 18 innocent Iraqis, according to Human Rights Watch. "Saddam was not in the targeted area at the time of the attack," the Joint Forces Command study notes. Mr. Hussein did have a close call. Early on April 7, he happened to be in a safe house one and a half miles from the route taken by United States troops on their second "Thunder Run" into Baghdad. Two days later, his situation was desperate. Army troops had moved into the western part of the city and marines were moving into the eastern part. He appeared before supporters in Baghdad. But after his convoy encountered American armored vehicles, Mr. Hussein and his aides were frantic, and forced their way into a Baghdad residence. As American troops searched, he hid there until morning.

Early on April 10, he decided to flee to Ramadi with his two sons and Mr. Mahmud, according to the account that Mr. Mahmud provided after American troops captured him. Earlier, Mr. Hussein thought that the main American attack might come from Jordan, but by now it was clear to the Iraqis that the United States did not have substantial troops in the west. The escape soon became an ordeal. That night, the Americans bombed a building next to a Ramadi house where he was hiding. Alarmed, Mr. Hussein, his sons and Mr. Mahmud got in their cars and drove toward Hit, spending the night in palm grove outside town.

The next morning Mr. Hussein decided they should split up to minimize the chances of capture. Qusay Hussein, Uday Hussein and Mr. Mahmud made their way to Damascus, Syria, according to a map of their journey in the Joint Forces Command report. Mr. Hussein's sons were apparently too hot for the Syrians to handle. The brothers went back to Iraq, eventually reaching Tikrit and Mosul, where American troops killed them in July 2003.

Mr. Hussein's first stop was Hit. In December 2003, American forces captured the unshaven Iraqi leader in a spider hole near Tikrit. On the wall of the dank hide-out was a poster of Noah's Ark; on the floor was a beat-up suitcase filled with clothes and a heart-shaped clock.
Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room


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It's darkly funny to see that Saddam's worries of years ago, Iran with nukes and Iraqi in fighting, have become those of the mass media today.