Monday, December 31, 2012

Path To War, The Iraqi View Of The 2003 Invasion In Their Own Words

Saddam Hussein was completely misunderstood by the United States before the 2003 invasion. Iraqi statements were mostly discounted by Washington such as its willingness to accept renewed United Nations inspections at the end of 2002 or its fanciful claims that it was winning the war in 2003. That was because the Bush administration didn’t understand Baghdad’s worldview. Nine years after the Baathist regime was toppled there is still a lack of understanding of the Iraqi perspective. There are extensive records now available that can help explain what Saddam’s government was thinking. These are being made available through the Iraqi Perspectives Project, and other sources. What they show was that two main factors shaped how Baghdad reacted to the Bush administration. First, Iraq’s long history of coups and uprisings led Saddam to rule through fear to prevent another one from toppling him. Second, his analysis of American foreign policy led him to believe that the Bush administration would be exactly like his father and the Clinton White House posing no real threat missing the fact that the new U.S. president was serious about removing the dictator from power. Looking at quotes from Iraqis during this period can help explain how the regime approached its confrontation with America.

Iraq’s history made Saddam Hussein fear coups. The Baathists originally came to power in Iraq in a take over in 1963 for example, only to be forced out that same year. Five years later they finally seized control of the state permanently. To stave off any threats to his power Saddam ruled through fear. He would constantly remove any official he felt might pose a threat to him, and constantly purged the ranks of the military. Not only that, but the Iraqi dictator imposed harsh restrictions upon the officer corps and army. For instance, officers couldn’t talk to each other. They couldn’t move their forces without orders from the top. Units couldn’t coordinate with each other. Training and combat exercises were severely restricted. The armed forces, with the exception of the Special Republican Guard couldn’t enter the capital, and were generally kept out of the urban areas out of apprehensions that they might conspire with civilians or members of the Baath Party. This culture made the Iraqi military combat ineffective, and helped spell their demise when the Americans came in 2003.

Commander of Baghdad Republican Guard Infantry Division: In the Republican Guard, division and corps commanders could not make decisions without the approval of the staff command. Division commanders could only move small elements within their command. Major movements such as brigade-sized elements and higher had to be requested through the corps commander to the staff commander. This process did not change during the war and in fact became more centralized.  

Commander Republican Guard I Corps General Majid Hussein Ali Ibrahim al-Dulaimi: One of the biggest weakness of the Iraqi military was that, units were not allowed to independently coordinate with each other for defensive integration. All orders came from the Chief of Staff of the Republican Guard, which ultimately came from Qusay or Saddam Hussein. … In order to know where units were located on our flanks, we had to use our own reconnaissance elements because we were not allowed to communicate with our sister units.

Saddam created an array of military forces to keep all of them weak, so that none could pose a threat to him. There was the regular army, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican guard as well as several militias. These included Al-Quds, the Saddam Fedayeen, the Martyrs Brigades, and the Baath Party militia. Not only that, but each was under a separate command, but all had to answer to Saddam at the end. This eroded the strength of the armed forces by draining away personnel and equipment, and made coordination impossible.

Saddam’s Defense Minister Taie (AFP)

Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed al-Hamaed Taie: The Quds Force was a headache, they had no equipment for a serious war, and their creation was a bad idea. The Ministry of Defense was required to give them weapons that were taken from the real Army. But the Army had no control of them. Their instructions came only from the President’s office and not from normal military channels.

To further coup proof the regime, Saddam created several intelligence agencies. Some were dedicated specifically to spying upon the military. This caused problems for the senior leadership who had to make sure all of the different spy agencies knew what they were doing, so that they would not raise any suspicions, which could cost them their command or their lives.

Republican Guard II Corps commander General Raad Hamdani (Talisman Gate)

Republican Guard II Corps commander General Raad Hamdani: The corps commander had to ensure that all the spies were in the room before the meeting began so that there would not be any suspicions in Baghdad as to my purpose. This kind of attention to my own internal security was required. I spent considerable time finding clever ways to invite even the spies I was not supposed to know about.

Showing individualism, initiative, let alone disagreeing with Saddam could lead to death. People quickly realized to hide their true thoughts.

Senior minister: Directly disagreeing with Saddam Hussein’s ideas was unforgivable. It would be suicide.

This same culture of fear ran throughout the bureaucracy. There were spies throughout the ministries. This caused widespread mistrust amongst public workers and officials. Like the armed forces, this undermined the effectiveness of the government.

Senior minister: Each ministry or any other government establishment had a security chief who reported to the agency to which he belonged. His section kept an eye on all affairs and actions, encouraging disgruntled individuals to provide information on what was going on. The Ba’ath party members and “aspirants” also wrote reports to the leader of the sector or cell. Rivalries and backbiting were encouraged.

The result of this domestic surveillance, coup proofing, and mistrust was that few could give Saddam advice. His constant purges meant that he was eventually surrounded by sycophants that rarely told him what he didn’t want to hear.

Republican Guard commander: Saddam Hussein was personally a brave and bloody man. But, by his decisions he threw out the clever men, or the clever men learned not to involve themselves in any decision-making. They were then replaced by hypocrites who cared not for the people or army, but only cared about pleasing Saddam. … This is the nature of any dictatorship.

Saddam preferred using his own intuition rather than taking advice, and believed that he was his own expert. For example, he believed wars were about who could take the most casualties, and prove their personal strength. This was largely shaped by the Iran-Iraq War. Saddam believed he won that conflict, because Iraq took huge losses from the more populated Iran. When it came to the United States he thought the fighting spirit of the Iraqis would overcome any technological edge the Americans might have.

2003 Saddam speech to air defense forces: There may be some people who say they are like the Iraqis. But so far, we do not have any evidence to say that any of them fight as well as the Iraqis. You are brave men, and your bravery is exceptional. Iraq is qualified to carry a heavy burden because God Almighty has given it a strong back, a great degree of perseverance, and an extraordinary ability to endure. You have broken the morale of America, and this is much more important than warplanes and missiles.

Saddam had a negative view of the Americans to begin with. He looked at their defeat in Vietnam, and the Clinton administration’s use of force in Serbia, Somalia, and Iraq, and came to believe that the United States was afraid of casualties. That’s why they continuously used air power rather than land forces, and why they lost in Vietnam, and withdrew from Somalia. It was another reason why Saddam dismissed America’s military power. Its advanced aircraft and missiles were actually seen as a sign of weakness, and a way for the U.S. to avoid actually having to fight their foes on the ground. Saddam would constantly issue orders to the military based upon these ideas.

March 9, 2003 Saddam Hussein memorandum: America might be the most powerful but it is not the strongest country because strength is given by God. When the enemy is more advanced in communication technology, it is better to use a simple, basic, and natural communication technology like camels. It is necessary to learn horseback riding. Get 10 horses and train 50 people or more per day. The important thing is to prevent the enemy from getting to its goals. No peace without strength.

