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

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