Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Saddam Destroyed An Eco-System And Its People In The Southern Marshes Of Iraq

 In March 1991, just after the end of the Gulf War, young men and deserting soldiers rose up in almost every major city in southern Iraq. With the government looking so weak after the conclusion of hostilities, rebels believed they had a real chance at overthrowing the regime. Within a month, Saddam Hussein’s forces were able to regain control. Many people ended up fleeing south into the vast southern marshes hoping to escape government reprisals. They never expected Saddam to pursue them, and in the next few years destroy almost the entire marshland area, which has still not recovered to this day.

Iraq’s southern marshes were a historic area, which had been a traditional hideaway for rebels. They were the largest wetlands in the Middle East, and some believed they were where the first human civilization began. The marshes had been a redoubt for bandits, deserting soldiers, and opponents of the government for years. In 1992, there was still an estimated 250,000 displaced people living there who had fled the 1991 revolt. There were also some fighters who would cross back and forth from Iran, and base their Iraqi operations out of the area. Saddam was intent on finishing off these rebels. Not only were they attacking the government, but also Shiites were the largest population group, and could pose a serious threat to Saddam’s regime. Baghdad therefore set about trying to force the population out by destroying the environment.

Saddam launched a brutal campaign against the local inhabitants beginning in 1992. Several divisions consisting of around 40,000 troops were sent in. They built two major canals, along with smaller dykes and dams to divert water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers away from the marshes. Water was also poisoned, mines laid, and sections of reed forest set afire in a scorched earth policy. By September 1995, the United Nations estimated that 200,000-250,000 people had been forced from the area. Some of those were put into camps, and some were moved to northern Iraq, where ironically, they replaced Kurds that had been forced out of their homes by Saddam as well. These attacks are what helped lead to the southern no fly zone being created by the United States and Britain to give a modicum of support to the people there. Before the campaign, the marshes covered between 15,000–20,000 square kilometers. When it was done, there was only 760 square kilometers left. This was not the first time the government had set upon the marshlands. In 1985, during the Iran-Iraq War sections had been drained because it was the site of major battles, so there was a precedent for what Baghdad did later on. The result was the complete devastation of what some have called the birthplace of civilization, and its native inhabitants, the Madan marsh Arabs who had lived there for centuries. It showed the lengths to which Saddam was willing to go to destroy any internal dissent that challenged his rule.
The southern marshes before and after Saddam's campaign of destruction. Click on image for larger view (GRID-Geneva)
After the 2003 invasion, there has been a concerted effort to bring back the marshes, but the results have been mixed. Immediately after Saddam fell, some locals began tearing down the water barriers built by him. Afterward, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and charities, and the Water Ministry all put together plans to revive the marshes. By 2006, more than half of the marshes were said to have water flowing in them once again, and some of the marsh Arabs had begun to return. In the last several years, some of the shortcomings of these policies have become apparent. First, when the marsh Arabs began destroying Saddam’s dams and dykes, it released toxins that had built up, and ended up poisoning the water and soil. Second, the government has not followed through with all of its promises. For example, it pledged to provide aid and services to the residents, but that has been slow in coming. The marshes are still one of the poorest places in Iraq, the water is polluted and is undrinkable, and there are serious health problems as a result, such as a 50% infant mortality rate early on. Third, the re-flooding has not always been successful. One area observed by the Economist magazine in 2005 had plants growing in it again, but another was lifeless six months after it was re-hydrated. One major reason was the high salt levels, which impeded the growth of greenery. Fourth, not all of the Marsh Arabs wanted to return to their former homes. Since the Saddam offensive, many had become farmers on the outskirts of the marshes, and were unwilling to give up their new livelihoods. Fifth, a professor from Duke University working on one of the reclamation projects believed that only 40% of the original marshlands could be brought back. By 2006 that amount had been achieved. However, in 2007 the effort was faltering and the marshes had receded to 30% of their original size. Finally, in 2008 the entire country began running into water problems. There was not only a drought, but dams built by Turkey, Iran, and Syria, and within the country were cutting off the water flow down Iraq’s major rivers. That began to force some of those who had returned to the marshes to leave once again, and some experts were worried that the lack of water could permanently choke off the area.

