Sometime last Saturday Saddam Hussein was finally convinced that his French friends could not buy him some extra time and that war was coming.
And he acted the way he always has by unveiling a war plan based on his favorite tactic of “cheat-and-retreat.”
Saddam’s war plan has three aims.
The first is to slowdown the advance of coalition forces as much as possible. This, he hopes to achieve by creating a tidal wave of refugees, including large numbers of army deserters, in the densely populated southern provinces bordering Kuwait.
Sunday elements of the IV Army Corps, alias “Saladin” were moved close to the border with Iran although there is no threat of any attack from that direction. By sealing that border Saddam wants to leave the would-be refugees no escape route except towards the south, that is to say in the direction of the coalition forces. At some point he may use the threat of chemical weapons, or even such weapons, to foment panic among the population and thus force them to flee towards Kuwait.
The idea is that the coalition forces would be swamped by hundreds of thousands of panic-stricken Iraqi civilians who need to be cared for.
The second goal of Saddam’s war plan is to hide his best and most loyal forces behind units of the regular army. In a sense he is using the Iraqi army as cannon fodder. His hope is that the regular army would bear the brunt of the inevitable sacrifices but will succeed in inflicting significant casualties to the coalition forces.
The third goal of the plan is to maximize civilian casualties in the hope of shocking world public opinion, especially in the United States, into even stiffer opposition to the war. This is why Saddam has positioned almost all of his best assets in densely populated areas. Antiaircraft guns, heavy artillery pieces, and tanks are stationed inside cities, including in mosque, hospital courtyards, and school playgrounds.
Saddam’s address to his commanders Sunday included this ominous phrase: “We shall see how many Iraqis the aggressors are prepared to kill.”
Saddam has divided the country into four military sectors, each headed by one of his relatives and confidants.
Although two of the four bear the title of “general,” none has had a military career even as an army conscript.
They are there to ensure political control and make sure that the regular army has no room for any independent maneuver, including a move to topple the regime. Even the defense minister, the army chief of staff, and the nation’s 20 most senior generals are excluded from the chain of command announced by Saddam.
The arrangements highlight the narrowness of Saddam’s support base: He emerges as the leader of a clan, not of a state.
The northern part that includes the Kurdish areas and the oilfields of Mosul and Kirkuk is put under the command of Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the regime’s #2. Duri owes his rise in the Baathist regime to his mediocrity. He has survived more than three decades of intra-party purges largely because no one ever thought he could pose a threat.
“Duri is alive because he is stupid,” says Saad Bazzaz, a former Baathist official now in exile.
Because Turkey has refused to allow U.S. and allied forces rights of passage through its territory, Saddam does not expect any major attack from the north. This is why most of the Iraqi elite units, including the Adnan Division of the Republican Guards, has just been withdrawn from Kirkuk and ordered to move south to Baghdad.
The southern area, where most of the initial fighting could take place, is put under the command of Ali-Hassan al-Majid, Saddam’s cousin. Al-Majid is known as ” Chemical Ali” because of his role in organizing the massacre of thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons.
Most Iraqis regard al-Majid as a psychopath who is capable of killing large numbers of civilians and blaming all on the coalition forces.
He will have his headquarters at Nassrriyah, a city where he crushed a popular revolt in April 1991 while General Norman Schwartzkopf’s forces watched from a safe distance.
The Shiite heartland of Iraq, south of Baghdad, is put under the command of Mazban Khader Hadi, a brother-in-law of Saddam. He will have his headquarters in Karbala where he has placed some of his weapons inside the holy shrines of imam Hussein and Hazrat Abbas.
Once the coalition forces have extricated themselves from the chaos of the south, they will have to pass through Hadi’s area to reach Baghdad. Hadi’s mission is clear: to slowdown the coalition advance by creating as big a humanitarian disaster as possible.
The central area, including Baghdad and Saddam’s hometown of Takrit to its north, is put under the command of Saddam’s younger son Qusai. This is an area of around 5,000 square kilometers. But it will be defended by virtually the entire Republican Guard, some 200,000 men.
According to Iraqi sources Saddam has moved most of his estimated 4,000 French and Soviet-built tanks into that area. He has also installed over 3000 anti-aircraft guns and various powerful machine guns to create what is known in military jargon as a hornet’s nest.
The most vulnerable edges of the protected area are marked by a string of deep trenches designed to slow down the coalition advance.
Saddam remains in overall command and will have sole authority in the use of surface-to-surface missiles and combat aircraft.
Saddam hopes that his tactics will slow the coalition advance towards Baghdad for several weeks during which his European friends could go to the United Nations Security Council and ask for an immediate ceasefire followed by negotiations between the Coalition and, guess who, President Saddam Hussein al-Takriti, under the auspices of the Security Council.
All this may sound fanciful. But George W. Bush should beware. He has already been duped once by the “unanimous” victory he won with Resolution 1441, and should remember that President Jacques Chirac has vowed to do all he can to prevent Saddam’s overthrow.
One scenario that Saddam is likely to pursue is to offer to resign at the last minute and hand over power to is son Qusai who would immediately call for a ceasefire and full cooperation with the Coalition forces.
“The world is on our side,” Saddam told his commanders on Sunday. “We can win this war as we won the last one.”
This is no empty boast. Saddam may have no supporters inside Iraq itself. But he does enjoy widespread support in many countries because he has come to symbolize all strands of anti-Americanism. All those who hate the U.S. for whatever reason will do all they can to make sure that Saddam is not toppled.
George Galloway, a British Labor member of parliament and one of Saddam’s most ardent supporters, puts it starkly “If Bush and Blair start their war, we in the peace movement shall bring the war to them. Our message is: Start the war, we stop your country!”
In one of our meetings in the 1970s, Saddam told us a story about his childhood. He said that he and other boys had great fun jumping on lorries passing through Takrit, then a sleepy mud village. The lorry rivers’ assistants would whip the boys, even crush their fingers, to force them to jump off. Most did, but not Saddam.
“I learned that what mattered was to hang on,” Saddam said. “Injuries to my hands because of the whips would soon disappear. But the feeling that I had managed to hang on would last a long time.”
— Amir Taheri, Iranian author and journalist, is based in Europe. He’s reachable through www.benadorassociates.com.