“[Iraq would put up] a heroic resistance and inflict such enormous losses on the Americans that they would stop their advance.”
- Saddam Hussein, 2003
Saddam Hussein had no formal military training or combat experience, but he believed that he was a strategist. His main belief was that Iraqis possessed a martial spirit that manifested itself in the ability to take casualties. He thought that this toughness would allow Iraq to defeat the U.S. led coalitions in the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion. Unfortunately for him, few of his soldiers were willing to fight for him leading to two devastating defeats.
Saddam’s understanding of war was very limited, which made him believe in a series of miscalculations when faced with the Americans. In February 1991 Saddam had a meeting with his commanders in anticipation for the war against the U.S. led coalition to free Kuwait. Saddam believed that the war would unite Iraqis to fight together against the foreign invaders. Mohammed Zubaidi, a regional commander, voiced the belief that if the Iraqis were able to inflict casualties upon the Americans they would give up. There were some very heated engagements at the beginning of the Gulf War, but the Iraqis were easily defeated, and a general retreat was quickly called. Despite that, Saddam came out of the conflict believing that he had actually won, because he was still in power. His thought that Iraqis were superior fighters was not shaken by the turn of events, and would be voiced again twelve years later.
In 2003 Saddam and his advisers would express the same set of beliefs when faced with the U.S. invasion. Saddam talked about the Iraqi soldiers being superior to the Americans. He mentioned the huge casualties that the Iraqis suffered during the Iran-Iraq War as proof of their abilities. In comparison, Saddam and his advisers believed that Vietnam and Somalia proved that the Americans were risk averse, and a few dead and wounded would lead them to give up. As it turned out, the Iraqis put up even less resistance in 2003 than in 1991. Besides a few fanatical attacks by the Fedayeen, most of the Iraqi army quit without putting up a fight, threw off their uniforms and went home.
Saddam like many dictators lived in a bubble of his own creation where sound advice was rare. Twice faced with a superior enemy in 1991 and 2003 Saddam believed that his military could take anything dished out and still prevail. Somehow the ability to die was believed to be an asset. It turned out most of his soldiers gave up both times instead of sacrificing themselves. Still, Saddam believed that his men were fighting the Americans to a standstill until they got to Baghdad. It wasn’t until the very end that he was willing to admit defeat.
Woods, Kevin, Palkki, David, and Stout, Mark, The Saddam Tapes, Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Delhi, Tokyo, Mexico City: Cambridge University Press, 2011
Woods, Kevin with Pease, Michael, Stout, Mark, Murray, Williamson, and Lacey, James, “A View of Operation Iraqi Freedom from Saddam’s Senior Leadership,” Iraqi Perspectives Project, 3/24/06