The 1991 Gulf War played a large role in shaping Saddam’s opinion of the United States. He thought that he had won that war since he was able to stay in power against a huge array of nations. More importantly, the United States had the chance to overthrow him, but decided not to. He therefore came to see America as a paper tiger. These ideas were spread throughout the Iraqi military, and became the conventional wisdom within the regime.

Former Republican Guard commander: As a result of these successful preparations, our losses were not as devastating as the arsenal that was used against the Iraqi Army during the [Gulf War] suggest. So this clearly shows that the Republican Guard and the other Iraqi armed forces were able to dig in and deploy wisely, and thus minimize the damage of the aerial power.

This had a huge affect upon how Iraq saw the 2003 invasion. First, Saddam didn’t think the U.S. wanted to remove him, because it didn’t do so in 1991. That would require real fighting, and he didn’t think that the Americans had the stomach for that, because it would cost too many lives.

Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz: He [Saddam] thought that this war would not lead to his ending.

Second, he didn’t think a real war was coming. The fact that a new administration was in power in Washington didn’t make him change his analysis. Since the U.S. had only temporarily invaded the south and seized part of Kurdistan after the Gulf War, he thought something similar would be the worst case scenario in 2003. These ideas were shared not only amongst the Iraqi leadership, but also amongst the military as well down to the rank and file.

Artillery officer Ra’ad Obaeid Hussein: Honestly, we were not expecting such a huge invasion. We thought maybe the Americans would attack for three or four days, and then it would be over. 

Director General of the Republican Guard’s General Staff: We thought the Coalition would go to Basra, maybe to Amarah, and then the war would end.

Saddam meeting with the Military Industrialization Minister (Global Security)

These beliefs hid the reality of the Iraqi military. By the 2000s it was in poor shape. It had been under sanctions since 1990. That meant it had aging equipment, and lacked spare parts for what it had. Saddam eventually came under the sway of the Military Industrial Commission. It promised to develop a series of secret weapons to offset the impact of sanctions. This was much like Hitler at the end of World War II when Germany came out with the V1 and V2 rockets, and other victory weapons even though they had no real affect upon the outcome of the conflict.

Republican Guard officer: The government made rapid efforts to limit the negative direct and indirect effects of the savage sanctions on the weapons and activities of the military forces. Unfortunately, they were the wrong kind of efforts. They army continued to fight the schemes of the Military Industrial Commission, which played an important role in promising secret weapons it would never deliver while most types of things we needed were neglected. These people received large amounts of financial support, but the army could not get simple things.

When the confrontation with the Bush administration began in earnest in 2002, Iraq had no direct communication with the Americans. Everything had to go through third parties such as the United Nations. Efforts to talk with the White House proved inept. Iraqi intelligence for example, tried to use a Lebanese-American businessman who knew some American officials such as Richard Perle of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, but the effort went nowhere. This added to the mistrust and misreading of the two countries’ intentions before the war.

Republican Guard II Corps commander General Raad Hamdani: We didn’t have any opportunity to talk to a US official during Bush, Clinton, or the new Bush administration, so there was no opportunity to talk face-to-face and address matters of concern. They always rejected us. … We knew that the Poles had a representative in Baghdad who looked after the interests of America; secretly, not in the open. But no, we didn’t go through them. Sometimes we talked to the Algerians about it, but not much. The Iraqi Intelligence Service tried in its own way to work the issue … they tried to pretend they were doing something to move relations along, but no one took them seriously; they were incapable of the simplest tasks.

Iraq also hoped to use its friends in the international community to stave off any military action by the United States, but this proved a false hope. During the 1990s, Baghdad tried to use oil contracts and bribes to break the sanctions. It focused upon France and Russia, and to a lesser extent China, which had good relations with Iraq beforehand. It was hoping that those countries could convince the U.N. to change its position. When the threat of war came, Saddam turned to those countries to try to block America and England in getting a resolution authorizing war in the Security Council. All the way to 2003, Paris and Moscow were sending positive messages to Baghdad on their efforts in the U.N. Iraq realized too late that those nations couldn’t stop the war from happening.

October 4, 2002 note from Iraqi Ambassador to Moscow: Our friends [in Russian intelligence] have told us that President Putin has given very clear instructions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs vis-à-vis Iraq. Our friends instruct us that Russia is very clear in its opposition to any attack in Iraq. It will not allow the new resolution to include any intentions that would allow the use of force against Iraq.

Tariq Aziz: France and Russia did not help Iraq, they helped themselves. … We had attempted to win favor with the French and the Russians through the oil and other contracts, but our relationship with the French began to suffer after 1998. … The French started making negative statements about Iraq. … The French are dubious; they were Westerners. … Russia continued to support us in the Security Council, but for the same reasons as the French. Iraq gave Russian companies huge contracts in irrigation, agriculture, electricity, machinery, cars and trucks.

When it became apparent to even the Iraqi leadership that a war was imminent, Saddam’s son Qusay and others advised him to take drastic measures. They wanted to destroy the southern oil fields, plant mines in the Persian Gulf, and perhaps carry out a pre-emptive strike into Kuwait where the U.S.-led Coalition was marshaling troops. Saddam rejected all of these ideas. All the way to the end, he wanted to avoid giving President Bush an excuse to start a war. Unbeknownst to the dictator that decision had already been made. At the same time, Saddam believed that any military conflict would be limited in nature. That was the main reason why he did not want to destroy the oil fields or mine the Persian Gulf, because he would need those resources to rebuild and hold onto power afterward.

Republican Guard Secretary Kamal Mustafa Abdullah Sultan al-Tikrit

Secretary of the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard Kamal Mustafa Abdullah Sultan al-Tikriti: [Vice President] Al-Duri ordered planning for setting explosives on the oil infrastructure. Within 48 hours after the meeting ended, an order came to Al-Duri from Saddam directing him not to do anything to damage or destroy the oilfields. … Saddam felt that destroying the oil fields would affect the morale of the soldiers and the people. Saddam worried about history indicating that he had destroyed the wealth of Iraq.

Saddam tried to be non-confrontational with the United States during the whole run-up to the war. That was the main reason why he allowed U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq at the end of 2002. He actually feared that the U.S. would plant some incriminating evidence when the inspectors found nothing just to legitimize a war.

January 2003 Baath Party Secretariat memorandum: The evil American authority stepped up their accusations of Iraq hiding chemical agents or biological labs on moveable trucks and trailers or inside containers. The American authorities are planning on bringing such trucks and containers into Iraq across the Iraqi borders or the border of the self-ruled areas or smuggling areas to provide it to the weapon inspectors to be used against Iraq in order to launch their wicked invading against our precious country.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the Security Council in February 2003 he played excerpts of tapes of Iraqi units allegedly trying to hide WMD. In fact, after the war it was discovered that these were soldiers attempting to make sure that everything available would be turned over to the inspectors.

Headquarters: They are inspecting the ammunition you have.
Field: Yes.
HQ: For the possibility there is, by chance, forbidden ammo.
Field: Yes.
HQ: And we sent you a message to inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas. 
Field: Yes
HQ: After you have carried out what is contained in the message, destroy the message.
Field: Yes.
HQ: Because I don’t want anyone to see this message.
Field: O.K. O.K.