Saddam Hussein’s offensive against the southern marshes was the fulfillment of his campaign against those who had risen up against him in 1991. He was so committed to the effort that he sent not only several divisions, but spent several years draining out the marshes destroying one of the truly historical sites in the world, while killing and displacing thousands of people in the process. He was so thorough that years after he was dead and gone, the marshes are still a struggling area. There are still mines, toxins, and high saline levels left over from his time, and those have all hampered efforts to revive the area. Saddam proved incompetent in conducting wars, but was utterly ruthless in suppressing internal dissent, and southern Iraq still bares the scars of his rule.


Associated Press, “Iraq’s southern marshes dry up again amid drought,” Daily Star, 4/16/09

BBC, “Partial recovery of Iraq marshes,” 12/7/06

Economist, “One-third of paradise, The marshes of southern Iraq,” 2/24/05

Human Rights Watch, “Endless Torment, The 1991 Uprising in Iraq And Its Aftermath,” June 1992

Iowa State University, “The Mesopotamian Marshes of Southern Iraq,” 3/20/03

Marr, Phebe, The Modern History of Iraq, Colorado, Oxford: Westview Press, 2004

Al-Marsume, Chasb, “Iraq’s Marshes: A Stalled Recovery: Despite Ministry’s Claim, Iraq’s Vast Wetlands Wait for Action,” IraqSlogger, 7/31/07

Muir, Jim, “Iraq marshes face grave new threat,” BBC, 2/24/09

North, Andrew, “Iraq’s uncertain marshland revival,” BBC, 6/27/06

Polk, William, Understanding Iraq, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Harper Perennial, 2006

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The 1991 Shiite Uprising In Southern Iraq

In 1991, immediately after the Gulf War ended, an uprising started in southern Iraq. It began in Basra, and quickly spread to the major cities of the south. It only lasted for a few days before Saddam Hussein was able to regain control. In its wake, thousands were killed and more were left as refugees. The revolt was the biggest threat to Saddam’s power since he took office, and would leave deep scars in the south.

On March 1, 1991, Iraqi soldiers returning from the just ended Gulf War rose up in Basra. The city had been bombed during the war, sanctions had led to inflation and shortages in the country, and the government looked very vulnerable after its defeat. In February, a message from President George Bush calling for the people of Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam was broadcast on Voice of America radio. Even before that, the CIA had set up a radio station in Saudi Arabia, calling on the people to get rid of Saddam. That was the setting for the 1991 revolt. 

Iraqi troops began straggling back to the city in early February, disheveled and demoralized. Some commandeered tanks and armored vehicles, and attacked government offices. Locals joined in, and a wave of looting broke out. They then set about killing Baath Party members and secret police officers. The uprising soon spread to Najaf and Kufa on March 3, Karbala on March 5, and then Diwaniya, Hillah, Amarah, Nasiriyah, and Kut, along with smaller cities such as Samawa, Zubayr, Kumait, and Qalat Saleh. 
(Global Security)
 This was the first major revolt by Iraq’s Shiites since Saddam Hussein had taken power in 1979. Before, the government had carried out a divide and conquer strategy with them, supporting different clerics for example, to keep the community split. During the Iran-Iraq War, Baghdad had stressed Arab nationalism, and Iraq’s differences with Iran to keep the public loyal. It also suppressed the Dawa Party, the main Shiite opposition group, which had been driven underground, and was mostly living in exile. Over 60% of the population was Shiite, and the thought of them rising up threatened the entire regime. It brought up fears of Iranian interference as well.

The Shiites rose up in different manners in each city. Unlike the rest of the south, the revolt in Najaf seemed organized. It started with a march by civilians and deserting soldiers down some of the main streets. The demonstration grew in size, and fighting with government forces eventually broke out. Soon afterward the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council’s (SIIC) Badr Brigade militia infiltrated into Iraq from Iran, and crossed the country to Najaf. They came with banners and pictures of its leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which the SIIC had pledged allegiance to. The party called for an Iranian style, Shiite religious government. U.S. intelligence believed that 3,000-5,000 Badr militiamen eventually entered Iraq during the revolt. The Supreme Council chose to do so because Najaf was one of the centers of Shiite Islam, containing some of its holiest shrines. If the party was able to seize Najaf, it could use the city’s spiritual symbolism to help with its standing with the rest of the people to claim leadership of the uprising.

