Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Day Saddam Sealed His Fate During The 2003 Invasion of Iraq

(Getty Images)

Saddam Hussein was always going to lose to the Coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On April 2 however he sealed his own fate with a massive blunder. With only a week left in the war Saddam was convinced that the U.S. advance from the south on Baghdad was not the real invasion. Instead, he believed Russian intelligence that the Americans were really coming from Jordan. He ordered his forces to move north and west to face this false threat opening the way to Baghdad.


On April 2, 2003 the leadership of the elite Republican Guard met in Baghdad to discuss the U.S. invasion. Qusay Hussein the head of the Guard told the commanders that his father had ordered them to move their forces to the west to block an expected U.S. attack from Jordan. This came from Russia who saw a U.S. division going through the Suez Canal on its way to Turkey and thought it was actually going to land in Jordan and move on Iraq from there. They passed this intelligence onto Saddam who completely bought into it.


The Republican Guard corps commander General Raad al-Hamdani objected saying he would not have the forces necessary to block the American advance from the south. At the time the U.S. was in Karbala and closing in on Baghdad. This was the first time that the leadership heard that the Americans were so close to the capital. The Defense Minister Sultan Hashim, the regular army and Republican Guard chiefs of staff rejected Hamdani’s news because all they had been told was the Coalition was stuck fighting in the cities in the south. Hashim said Saddam had given the order to move west and no changes were allowed. This shift in forces opened the way for the Americans to enter Baghdad just the next day.


Saddam and the military leadership were in a bubble during the entire war. The Baath Party, Fedayeen Saddam, the military, and the Republican Guard all passed along false reports to Baghdad. An air defense commander for instance claimed he had deterred or destroyed 130 Coalition planes, cruise missiles and helicopters. A militia leader said his unit had destroyed 7 U.S. vehicles in Muthanna in a battle that never happened. These were some of the many stories that were sent to the capital portraying the Coalition as caught up in heavy fighting in southern cities and suffering heavy casualties. That was Saddam’s game plan to catch the U.S. and British in urban warfare and he therefore thought the war was going his way. Conversely negative reports were dismissed. That was why General Hamdani was not believed when he said the U.S. was just a few hours away from Baghdad. The entire leadership was suffering from group think. On top of that they were sycophants who only told Saddam what he wanted to hear.


On April 9, just one week after General Hamdani met with the military leadership Saddam and his family fled Baghdad and the Iraq invasion was over. Saddam miscalculated the conflict from the very beginning. He never even thought the war would happen. Then he believed his allies such as Russia, China and France would stop it in the United Nations. When the war finally began he pictured it as a repeat of the Gulf War where he would never be threatened. He complicated matters by thinking that the real U.S. thrust would come from Jordan. Iraq was doomed as soon as the invasion started but Saddam made it end much quicker because of his complete incompetence and the lack of serious advice from his aides and military.




ABC News, “Did Russian Ambassador Give Saddam the U.S. War Plan?” 3/23/06


Ballard, John, from storm to Freedom, America’s Long War with Iraq, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010


Coughlin Con, Saddam, His Rise and Fall, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Harper Perennial, 2004


Malovany, Pesach, Wars of Modern Babylon, A History of the Iraqi Army from 1921 to 2003, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017


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


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