It was easy to see why the United States would read these transcripts and think that the Iraqis were trying to hide their illicit weapons. It was just another example of how Baghdad and Washington misinterpreted each other’s actions.

When the invasion finally came in March 2003, Iraq was completely unprepared. That was because Saddam decided to change the country’s defense plans three months beforehand. For years, the Iraqis had drawn up a strategy to disperse its forces throughout the countryside to protect them from air strikes. That would make it hard for Iraq to marshal its forces and confront the Americans, but they didn’t believe a real invasion was coming anyway. Instead, they expected limited air strikes. As a result, Baghdad wanted to preserve its equipment. In December 2002 however, Saddam held a military conference where he revealed a new strategy for Iraq. This comprised a series of concentric circles based upon defending the cities, with Baghdad in the center. These ideas had been discussed since the 1990s, but this was the first time they were going to be put into effect. The problem was that there were no details on how to implement it. The officers at the meeting couldn’t even get copies of the plan, and could only take notes.

Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed al-Hamaed Taie: The months before the plan was agreed to and delivered, there was a meeting to discuss a general plan for the defense of Iraq with the Chief of Staff, the operations officer, and the planning directorate office. The plan we had relied on for years was not accepted. But the only agreement between the office of the president and the military staffs that came out of this meeting was a general idea that the cities had to be defended. The cities then became the critical things to defend and the military was withdrawn into the cities to protect them. This was on the instruction from the president. There was an attempt to complete a plan to defend these cities because the military understood things like how to create defensive obstacles. There were a number of tasks to complete to ensure the city defenses, but there was no agreement as to what they were or how to get them done.

The military was not happy about this change, but because of the culture of fear created by Saddam, they could do nothing about it. Few even voiced any concerns at the conference.

Republican Guard II Corps commander General Raad Hamdani: On 18 December 2002, the Republican Guard chief of Staff called all the commanders to meet at the Republican Guard Command Center. … The Republican Guard Chief of Staff briefed in front of a large wall map that covered just the central portion of Iraq. The map showed Baghdad in the center with four rings. … When the Americans arrived at the first ring and, on order from Saddam, the forces would conduct a simultaneous withdrawal. The units then repeated this ‘procedure’ until reaching the red circle. Once in the red circle, the remaining units would fight to the death. With this incredible simplicity and stupidity, the assembled Republican Guard officers were told that this was the plan for the defense of our country. … I was told by Qusay [Hussein] that there would be no changes because Saddam had signed the plan already.

This left the military in complete disarray. Iraq had a top down command structure, so with no orders from Baghdad on how to follow through with this new plan, the armed forces didn’t know how to prepare for the coming war. Some officers did nothing as a result, because they could be accused of disloyalty or face accusations from the various intelligence agencies that they were plotting against the government. Right up to the invasion there were few preparations actually made to defend Iraq. The Republican Guard II Corps commander General Raad Hamdani was one of the few experienced military men in Iraq. He tried to deploy his forces to repel the invaders. He was warned twice that he did not have the authority to do that, but did it anyway.

Republican Guard II Corps commander General Raad Hamdani: In January 2003 … the Republican Guard commanders kept wondering which plan we were supposed to be preparing. Very little was being passed to us from the Republican Guard Chief of Staff. I kept asking, “Which plan?” and he kept putting me off by issuing confusing or partial answers. … By late February and into early March 2003, we watched the military build-up in Kuwait and Turkey, and the mobilization of forces in the United States on the news. We still had no clear guidance from Republican Guard headquarters. So I started meeting with my commanders and staff officers to plan for the coming war. … Sometime in mid- to late-February 2003, I met with Qusay and the Republican Guard Chief of Staff because the Special Security Organization Chief had reported on my staff meetings and said that I was deploying my forces without authority.

Iraq was left defenseless as a result. The military and Baath Party were unwilling to pass along any bad news to Saddam, so they lied about what was happening on the ground. They claimed that there were thousands of soldiers and militiamen preparing for the Coalition, when the reality was that next to nothing was being done. The military adviser to the Central Euphrates Region General Yahya Taha Huwaysh Fadani al-Ani found out just how poorly Iraq was ready for the coming conflict when he did a tour in March 2003 of Samawa in Muthanna province.

March 2003 military adviser to Baath regional leader in Central Euphrates Region General Yahya Taha Muwaysh Fadani al-Ani: Before the war began I arrived in the [Central] Euphrates Region and found that there were no significant preparations being made. The [Central] Euphrates Region is an area that’s responsible for Karbala, Najaf, As-Samawa, and ad-Diwaniya. … The As-Samawa Branch had an Al-Quds force division whose members were all from As-Samawa. I asked the assembled leadership for total numbers of fighters and what they gave me added up to 120,000 soldiers from various tribes, police forces, military units, etc. … I asked for the numbers of deployed soldiers again. This time they said most of them were gone, but there were 30,000 loyal members who would fight. … I … set out on a personal inspection. … During my inspection I could not find even 10 percent of the 30,000 troops they told me were ready. … Where I should have found approximately 200 soldiers, they were not even 50 present. … On the morning of the 25th [March] … I told the regular Army Chief of Staff that if the Coalition comes, they’ll invade the city without any resistance.

When the invasion finally came, Saddam was still convinced that it would only be a limited affair.

March 2003 Iraqi official: A few weeks before the attacks Saddam still thought that the United States would not use ground forces; he thought that you would only use your air force. … Of course he was aware [of the build-up of forces in the region], it was all over the television screen. He thought [the Americans] would not fight a ground war, because it would be too costly to the Americans. He was over-confidence. He was clever, but his calculations were poor.

Saddam still thought he would be in power afterward, and had to prepare for the aftermath. One thing he decided to do was raid the Central Bank of Iraq for cash. That money would be needed to pay off tribes and others to help maintain internal security.

March 2003 Iraqi official: On or about March 19, 2003, Saddam arranged a meeting between the presidential secretary, Qusay, and the finance minister. … Saddam ordered the withdrawal of one and a quarter billion dollars and euros. … The money was taken in approximately 300 metal cases.

Because of Iraq’s experience after the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam was concerned that a U.S. attack might set off another uprising by the Shiites or Kurds. He was therefore afraid of the psychological operations mounted by the Americans before the war. This included the dropping of thousands of leaflets across the country. The government issued orders that all these pamphlets should be seized and destroyed. It also increased domestic spying upon the population to see whether they were having any affect. This included the collection of rumors and gossip to measure the public mood to see if it was turning against the regime.

March 2003 Iraqi intelligence report: Citizens of Iraq were forbidden to possess or pass along leaflets dropped around Iraq. Military and political representatives threaten to either imprison or kill anyone possessing any leaflets. Military and political representatives had orders to collect and burn all leaflets dropped. The government did not want the people to see the promises the US armed forces were offering the Iraqi soldiers and civilians.

April 2003 Iraqi intelligence report: Saddam also instructed the members of the Special Security Organization and Mukhabarat to “keep the internal situation under control,” and that it was very important to “keep the people satisfied…” Saddam was concerned about internal unrest amongst the tribes before, during, or after an attack by the United States on Baghdad.