The SIIC was led by the Hakim family, and had its roots in the Dawa Party that was formed in the 1950s. Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim later broke with Dawa, and he and Ayatollah Mohsen al-Hakim ended up fleeing to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. There, Tehran was organizing Shiites, and in return for its support the Hakims formed the Supreme Council. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards created the Badr Brigade in 1983 as the Supreme Council’s armed wing. It fought on the Iranian side in the war, and took part in interrogations of captured Iraqi soldiers during the war. There were stories that it used torture during this process. It also tried to recruit prisoners of war into the organization, some of them being forced. All of these tactics made the SIIC very unpopular back in Iraq.

In Karbala, Nasiriyah, Diwaniya, and Hillah, the revolt played out much differently. In Karbala, young rebels and deserting soldiers stormed government offices. In the process, they captured Baathists, government officials, soldiers, and police, many of which were executed. The security forces immediately launched a counteroffensive, while Badr militiamen also joined the uprising, as Karbala was also a holy Shiite city. In Nasiriyah, the rebellion started in the marshes with soldiers returning from the Gulf War and local tribes. They took over the Baath party and security forces headquarters, and then moved on an army unit, taking over the area. In Diwaniya, young men took up weapons and were able to commandeer some tanks from a military base just outside of the city. They took the provincial capital building, along with Baath and security forces offices. There too, some tribes joined in what became heavy fighting. Finally, in Hillah, young men took over the local offices and an infantry training center. They could not overwhelm a military intelligence building, or a military base just outside of the city, which continued to fight against the uprising. Diwaniya, even sent a force to try to capture the entire city on March 15, but failed. In all the cities, it was the youth that took up arms, whether they were civilians or military men. Also, while some tribes joined in, the majority did not, and the rebellion did not spread to the rural areas.

The uprising got a huge boost when Grand Ayatollah Sayid Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei, Iraq’s Shiite religious leader, gave it his support. At first, Ayatollah Khoei did not seem to support the rebellion. Rebels however urged him to take the lead, which resulted in him issuing two fatwas. The first called on the people to protect Islam and guard its holy sites. The second said that a Supreme Committee should be created to rule. The backing of the Ayatollah gave the young rebels a huge boost in legitimacy, and made it seem like the religious establishment was behind them. Despite these two statements however, the revolt stayed limited in appeal.

During this time, Saddam did not sit idly by. The government was organizing its forces, specifically the Republican Guard whose main task was to protect the regime. In Basra, the fight was already on as 6,000 Guards were holed up in the city. They went on the offensive on March 4. The tactics used there were repeated throughout the south. The Guard, for example, used human shields, making women and children walk in front of them, and tying people to their armored vehicles. They fired indiscriminately into residential areas with first artillery, and then tanks. Units then went district-by-district arresting any young men they found. Some were killed in mass executions held at public squares, while others were carted off to Baghdad. Local clergy were rounded up and arrested or killed as well. By March 17, Basra had been retaken, and by March 19, Karbala too. In Najaf, rebels had used the Tomb of Imam Ali, one of the holiest sites to Shiites, as their headquarters. The tomb was shelled by Iraqi forces, and heavily damaged, while almost all of those captured inside were killed. The government then arrested the cities leading clergy, including Ayatollah Khoei, who was taken to Baghdad. There, on March 21, he was forced to appear on state television next to Saddam, calling for an end to the fighting, while pledging allegiance to the dictator. Afterward, Khoei was returned to Najaf, and placed under house arrest. In the process, the Badr Brigade fled back into Iran. By March 29, it was all over. The rebels had been able to seize most of the major cities in the south, and put a huge scare into the regime, which was also facing Kurdish peshmerga in the north. In the end however, Saddam was able to hold onto power with his superior military force.

