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Even as U.S. Invaded, Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/12/international/middleeast/12saddam.html?ei=5065&en=5ff8718c91a409d3&ex=1142830800&partner=MYWAY&pagewanted=print March 12,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 12, 2006
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      http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/12/international/middleeast/12saddam.html?ei=5065&en=5ff8718c91a409d3&ex=1142830800&partner=MYWAY&pagewanted=print

      March 12, 2006
      Even as U.S. Invaded, Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top
      Threat
      By MICHAEL R. GORDON
      and BERNARD E. TRAINOR

      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."
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