When the invasion came it was mostly won by the air and missile strikes. The devastation wrought by them completely demoralized the Iraqi armed forces. It led to the majority of soldiers and militiamen to desert even before they saw a Coalition soldier. The Al-Nida Republican Guard Division stationed to the east of Baghdad for instance, never confronted a single American unit, but lost almost all of its soldiers and equipment due ot the air campaign.

March 2003 Al-Nida Republican Guard Division commander: The air attacks were the most effective message. The soldiers who did see the leaflets and then saw the air attacks knew the leaflets were true. They believed the message after that, if they were still alive. Overall they had a terrible effect on us. I started the war with 13,000 soldiers. By the time we had orders to pull back to Baghdad, I had less than 2,000; by the time we were in position in Baghdad, I had less than 1,000. Every day the desertions increased. We had no engagements with American forces. When my division pulled back across the Diyala Bridge, of the more than 500 armored vehicles assigned to me before the war, I was able to get fifty or so across the bridge. Most were destroyed or abandoned on the east side of the Diyala River.

Baghdad also got bad information and misinterpreted what the Coalition was doing during the war. For example, it got news that there was a large force in the west, and thought the invasion would come from Jordan not Kuwait. It moved its forces in that direction, which exposed them to air strikes, and had units wiped out as a result.

April 2003 Republican Guard II Corps commander General Raad Hamdani: The Minister of Defense had a message from Saddam. … The minister went on to explain that what had happened over the last two weeks was a “strategic” trick by the Americans. He told us American forces were going to come from the direction of Jordan, through Al-Ramadi, and into northern Baghdad. … The Al-Nida [Division] was supposed to shift to the northwest of Baghdad under the Republican Guard I Corps. Minefields were to be immediately established to the west and northwest of Baghdad. The talk of establishing minefields made me think that they thought we were fighting Iran again or something. … I told them that this plan was the opposite of what we were facing. … It was the kind of arguments that I imagine took place in Hitler’s bunker in Berlin.

General Hamdani was one of the few that tried to tell the senior leadership that they were wrong. The majority of officers and Baathist officials were afraid to tell the truth. This was reflected in their reports to Baghdad about what was happening out in the field. They repeatedly claimed that the Iraqis were putting up a heroic fight against the Coalition, and were actually winning. This was a result of the culture of fear that Saddam instilled throughout the government.

March 27, 2003 Defense Minister news conference: The enemy encircled the town of Al-Samawa from the direction of the desert and is now in the back of the town. The tribes of Al-Muthanna, the Ba’ath Party, Saddam Fedayeen, and military units are now implementing special operations aimed at these American units. … Now, as to the situation in the mid-Euphrates sector; in the past three days, the enemy’s losses were very heavy, as they are losing tanks and personnel carriers.… The enemy had withdrawn because they sustained heavy losses.

These reports were the reason why the Iraqi Information Minister Saeed al-Sahaf would constantly tell the press that the war was going Baghdad’s way. He wasn’t just repeating the government’s propaganda line, but reflecting what the regime actually thought was going on.

Saddam’s Information Minister Sahaf (AP)

March 31,2003 Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf: Those mercenaries of the international gang of villains sent their failing louts, but the snake is trapped in the quagmire now. The lines of communications now extend over 500 kilometers. Our people from all sectors, fighters, courageous tribesmen, as well as the fighters of the valiant Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party fought battles and pushed the enemy back into the desert. … Now hundreds of thousands of the fighters of the valiant Iraqi people are distributed in all places. Saddam’s Fedayeen and some small units of the Iraqi Armed Forces began to engage the louts of the villains of the US and British colonialism day and night. We have decided not to let them sleep.

General Yahya Taha Huwaysh Fadani al-Ani was in Samawa in Muthanna, and knew what was actually happening during the war. There were hardly any Iraqi forces in the province, because most had deserted even before the Coalition arrived.

General Yahya Taha Huwaysh Fadani al-Ani: On 31 March I noticed that there were only approximately 200 fighters left in As-Samawah. The Al-Quds fighters complained that they no longer had any soldiers. The Ba’ath Party said they no longer had any men.

As the Iraqi forces collapsed, the Baath Party officials began disappearing as well. The public quickly found out the regime was falling, and looting broke out in the urban areas.

April 3, 2003 Genera Yahya Taha Huwaysh Fadani al-Ani: In the morning … when we started [to evacuate], the mobs started looting everything. They came to steal our cars, but my guards scared them off.

The situation was no better in Baghdad even though it was supposed to be the center of power. Like the rest of the country, nothing was really done to prepare the city. That was the reason why it was taken so easily when the Coalition arrived even though they believed it would be the site of intense urban warfare.

Iraqi soldier Hussein al-Awadie: There was no real plan to defend [Baghdad], and the Iraqi military made poor use of what troops they had. Nobody seemed to make any plans for long-term fighting. The military mismanagement made it even easier for the Americans than it might have been. … Look, any military sometimes loses a battle, but you can lose with honor. There was no honor to be had in this.

The troops and militiamen in Baghdad found themselves cut off from their command by the bombing campaign. With no orders coming, many just went home when they thought the Americans were coming, and the capital went down with very little fighting.

Senior officer army air defense Baha’a Nouri Yasseen: Morale collapsed when we lost contact with our superiors. All the communications were eventually cut during the bombing as well, even land lines, and soon we stopped getting orders. As a military man, I was ready to stay and follow orders, and so were many of my fellow officers even though things were going very badly. But suddenly there was no word from our commanders. Before U.S. troops reached Baghdad, we were cut from them. … After three days of this, we decided that it was useless to try and do anything more to fight with the air defenses, so we focused on just trying to minimize our losses. … We began to realize that the entire city had fallen. From what we heard the Americans had entered Baghdad from all sides and had taken control of all the main routes. So we decided simply to go home and abandon our post before the Americans reached us.

There were further problems with Iraq’s command and control, because Saddam went into hiding right after the first air raid. He was mostly going from safe house to safe house in the Mansour district of the capital. Much like Hitler in his bunker at the end of World War II Saddam gave orders to units that no longer existed, because he was so removed from events on the ground. It wasn’t until the very end that he realized that all was lost, and he fled the capital.

Saddam Hussein was a victim of his own dictatorial rule. He created a culture of fear and mistrust to keep his real and imagined opponents off balance. The result was an emasculated military, and a government full of sycophants, and spies. Iraq was not only incapable of defending itself as a result, but could not figure out America’s intentions. Saddam thought he knew everything, and would take no serious advice. Autocrats tend to live in a bubble of their own creation, and Saddam was no different. Still he was not a madman as the U.S. tried to portray. He did try to analyze events it was just that he didn’t understand the world outside of Iraq. He ended up paying for those mistakes with his own life after his government was deposed.