The Shiite uprising failed for several reasons. Phebe Marr in The Modern History of Iraq, believed the revolt scared many people such as the upper and middle classes, and most tribes because of its looting and executions. It seemed like the uprising was only leading to anarchy, which led many to not join in. The military did not rise up either, although individual soldiers did. Together, that meant the rebellion did not have the support and resources to fight off the government. Outside help never came, despite hopes that it would. Rebels believed that the Coalition would assist them, especially after President Bush called for the people to overthrow Saddam, but they never did. The U.S. wanted the army or Baath Party to stage a coup, not for the country to have a popular revolt. (1) The uprising, actually scared Washington and its Arab Allies (2) who were afraid of the country breaking up, and an Iranian backed government coming into power. (3) At the same time, the Americans’ desire for a military takeover and the decision to end the war after 100 hours backfired, leaving the Iraqi forces with far more firepower than at first thought. Saddam for example, still had one-quarter of his tanks, half of his armored personnel carriers, and the U.S. also allowed the Iraqis to use helicopters, all of which were deployed against the rebels. Not only that, but the U.S. allowed Iraqi units to pass through their lines to retreat back to Iraq, and protected arms depots from Shiites. Iran, despite sending in the Badr Brigade, actually never fully committed to the rebellion. All together that meant the spontaneous rebellion never had a chance. It didn’t mobilize the popular support necessary, didn’t have the weapons to fend off the government, and never got any real foreign help that it thought it would receive. It was able to take advantage of the confluence of events following the Gulf War, but as soon as Saddam was able to concentrate his forces it was over for the Shiites.
A mass grave found in southern Iraq after the fall of Saddam (
 For almost a month, the rebels were able to hold most of the major urban centers of the South. By the end of March, the government had regained control. Tens of thousands of people fled to the southern marshes for refuge. Another 100,000 went to Iran, and more left for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. By 1992, there were still an estimated 250,000 displaced hiding out in the marshes. There was also sporadic fighting into April, as fighters would move back and forth from Iran to Iraq, (4) and executions were being held in Basra up to May. In the aftermath, the government set about destroying Shiite shrines in Karbala and Najaf, cemeteries, and homes of suspected rebels. Eventually, Saddam would drain the marshes as well, turning most of it into a desert to assert central authority. For a few days, with rebellions in both the South and in Kurdistan, it seemed like the government could fall, but that dream quickly died. The revolts made Saddam restructure his government and security forces in an attempt to suppress any uprising that might happen in the future. In the south, cities, families, and the religious establishment were devastated. It would take years for them to recover, hampered not only by Saddam, but the international sanctions that were imposed for his invasion of Kuwait.


1. Broder, Jonathan, “U.S. policy on Iraqi chaos: Cold, hard – and wistful,” San Francisco Examiner, 3/31/91

2. Ibrahim, Youssef, “Iran Organizing Hussein’s Foes, Arab and Foreign Diplomats Say,” New York Times, 3/20/91

3. Gerstenzang, James and Ross, Michael, “Saddam’s Ouster Could Destabilize Mideast Politics,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/6/91

4. Newsday, “Saddam’s Shiite foes still fighting,” Sacramento Bee, 4/28/91


Abedin, Mahan, “The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI),” Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, October 2003

Anderson, Jack, “Iranians aiding Iraqi resistance,” Oakland Tribune, 4/22/91

Apple, R.W., “Iraqi Clashes Said To Grow As Troops Join Protests; First Allied Captives Freed,” New York Times, 3/5/91

BBC, “Flashback: the 1991 Iraqi revolt,” 8/21/07

Broder, Jonathan, “U.S. policy on Iraqi chaos: Cold, hard – and wistful,” San Francisco Examiner, 3/31/91

Clarke, Richard, Against All Enemies, Inside America’s War on Terror, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Free Press, 2004

Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08

Gerstenzang, James and Ross, Michael, “Saddam’s Ouster Could Destabilize Mideast Politics,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/6/91

Human Rights Watch, “Endless Torment, The 1991 Uprising in Iraq And Its Aftermath,” June 1992

Ibrahim, Youssef, “Iran Organizing Hussein’s Foes, Arab and Foreign Diplomats Say,” New York Times, 3/20/91

International Crisis Group, “Shiite Politics In Iraq: The Role Of The Supreme Council,” 11/15/07

Johns, Dave, “The Crimes of Saddam Hussein, Supression of the 1991 Uprising,” Frontline World, 1/24/06

Lakes, Gary, “Behind the Battle for Power in Iraq – Who’s Who,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/7/91

Marr, Phebe, The Modern History of Iraq, Colorado, Oxford: Westview Press, 2004

Nasr, Vali, “When the Shiites Rise,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006

Newsday, “Saddam’s Shiite foes still fighting,” Sacramento Bee, 4/28/91

Polk, William, Understanding Iraq, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Harper Perennial, 2006

Reuters, “Signs of Revolt Against Saddam In Southern Iraq,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2/91

Tripp, Charles, A History Of Iraq, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2008