Cranberg, Gilbert, “…Bring Back the Skeptical Press,” Washington Post, 6/29/03

Kukis, Mark, Voices From Iraq, New York: Columbia University Press, 2011

Polk, William, Understanding Iraq, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Harper Perennial, 2005

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 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

AL JAZEERA VIDEO: Iraq's Battle With Al Qaeda Continues

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Global Politics Interview

This is an interview I did with Global Politics about the current political and economic situation in Iraq.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Prime Minister Maliki Targets Another Member Of The Iraqi National Movement In An Act Of Political Intimidation

It seems like winter has become the time for new political crises in Iraq. In December 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi forcing him into exile, and starting a new battle with his Iraqi National Movement (INM). Now, in December 2012, the government raided the offices and home of INM member Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, and accused some of his bodyguards of working with Hashemi’s security unit to carry out terrorist attacks. There have been accusations that Issawi has been involved with violence for quite some time, but also reports that Maliki has tried to manipulate them as well to gain concessions. This latest incident appears to be another such case.

The newest controversy started when one of the Finance Minister’s bodyguards was arrested in Baghdad. On December 21, 2012, a member of Issawi’s security detail was arrested trying to enter the Green Zone. A spokesman for the Supreme Judicial Council told the press that the bodyguard had a longtime warrant out for him, and that he had been on the run for quite some time. During his interrogation, he implicated other guards, leading to raids upon Issawi’s house and offices leading to nine more guards being detained, and a large number of his staff. The Finance Minister originally claimed that up to 150 members of his entourage were swept up by the authorities. Most were released that day, but the guards remain in custody. Issawi has been a long time critic of the premier’s rule, and comes from the rival Iraqi National Movement (INM). The arrests also came just as President Jalal Talabani was going to Germany for medical treatment after suffering a stroke, and on the one year anniversary of a campaign against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi for running death squads, which drove him into exile. That immediately made many political parties and the American government to believe that the prime minister was once again going after his political opponents using the security forces and courts. This has been something that he has been doing since 2008 when he first started to assert himself.

The prime minister’s State of Law immediately tried to deflect criticism. A parliamentarian from the list said that an investigation had not found any evidence to implicate the Finance Minister himself, but went on to claim that his bodyguards were involved with Hashemi’s in attacks. At the same time, he called for a parliamentary committee to look into the matter. Another State of Law member told the press that 20 families in Anbar had filed lawsuits against Hashemi and Issawi’s guards, and that ten judges signed off on the warrants, with the majority being Sunni in an effort to show that the raids were not sectarian. Finally, the prime minister himself said that he was not behind the arrests, only that it was the justice system doing its work. This has been the modus operandi in many of these cases. The premier’s list is the one talking to the media, and giving details about controversial arrests rather than the courts, while claiming that there is no political motivation behind them. Instead of diffusing things, it only increases suspicions.

The INM was predictably upset that the government was targeting another one of their leading members. Deputy Premier Salah al-Mutlaq threatened to withdraw the National Movement from the ruling coalition if there wasn’t an investigation into the arrests. On December 22 and 25 the INM did not attend the cabinet, and on the 23 it did not show up to parliament. The protests were merely symbolic, but united the party. After the conflict with Maliki over the Hashemi debacle in 2011, the list effectively ceased to exist. The leading members disagreed about how to react, and several lawmakers left. Now their outrage brought them together if for just a few days. That wasn’t enough to change Maliki’s course of action, but the reaction of others was.

Finance Minister Issawi at protest in support of him in Anbar Dec. 26, 2012 (AIN)

There was strong backlash by several groups within and without Iraq as well. President Obama called Minister Issawi the day of the arrests, while the U.S. Ambassador Robert Beecroft visited him, and the U.S. Embassy issued a protest to the Foreign Ministry. Starting that same day there were protests in Anbar, Salahaddin, and the Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad. The Anbar provincial council complained, and then there were more demonstrations in Fallujah starting on December 23 that shut down the highway to Jordan and Syria for several days that drew people from throughout Iraq. The head of the Sadr bloc in the legislature Bahaa Hussein Ali Kamal Araji voiced his concerns, and met with Speaker Nujafi. The Sadrists said that these types of actions cost the government legitimacy, and accused the prime minister of politicizing the security forces. Finally, the Kurdish Alliance protested the raids as well saying that they were unconstitutional. This was a far higher level of outrage than occurred during the Hashemi controversy. The fact that this was the second time that the prime minister was going after an INM leader obviously made people more concerned that Maliki was abusing his power. It also likely made the premier re-think pushing the matter any further as Issawi has not been personally implicated in whatever charges are going to be made against his bodyguards, and there have been no other arrests so far.

The detention of the Finance Minister’s guards came after years of accusations against Issawi. Before he became a politician, he was the head of the Fallujah hospital when the city was an insurgent hotbed. In 2010, Maliki told the American military he was worried about Issawi’s involvement with militants. There were reports for example, that Hashemi and Issawi ran a death squad in the city called Hamas of Iraq in 2006. A member of the prime minister’s Dawa party later said that the group was run by the Minister’s guards without his knowledge. As a result of these concerns, then commander of American forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno conducted an investigation. In August 2010, he sent the findings to the prime minister, which found nothing against Issawi. There were some reports that Maliki tried to use these stories against Issawi. When the government was being put together after the 2010 elections for instance, there was a report that Issawi was threatened to support Maliki’s second term in return for the speaker of parliament position by the prime minister or he would be charged with terrorism. Then in December 2011, when the security forces went after Vice President Hashemi, military units were deployed outside of Issawi’s house in the Green Zone placing him temporarily under house arrest. The Finance Minister then tried to fly to Kurdistan with Hashemi and Deputy Premier Mutlaq, but was forced off the plane. At the same time, some of his security detail were taken in for questioning about supporting insurgents in Fallujah. A Maliki adviser said there were accusations that Issawi was behind assassinations. Many of Iraq’s political figures have been involved in violence at one time or another. Claims that Issawi was involved with insurgents then due to his life in Fallujah should come as no surprise. The fact that General Odierno claimed that he found nothing on the Finance Minister should not be discounted. More importantly, the nature of the arrests of his guards in 2011 and currently point the finger at the prime minister manipulating the charges to pressure one of his critics more than anything.

The Iraqi government is characterized by the number of crises it has gone through. Just as one ends, another presents itself. The last several however, have all been created by Prime Minister Maliki. The arrest of Finance Minister Issawi’s guards is just the latest example. The Iraqi National Movement, Americans, and other leading parties have all seen it as another instance of the premier using the security forces against his political opponents. The fact that it came on the year anniversary of Vice President Hashemi going through a very similar set of circumstances only drove the point home more. Maliki has used targeted detentions before to send the message that anyone that opposes him is vulnerable. This also comes as all the major parties are preparing for the 2013 elections. The fact that there have been such strong reactions not only by the U.S. and the other lists, which were predictable, but on the Iraqi street as well may put a check on the premier going any further. He may have never intended to do so anyway as the arrests were a strong enough message. Now it’s only a matter of the prime minister and Finance Minister coming to some kind of agreement to end this blow up. Unfortunately it will not be the last time Iraq sees this type of incident.