Watson, Russell with McDaniel, Ann, Barry, John and Warner, Margaret Garrard and Moreau, Ron, “Unfinished Business?” Newsweek, 4/8/91

Wawro, Geoffrey, “Desert Storm Turns Twenty: What Really Happened in 1991, and Why it Matters, Part II of II,” Huffington Post, 1/22/11

Monday, August 29, 2011

Saddam's Legacy In Iraq

When thinking of Iraq, people are obviously focused upon the United States because of its 2003 invasion, and the fact that it still has a military presence there eight years later. That often leads people to overlook what Saddam Hussein did to the country. He killed thousands of Iraqis, and displaced even more in his campaigns to suppress internal dissent. He started two misguided wars, first with Iran, and then Kuwait, which bankrupted the country.

Starting in 1980 he began his foreign policy foibles by invading Iran. He believed that the country was weak after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, but his decision led to an eight year war with huge casualties, and the use of chemical weapons. In a lull in the fighting towards the end of the conflict, he took the time to attack the Kurds in the Anfal campaign, which destroyed hundreds of villages, displaced thousands, and was marked by more use of weapons of mass destruction. In 1988 the war finally ended, and although Iraq achieved none of its goals, Saddam declared victory. He was left with a shattered economy. Many of the southern oil fields, which contain the bulk of the country's reserves were damaged, and he owed billions of dollars in debt. That would lead to his second major foreign mistake, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

In the next several days Musings On Iraq will try to cover some of these crimes committed by Saddam. The first, is the Iran-Iraq War where Saddam's military incompetence came out, and the huge debt leftover led to his invasion of Kuwait later on.

VIDEO: Iran-Iraq War Documentary

Friday, August 26, 2011

Did Saddam Plan The Insurgency In Iraq?

Early in the war in Iraq, it was a common theory amongst American commentators that Saddam Hussein had planned the insurgency before he was overthrown in April 2003. The signs of a pre-planned guerrilla war seemed to be everywhere with Iraqi militias attacking the Coalition during the invasion, weapons stashes found all over the country, the U.S. proclaiming that the insurgency was made up of former soldiers and Baathists, etc. The Americans however, found hundreds of thousands of Iraqi documents, and captured and thoroughly interrogated Saddam before he was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court and executed, along with his top leadership. These findings were put together into the Iraqi Perspectives Project. It found that Saddam never planned to carry on an irregular war with the Americans after the invasion, because he never believed that Washington would overthrow him, even up to his last days in office.

From 2003 to 2006 there was a lot of American reporting claiming that Saddam Hussein had planned to continue on the fight with the U.S. after he was deposed. An early example of this was a July 2003 article in Newsweek that claimed to have found an order from the Iraqi intelligence service, the Mukhabarat to conduct looting after the invasion. It also instructed agents to attack power plants, assassinate clerics, and create general chaos. The magazine thought this was a proof that Saddam gave orders to create the insurgency, although it noted the document had not been verified. The magazine wrote another piece in October 2004 that quoted some analysts who believed that Saddam planned the insurgency before the invasion. (1) That same month, the final findings of the Iraq Survey Group were released, which said that Saddam decided to continue the fight after his regime fell. It used as evidence the fact that the Iraqi army had dispersed weapons throughout the countryside from April 2002 to January 2003. Two months later, U.S. News & World Report claimed that U.S. intelligence reports pointed to the same thing. It cited a fall 2002 report by the Pentagon’s Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force that said Saddam ordered 1,000-1,200 officers of the Mukhabarat, Directorate of Military Intelligence, and Directorate of General Security to go for irregular warfare training. On December 3, 2004, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment said that Saddam planned to continue the fight after the invasion, and that was why former elements of the regime such as the Saddam Fedayeen, the Mukhabarat, the Special Security Organization, the Special Republican Guard, and former Baath Party members were responsible for the majority of attacks in the country. In February 2005, Newsweek ran another story on how Saddam hid millions of dollars and arms throughout the country to prepare for a guerrilla war. It claimed that on July 2002 Saddam issued a directive to his forces to drag America into irregular fighting. That was followed by a January 2003 order to sow chaos after the invasion by destroying infrastructure and looting government offices. In September 2005, there was a story in Time that claimed in April 2003 Saddam met with his Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmed, a senior member of the Military Bureau, and members of the Mukhabarat in Baghdad, and told them to organize their followers to resist the Americans. U.S. intelligence then hypothesized that Saddam, through his Military Bureau began organizing these cells to fund and supply insurgents. It was probably no coincidence that Duri and Ahmed became two competing leaders of the Baath Party in exile after the overthrow of Saddam, and led Iraqi militant groups from Syria. Finally, in 2006 James Risen’s State of War was published, which included a story on how the CIA believed that Saddam had hidden arms and bought door openers in Dubai for roadside bomb triggers before 2003. U.S. forces also thought that Saddam and his two sons Qusay and Uday were personally organizing the fighting after the fall of the government. When Qusay and Uday were killed in Mosul in July2003, and when Saddam was captured in December the American military was quick to claim that these might end the insurgency. This is just a small sample of what many Americans were writing about early on in the Iraq war. Many officials in the U.S. government seemed to believe that since the majority of the insurgency was made up of former regime members, that Saddam and his sons must be behind it, and that they planned it before 2003. The discovery of weapons hidden all over the country, and captured documents seemed to buttress this theory.
Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz (left), "He [Saddam] thought that this war would not lead to his ending." (Islamic News)
 In March 2006, these early theories were thoroughly dismissed by the Iraqi PerspectivesProject. The project went through thousands of captured documents, and interviews with the Baath Party’s top leadership, including Saddam himself. It found no evidence that the former dictator wanted to continue the fight after the U.S. invasion. Quite the contrary, Saddam didn’t believe that the U.S. would invade in the first place, and even when it did he thought it would be a limited conflict that would leave him in power. The project found that Saddam and his top officials’ worldview was shaped by Iraqi history, and was quite different from what Americans were thinking. First, Saddam did not believe that the United States had the will to invade Iraq. He looked at Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and even the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and interpreted them all as examples that the Americans could not take casualties, and preferred to use air rather than ground power. Saddam also looked at Iraq’s past intransigence with the United Nations weapons inspectors and its 1993 attempt on former President Bush’s life in Kuwait where the U.S. just launched air and missile strikes as other examples to bolster his opinion. A few senior military officials believed that the Americans would actually invade, but they thought it would be like the 1991 Gulf War where the U.S. would carry out a massive air campaign, and then invade the south, but never head towards Baghdad. For example, the former commander of the Iraqi Air Force and Air Defense told interrogators after the war that, “We thought that the war would be like the last one in 1991. We figured that the United States would conduct some operations in the south and then go home.” The Director General of the Republican Guard’s General Staff told his captors, “We thought the Coalition would go to Basra, may be to Amarah, and then the war would end.” In 2002, when Washington and London were stepping up international pressure upon Baghdad, Saddam thought that France and Russia would stop any United Nations’ resolutions that authorized the use of force. That was because Iraq had created strong economic ties with both since the 1990s in an attempt to undermine U.N. sanctions imposed after the Gulf War. Even if the U.S. were to invade, Saddam thought that Iraqi troops were better fighters, and would cause such heavy casualties, that President Bush would stop. As Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said, Saddam “Thought that this war would not lead to his ending.” 

When the invasion came in March 2003, Saddam was obsessed with the military details and giving orders, but because his staff had been conditioned to hide bad news from him out of fear that he would have them killed, he never knew how serious the threat was, and how fast the American troops were moving towards Baghdad. Instead he thought the Iraqi forces were actually winning. General Abed Hamid Mahmoud, Saddam’s secretary for example, later told the U.S. that Saddam ordered the Foreign Ministry on March 30 to tell the French and Germans that Iraq wanted an unconditional surrender from the U.S. Even in the last days of his regime in April, Saddam was still coming up with plans on how to defend the capital, and ordering units that had been destroyed into new positions. To the very end, Saddam was focused upon the invasion, and not what would happen afterward. That’s why no documents or official was found that said that he ever thought about forming an insurgency. Before the war, he thought it wouldn’t happen, and then when it did, he believed the U.S. would never head towards Baghdad, and that his army could stop the Americans in their tracks. The idea that he might be deposed, never seemed to enter his mind until the night he fled, and his regime collapsed.
The Saddam Fedayeen was misinterpreted as a guerrilla organization, but was actually an internal defense force (Knowledge Rush)
 As for the irregular forces that Saddam created, many of which later joined the resistance to the U.S. occupation, they were for internal, not external defense. The Iraqi Perspective Project found that the Saddam Fedayeen, the Qods Army, and the Baath Party militia were all created after the 1991 Shiite and Kurdish uprisings to put down any future rebellions. Most were poorly trained and led, and besides the Fedayeen hardly put up a fight when Iraq was invaded. Saddam however, believed that they were warriors, and stashed weapons throughout the country in the belief that they could drag out the fight with the Americans until they gave up. Rather than being an insurgent force in the waiting, these militias were initially meant to put down any threats that might arise within Iraq, and later were considered the heart of the resistance to the U.S. invasion.