Adnan, Duraid and Arango, Tim, “Arrest of a Sunni Minister’s Bodyguards Prompts Protests in Iraq,” New York Times, 12/21/12

AIN, “Defense Committee: number of Esawi’s guards, released,” 12/21/12
- “Esawi not involved in criminal actions according to primary investigations, says MP,” 12/22/12
- “IS suspends its ministers from CoM’s meetings,” 12/22/12
- “MP: Foreign guarantees behind return of Iraqiya Slate to parliament,” 1/31/12
- “Mutleg calls IS to suspend from current government,” 12/21/12

Alsumaria News, “An informed source disclosed agreement to resolve the issue individuals protect Issawi conveyed investigation committee headed by Atta,” 12/22/12

Associated Press, “Iraq finance minister says staff members kidnapped,” 12/20/12
- “Sunni demonstrators challenge Iraq’s Shiite-led government, denounce bodyguards’ arrest,” 12/23/12

Aswat al-Iraq, “Kurdish Alliance denounces intruding Issawi’s offices,” 12/22/12
- “Tribal delegation arrives from Missan to take part in Anbar protest,”12/25/12

Dar Addustour, “Maliki calls for parliament to withdraw confidence from the al-Mutlaq – Government waited and proclamation of the results revealed the involvement of senior political terrorist operations,” 12/18/11

Dodge, Toby, “The resistible rise of Nuri al-Maliki,” Open Democracy, 3/22/12

Gordon, Michael, “Tensions Rise in Baghdad With Raid on Official,” New York Times, 12/20/12

Healy, Jack and Gordon, Michael, “A Moderate Official at Risk in a Fracturing Iraq,” New York Times, 12/30/11

Al-Jawari, Fulaih, “Cracks in Iraqiya begin to open,” AK News, 1/8/12

Knights, Michael, “Iraq’s Political Crisis: Challenges for U.S. Policy,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 12/21/11

Al-Mada, “Power of the Prime Minister’s Office arrested facilities Rafie al-Issawi,” 12/20/12

Mardini, Ramzy, “Iraq After the U.S. Withdrawal: Update #1,” Institute for the Study of War, 12/19/11
- “Iraq’s First Post-Withdrawal Crisis,” Institute for the Study of War, 12/19/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “Anbar Provincial Council: Hashemi scenario repeated with Issawi,” 12/21/12
- “BREAKING NEWS Chalabi, Araji joint Iraqiya’s urgent meeting,” 12/20/12
- “BREAKING NEWS Obama makes a call to Essawi in response to the arrest of Essawi’s head of his guards,” 12/20/12
- “Continues to sit for the second day in Anbar province and cut off part of the international road,” 12/24/12
- “Demonstrations in Salah al-Din condemns “arbitrary measures” against Issawi protection members,” 12/21/12
- “Demonstrations pro-Issawi in the cities of Alqaim and Rotba of Anbar province,” 12/21/12
- “Iraqiya coalition suspends its attending in the Parliament,” 12/23/12
- “Protesters from Fallujah cut off the international highway and heading to Baghdad,” 12/21/12

Radio Nawa, “Bayraktar: an arrest warrant for official protection Issawi was issued some time ago but he was on the run,” 12/22/12

Al Rafidayn, “Alfalh: 20 families of Anbar filed lawsuits against al-Issawi and protection elements Hashemi,” 12/22/12

Sabah, Mohammad, “Sadrists: everyone concerned Maliki risks and trust no Badthamath and investigations,” Al-Mada, 12/21/12

Salaheddin, Sinan and Schreck, Adam, “Iraq confirms arrest of minister’s bodyguards,” Associated Press, 12/21/12

Schreck, Adam and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraq: New Protests Break out in Sunni Stronghold,” Assocaited Press, 12/26/12

Shafaq News, “Council of ministers delay its sessions after al-Iraqiya ministers boycott it,” 12/25/12
- “Maliki gained the support of some of al-Iraqiya leaders; source said,” 9/3/12

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 30,” 1/3/12
- “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 40,” 6/20/12

Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane, “Iraq’s Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 2,” Institute for the Study of War, 12/23/11

Al-Tayyeb, Mouhammed, “Government to investigate Issawi’s alleged support for terrorism,” AK News, 12/22/11

Van Wilgenburg, Wladimir, “Iraqi Government Will Possible Arrest More Sunni Leaders,” Transnational Middle-East Observer, 12/22/11

RED CROSS VIDEO: Iraq's Widows

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Oil Deal Between Kurdistan And Iraq’s Central Government Breaks Down Again

In September 2012, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) came to its third agreement with Iraq’s central government over oil exports. The deal was hailed as a breakthrough between the two after the KRG halted its shipments in April. That overlooked the fact that the root of the problem between the two, the Kurds’ independent oil contracts, was never resolved. There was also a technical issue in that Kurdistan could not reach the production levels it agreed to as quickly as scheduled. That opened the door for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government to claim that the KRG had not fulfilled its obligations, which has led to the current impasse. The agreement between the regional and central governments has not officially come apart, but in effect it has.

Kurdistan and Baghdad have never followed through with either of the two main elements of the September deal. First, the central government agreed to pay the companies operating in the KRG $833 million in 2012. (1) Kurdistan claims that Baghdad owed the corporations $1.5 billion for exports since 2009. That amount only covers costs of operation, as Maliki’s government has refused to pay them profits over the disputes with their contracts. In October, the Finance Ministry made the first installment of $650 million. The second tranche was to come the following month, but was never made. Not only that, but the draft of the 2013 budget only allots a small amount of money to pay the companies in Kurdistan. Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani who is in charge of energy policy said the reason why was because the Kurds were not meeting their export quota. That brings the second problem. Under the September agreement, the KRG was to export 140,000 barrels a day in September, and then 200,000 barrels a day for the remaining three months of the year. The Kurds were never able to reach those levels. In September, it sent113,000 barrels through the northern Kirkuk pipeline to Turkey, 146,000 in October, and 180,000 in November. At the end of that last month however, the North Oil Company claimed that the KRG had cut its output to only 70,000-80,000. That was partly due to technical problems at the Khurmala field in Tamim. The Kurds finally halted all exports on December 22, to protest Baghdad’s non-payment. The KRG is therefore stuck in a Catch-22. It can’t meet its quotas as quickly as called for by the September agreement, because it currently lacks that capacity. That gives the central government an excuse not to fulfill their side of the bargain. Kurdistan’s only means of protest is to cut production, but that ensures that the energy businesses there will not be compensated. Until it ups its production it can’t really hold Baghdad accountable.

Currently, Prime Minister Maliki holds the upper hand in this standoff. Baghdad welcomes Kurdish exports, because it boosts Iraq’s overall numbers, and helps bring in extra cash. It also allows the central government to make its point that energy policy has to go through it. At the same time, the Kurds’ contribution is only a small portion of overall sales, especially now that production in southern Iraq is ramping up. That leaves the KRG with little leverage in the matter. Cutting its exports only hurts the companies it has deals with. That means that the September deal is near dead, and will likely officially come apart in the coming months. Kurdistan will halt exports, blame Baghdad, and then wait to negotiate another agreement in the future. Maliki on the other hand, will hold this over the head of the Kurds to punish them for their independent energy policy. Until the conflict over the Kurds’ oil contracts is resolved Iraq will see a series of these short term deals come and go. Given the red lines the two sides have set on the matter, the demand for independence versus centralized control, a resolution to this dilemma will not come soon.