In hindsight it’s easy to understand why so many thought that Saddam had planned the insurgency. With so many members of the former regime involved in the fighting it was easy to think that he must have been behind it all along even before the U.S. invasion. There was also circumstantial evidence found in Iraq to support the thesis like the weapons depots set up for Iraqi militias. Interviews with Saddam and his top leadership, along with thousands of captured documents later disproved this idea. In Saddam’s view, the U.S. would never overthrow him, so there was no reason to plan for a guerrilla war. He held onto this belief to the very end, supported by the sycophants around him that never passed on any bad news. To an American, this must sound ridiculous as President Bush was beating the war drum early on, and amassed a huge invasion force just on the border. Saddam’s reading of history however, led him to believe that U.S. was not a real threat. Planning for a future where he was not the leader of Iraq therefore, did not enter his mind.


1. Isikoff, Michael and Hosenball, Mark, “Terror Watch: Who’s Really Behind Insurgency?” Newsweek, 10/27/04


Collier, Robert and Coile, Zachary, “Will Insurgency Wane? In short term, maybe, but long-term effect more difficult to predict,” San Francisco Chronicle, 12/15/03

Danner, Mark, “Iraq: How to Not Win a War,” New York Review of Books, 9/25/03

Gordon, Michael, “Official report sees patterns behind attacks on GIs,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10/19/03

Isikoff, Michael and Hosenball, Mark, “Terror Watch: Who’s Really Behind Insurgency?” Newsweek, 10/27/04

Johnson, Scott and Thomas, Evan, “Still Fighting Saddam,” Newsweek, 7/21/03

Klein, Joe, “Saddam’s Revenge,” Time, 9/26/05

Nordland, Rod, Masland, Tom and Dickey, Christopher, “Unmasking The Insurgents,” Newsweek, 2/7/05

Packer, George, The Assassins’ Gate, America In Iraq, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005

Pound, Edward, “Seeds of Chaos,” U.S. News & World Report, 12/20/04

Risen, James, State of War; The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Free Press, 2006

Woods, Kevin, “A View of Operation Iraqi Freedom from Saddam’s Senior Leadership,” Iraqi Perspectives Project, 3/24/06

Woods, Kevin, Lacey, James and Murray, Williamson, “Saddam’s Delusions: The View From The Inside,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2006

COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS VIDEO: Saddam's Delusions: The View from the Inside

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Maliki Continues His Games To Control Iraq’s Defense Ministry

In December 2010, when Iraq’s partial cabinet was announced, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was named the acting Defense, Interior, and National Security ministers. These three important posts were to be divided between the Iraqi National Movement and the National Coalition of Maliki’s State of Law, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, and the Sadrists later on with the National Movement getting Defense, and the National Coalition the other two. Eight months have passed since then and the prime minister has rejected every single candidate put forward by the National Movement, while recently naming his own acting Defense Minister. This has all been part of the premier’s ploy to maintain control of the security ministries, while wearing down his opponents until he can get his way.

Maliki seems content to rule alone
The day after Iraq was hit by a national wave of bombings that left 300 casualties on August15, 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki named Culture Minister Sadoun Dulaimias the acting Defense Minister. This came after the country’s main political parties met at President Jalal Talabani’s home in Baghdad on August 2, and agreed to renew their commitment to the power sharing agreement that would give Defense to Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement. The National Movement immediately attacked Maliki for breaking his latest promise, and trying to monopolize power. A few days later it called on President Talabani to have another meeting to discuss the candidates for the security ministers. Dulaimi was the Defense Minister under Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari from 2005-2006. He fled Iraq in 1986, and was condemned to death in absentia in 1991 for plotting against Saddam Hussein. He is part of the Center Alliance, which joined with the National Movement on August 1, so technically the premier was naming someone from Allawi’s list. The problem was it had no say in the matter. Maliki originally brought up Dulaimi in May. In an added twist, a member of the National Coalition said that Dulaimi was forced upon them and that the list had not agreed upon him. This was just the latest example of how Maliki has tried to drag out the process by ignoring Allawi’s list, while putting out his own candidates in the hopes of eventually winning permanent control of all the security ministries. Not only that, but Maliki wanted to name the ministers himself, and even ignored his political allies in the National Coalition.

On December 21, 2010 Iraq’s new, partial cabinet was named. The ministers were split up between the winning lists in a power sharing agreement. The Defense, Interior, and National Security Ministries were left open with Maliki put in charge of all three until the National Movement and National Coalition could agree upon candidates for them. Allawi’s list was quick to put forward nominees, and named Falah al-Naqib that day, (1) who was the former Interior Minister under Allawi’s interim government in 2004. Maliki rejected him, and then the National Movement put forward Salim Dali. The prime minister said no to him as well, and the games were on. Maliki went on to turn down every single person the National Movement came up with, which by one count was at least 18 different people. Some were rejected out of hand with no explanation, showing that Maliki was just toying with Allawi and his followers to try their patience.

A perfect example of the games Prime Minister Maliki was playing was when he nominated Khalid Mutab Obeidi in March. Obeidi had originally been Allawi’s pick, but was allegedly dropped when Obeidi did not agree to withdraw from the government if he was asked. A few days later it didn’t seem to matter as the Accountability and Justice Commission, which replaced the old deBaathification Commission, said that Obeidi was ineligible because he was a general under Saddam. That led to him withdrawing in April. Despite that, State of Law brought him up again in July. Maliki was simply trying to manipulate the National Movement by picking a candidate they’d already dropped, probably knowing full well there was no way that he would be acceptable. The prime minister promoted him simply to wear down his opposition.

Naming Sadoun Dulaimi to the Defense Ministry post was the latest example of how Maliki has put people in charge of the security ministries without consulting with anyone else, so that he can maintain control over them. In June 2011, he placed his National Security Adviser Faleh al-Fayadh in charge of the National Security Ministry. A few days later, he had Adnan Asadi of his State of Law list return to his previous post as deputy Interior Minister, which he held from 2006-2010. Now he has Dulaimi as Defense Minister. This means he doesn’t have to handle the day-to-day duties of all those positions, and he has allies in each one. Allawi and his Iraqi National Movement can do nothing about this other than complain, which is what they have been doing since the parliamentary elections in March 2010. When they agreed to Maliki’s second term, they sealed their own fate. Some members received top posts like one vice presidency, a deputy premiership, the speaker of parliament, and several ministries. All the posts that they were promised, but not named however, were at the prime minister’s mercy, and he has not budged on a single one of them. Since he is already in office there is no reason for him to give any room. He therefore can continue to reject any candidates put forward by the National Movement, and keep Dulaimi at Defense for as long as he wants. This is just another example of how Maliki has increased his hold on the levers of power in the last several years, and is his latest step towards becoming an autocrat.


1. Omaima, Younis, “Iraqiya got 9 ministries and the Sadrists 8, and 6 for the Kurds, and only 4 of the State of Law,” Al-Aalem, 12/21/10


Alsumaria, “Iraq security ministries to further complication,” 5/6/11
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- “Al-Iraqiya Coalition rejects appointment of Saadoun al-Duleimy for Acting Defense Minister’s post,” 7/31/11
- “Al-Iraqiya Coalition’s threat to withdraw from government, aimed at rising its demands, MP says,” 5/12/11
- “Al-Iraqiya Coalition to withdraw from govt., if security posts assigned without its approval, MP says,” 5/9/11
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Ibrahim, Haider, “New security ministry candidates submitted,” AK News, 8/11/11
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Ibrahim, Haider and al-Shemmari, Yazn, “Iraqiya’s Defense minister candidates are ineligible, says SLC deputy,” AK News, 7/11/11

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- “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 12,” 4/13/11
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Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane, “New Developments In Iraq’s Nascent Government,” Institute for the Study of War, 4/1/11

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Iraq’s Oil Exports And Revenue Drop In May

In May Iraq suffered a drop in international oil prices. Its exports dipped as well.