1. Agence France Presse, “Iraqi Kurdistan confirms oil deal with Baghdad,” 9/14/12


Agence France Presse, “Iraqi Kurdistan confirms oil deal with Baghdad,” 9/14/12

Ajrash, Kadhim and Razzouk, Nayla, “Iraq Kurds Halt Crude Exports, Central Government Official Says,” Bloomberg, 12/24/12

Kami, Aseel, “UPDATE 1-Oil exports from Iraq’s Kurdish region rise to 170,000 bpd,” Reuters, 10/4/12

Al-Khayat, Faleh, “Iraq’s oil output slumps by 200,000 b/d in October,” Platts, 11/28/12

Kurdistan Tribune, “KRG halts oil exports,” 12/21/12

Neuhof, Florian, “Oil frontier in Iraq loses its allure,” The National, 12/6/12

Osgood, Patrick, “Kurdistan slashes oil exports over payment feud,” Iraq Oil Report, 11/29/12

Al Rafidayn, “Iraq says it obscures payments for Kurdish oil exports,” 12/22/12

Rahman, Mohammed Abdul, “Erbil and Baghdad agree on reimbursing oil companies,” AK News, 9/15/12

Reuters, “Iraq says Vitol apologises for Kurdish oil purchase,” 12/10/12
- “UPDATE 1-Iraq begins initial $650 mln oil payments to Kurds,” 10/2/12
- “UPDATE 1-Iraqi Kurdish crude flow cut by 75,000 bpd due technical problem,” 12/11/12
- “UPDATE 1-Iraqi Kurdish oil exports down ‘significantly’-sources,” 11/27/12

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How Saddam Doomed The Defense of Iraq In 2003

There was never any question that Iraq was going to be defeated by the U.S.-led Coalition in 2003. Saddam Hussein’s meddling in military planning before the war however, helped account for why the Iraqi armed forces fared so poorly. The United States was expecting a real fight with the Republican Guard, and to take the capital, but that never materialized. That was partly because three months before the invasion the Iraqi dictator completely changed his country’s defense plans with no provisions for how it was to be implemented.

In December 2002, Saddam called for a meeting of his military commanders to announce his plans for the defense of Iraq. On December 18, he unveiled a series of concentric circles of defense, anchored by the cities with Baghdad at the center. Each line of forces was to fight from the urban areas, and then withdraw to the next circle when commanded. If they were pushed all the way back to Baghdad, they would then fight to the death to preserve the regime. Saddam’s son, Qusay Hussein, said that no one could protest or make suggestions to the plan, because Saddam had already decided upon it. The attending officers could not even get copies of the strategy only take notes on it. The plan did not pay attention to tactics, terrain or how the military was to conduct a fighting retreat, especially given the fact that no unit could coordinate with others or move without permission from the leadership. To top it all off, the commanders were not told how to implement it. Saddam’s strategy was not completely new. The concept of an urban centered defense had been talked about as far back as 1995. However, this was a complete change from the previous plans, which was what flustered the armed forces so much. The Iraqi leader liked to rely upon his intuition, and this was another example of that.
The lack of orders from the top on how to construct this defense led to mass confusion amongst the ranks. The commander of the Republican Guard’s II Corps for example, said that right up to March 2003 Baghdad never gave him any instructions on how to set up his units to comply with Saddam’s plan. That left the general to act on his own, which was expressly forbidden by the regime out of fear of a coup. Twice Qusay and the Republican Guard Chief of Staff told him that he did not have the authority to move his units around. Not only that, but the divisions around him were being redeployed without his knowledge, which could have undermined his preparations. This was standard operating procedure in Iraq. Again, because Saddam thought a military take over was the greatest threat to his rule, he allowed no cooperation between his officers. They could not communicate or meet with each other without supervision by higher ups, because that might lead to plotting. The corps commander was an exception, because most officers decided to do nothing before the invasion since they never received any orders, and were afraid of the consequences if they acted without them. Just months before the U.S. invasion the Iraqi military was thrown into a state of disarray or inaction as it struggled to come to terms with Saddam’s new strategy.

The idea of concentric circles also conflicted with the division of the country into regional commands. Saddam broke Iraq up into four regional commands. Each was under control of a political, rather than a military figure even though they were supposed to be in charge of defense of the country. The southern region was under Saddam’s cousin, “Chemical Ali” Ali Hassan al-Majid. The northern region was commanded by Saddam’s number two Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the deputy premier. The middle Euphrates was under Mizban Khatar Hadi of the Revolutionary Command Council, while Qusay Hussein had Baghdad. Only four days before the invasion in March 2003, was this system finalized. How these commands were to coordinate the defense plan was never explained. Again, that left the preparation to the individual politicians and officers on the ground. In the Euphrates command for example, the former head of the Iraqi navy was named military adviser. He felt this was a complete mistake since he was not an army man used to land warfare. He didn’t arrive in the area until March, and found that nothing had been done to implement Saddam’s plan. Like the regional commands, Baath Party officials were in charge of the military, police, and some of the militias in their areas. Governors for example had control of the army units in their provinces as well as the al-Quds militia, but not the Saddam Fedayeen who took orders from Uday Hussein or the Republican Guard who were under Qusay. They could not make contact with those forces either. When the former navy head went to Muthanna province he was even more exacerbated. Local Baath officials told him that there were 30,000 soldiers and militiamen in and around the city of Samawa. When he went on a tour he found less than 10% of that actually on duty. He was told that this situation would be remedied, but nothing happened. He felt that the city would fall to the U.S. without a fight as a result, which was what basically happened. The lack of coordination amongst the various units and command was a characteristic of Saddam’s Iraq. He felt that if they worked together it might pose a threat to his power. Creating overlapping and contradictory chains of command was then done on purpose. Iraq was to suffer the consequences when it proved incapable of putting up a fight to the invading forces in 2003.

By 2003, Saddam was an isolated autocrat. Sycophants who dared not tell him that he was ever wrong or that things were going badly in the country surrounded him. When three months before the U.S. invasion he decided to completely change the defense of the country there were hardly any complaints, because that was not only unacceptable, but could lead to being executed. Each individual officer and Baath Party official was left to prepare for the U.S. led Coalition on their own, because there was never any instructions from the top on how Saddam’s plan, which was nothing more than a loosely conceived concept to begin with, was to be implemented. Many did nothing as a result. The Iraqi military was already in a bad state after years of sanctions, which denied them new equipment and spare parts. Saddam’s fear of coups also completely debilitated the armed forces ability to fight. That meant Iraq was going to lose in any confrontation with the Americans, but that outcome was also greatly exacerbated by Saddam’s decisions.


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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lessons From Iraq: How The Saddam And Assad Dictatorships Undermined Their Own Rule

Today, the reign of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria is teetering in the face of a popular uprising. His Baath Party, which used to administer the state, has collapsed giving way to a quasi-Assad family-military rule. The security forces and intelligence agencies are faltering in their attempt to suppress the rebels as well. A look at how the Syrian regime has been run shows close similarities to the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Both ran their governments not through institutions, but with family. The two Baathist dictators were also afraid of coups, and therefore undermined their own militaries and intelligence agencies to protect themselves. The shortcomings of such strategies are now all to apparent as Assad is expected to eventually fall from power.

Family rather than competence was what ran the Iraqi state under Saddam (center) pictured here with sons Uday (left) and Qusay (right) (Reuters)

Family and tribal ties, not position, institutions or abilities were how Saddam Hussein and Hafez and Bashar al-Assad ran their countries. In Iraq, Saddam’s sons, cousins, extended family, and those from his home region of Tikrit in Salahaddin province were given prominent positions throughout the government. His son Qusay for example, was given control of the Special Republican Guard and the Republican Guard. He also ran the Special Security Organization, the Directorate General of Intelligence, the General Security forces, and was a member of the Baath Party’s Regional Command, and deputy of the party’s Military Bureau. Saddam’s older son Uday controlled the state media, and was in charge of the Saddam Fedayeen militia. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was Saddam’s number two, and the vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Northern Region Commander, deputy Secretary General of the Baath Party Regional Command, and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces. He was from the Tikrit region, and his daughter was married to Uday Hussein for a time. Saddam’s cousin, General Ali Hassan al-Majid was better known as “Chemical Ali” for his role in the Halabja massacre and the Anfal campaign against the Kurds. At various times he was the Defense and Interior Minister, head of the Security Office, Secretary General of the Northern Bureau of the Baath Party, and the military governor of Kuwait after the 1990 invasion. Likewise in Syria, nepotism runs rampant. President Assad’s brother General Maher al-Assad commands the Republican Guard and the Army’s 4th Division. His cousin, Hafez Makhlouf is a deputy director in the State Security, and has more influence over it than the actual head. Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, is the army deputy chief of staff, his other cousin Zual Hima Chalich is head of presidential security. Two more of his cousins, Fawaz al-Assad and Munzer al-Assad, run the Shabiha militia. All are currently at the forefront of fighting the Syrian rebels. In both countries, the fear of coups, uprisings, and the desire to hold onto power as tightly as possible led the dictators to turn to their families to ensure control and protection. The hope was that when crises arose they could be assured of loyalty and ruthlessness to preserve the regime. At the same time, the leaders were sacrificing expertise and sound advice for sycophants who would only tell the leaders what they wanted to hear, because their fates were directly tied to the autocrats. In Syria for example, the government could have tried to compromise with the opposition when it first started. Instead, it immediately turned to violence, because it was so afraid to give up even an inch of power to those outside of Assad’s inner circle.

Like Saddam, Hafez al-Assad (center) relied upon his sons Maher (left) and Bashar (right) to help run the Syrian state (Lonely Planet)

The fear of being overthrown also led both Saddam and Hafez al-Assad to create multiple military units, and security and intelligence agencies that were all meant to check each other. Saddam looked at Iraqi history, and saw a series of military takeovers. There were several attempts in the 1990s for instance, one of which included members of the elite Republican Guard. He therefore interpreted this to be the main threat to his rule. Saddam’s response was to form a variety of new units, agencies, and militias all with overlapping responsibilities to keep an eye on each other, the government, and the public. Some of these organizations included the Special Security Office, the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the Directorate of General Security, the General Directorate of Military Intelligence, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, the Saddam Fedayeen, Al Quds, and the martyrs brigades. An Iraqi officer told American interrogators after the 2003 invasion that, “The main function of the Republican Guard Security Office was to monitor and ensure the loyalty of Republican Guard forces. All phones in Republican Guard offices were monitored and all meetings were recorded. High-ranking officers were subjected to constant technical monitoring and surveillance in and out of their homes. The Republican Guard Security Office monitored all aspects of senior Republican Guard officers’ lives, including their financial affairs and diet.” The extreme mistrust the Iraqi dictator felt for his own forces meant that he did not allow them to train or conduct military maneuvers that often. Only the Special Republican Guard was allowed within Baghdad itself. The Republican Guard was placed outside of the capital, and then the regular army units. He didn’t allow any military units to coordinate with each other. Officers couldn’t visit other units, and commanders couldn’t move their forces without permission from the top leadership. There were also constant purges and murders of officers. This caused fear and mistrust throughout the military. On top of that, Saddam broke the country up into four security regions, and placed loyalists in charge of each who had no real expertise in military affairs. All together that meant the Iraqi military was completely unprepared for the 2003 invasion. There was no meaningful preparation, because all of the decisions were made by people with no understanding of strategy and tactics just their ties to Saddam. As the U.S. led Coalition quickly swept through the country, the military couldn’t respond, because they could show no initiative, and only wait for commands from Baghdad. The same fears and problems exist in Syria. President Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1963 in a Baathist take over. In 1970, he held his own coup against rival members within the party. To protect himself from another military putsch, he created 15 different security and intelligence services including the General Intelligence Directorate, Military Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, the Special Forces, the Presidential Guard, the Republican Guard, and others. Like in Iraq, these all had overlapping duties so that none could really do their job completely, and each would be a rival of the other. There are also agencies whose sole duty is spying upon the military. The armed forces were also divided, and militias were created as well. The Army Command for example, has direct control of the Republican Guard, the Desert Guard, the 120th Mountain Infantry Brigade, and several other units. As stated before, there is also the Shabiha militia run by members of the Assad family. Even though the Syrian army and security services were meant to protect the government from coups and uprisings, the division of duties amongst multiple groups actually hollowed them out. Each undermines the other, and there is fear and suspicion throughout the ranks just as in Iraq under Saddam. They also can’t act without orders from the top making them unable to effectively respond to the changing situation on the ground. What Saddam and the Assads saw as coup proofing their regimes, actually worked against them when they were faced with real challenges to their rule.

The Hussein and Assad families followed very similar paths to power. Both Saddam and Hafez were members of the Baath Party, and seized power in coups. They later got rid of their rivals within the party to become sole authorities in their countries. They were then intent upon preventing themselves from being deposed in a similar manner. They turned to relatives to help them rule, and divided up their militaries and security services into multiple units and agencies with divided commands, so that none could emerge as a threat. As a result, the security forces were emasculated. When 2003 came, that meant the Iraqi military could not provide much of a defense for the regime against the U.S. and British. The same is happening today in Syria as the armed forces are hampered by the system created by the Assads in their fight against the rebels. When the government eventually falls there, it will be a result of their nepotism and fears created by their autocratic rule.


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This Day In Iraqi History - May 21 Treaty of Arzurum set line between Ottoman and Persian empires with Iraq as border area

  1847 Treaty of Arzurum tried to set border between Ottoman Empire and Persia Gave Sulaymaniya to Ottomans Shatt al-Ara...