Monday, May 08, 2006

Kevin Woods, James Lacey and Williamson Murray: Why Saddam thought he could win

Throughout the years of relative external peace for Iraq after Operation Desert Storm, in 1991, Saddam Hussein received optimistic assessments of his regime's prospects from his top military officers.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz described Saddam as having been "very confident" that the United States would not dare to attack Iraq, and that if it did, it would be defeated.

What was the source of Saddam's confidence? Judging from his private statements, the single most important element in Saddam's strategic calculus was his faith that France and Russia would prevent an invasion by the United States, believing in a nexus between their economic interests and his own strategic goals.

According to his personal interpreter, Saddam also thought his "superior" forces would put up "a heroic resistance and ... inflict such enormous losses on the Americans that they would stop their advance".
When the coalition assault did come, Saddam clung to the belief that the Americans would be satisfied with an outcome short of regime change.

An internal revolt remained Saddam's biggest fear. On this basis, Saddam planned his moves.

For example, according to the commander of Iraq's Air Force, Hamid Raja Shalah, Saddam reasoned that the Iraqi Air Force's equipment was useless against coalition Air Forces. Consequently he decided to save the Air Force for future needs and ordered his commanders to hide their aircraft.

When it came to weapons of mass destruction, Saddam attempted to convince one audience that they were gone while simultaneously convincing another that Iraq still had them.

According to Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali", Saddam was asked about the weapons during a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Command Council.

He replied that Iraq did not have WMD but flatly rejected a suggestion that the regime remove all doubts to the contrary, going on to explain that such a declaration might encourage the Israelis to attack.

By late 2002, Saddam had tilted towards trying to persuade the international community that Iraq was co-operating with the inspectors of the UN Special Commission and that it no longer had WMD programmes.

But after years of obfuscation, it was difficult to convince anyone that Iraq was not once again being economical with the truth. And when UN inspectors went to some locations, they discovered lingering evidence of WMD-related programmes.

In 2002, therefore, when the United States intercepted a message between two Iraqi Republican Guard Corps commanders discussing the removal of the words "nerve agents" from "the wireless instructions", US analysts viewed this information through the prism of a decade of prior deceit.

They had no way of knowing that this time the information reflected the regime's attempt to ensure it was in compliance with UN resolutions. This tidbit was cited as an example of Iraqi bad faith by US Secretary of State Colin Powell in his February 5, 2003, statement to the United Nations.

Another factor reduced Iraq's military effectiveness: sanctions. For more than a dozen years, UN sanctions had made it difficult for Baghdad to buy new equipment or fund adequate training for the military.

Saddam created the Military Industrial Commission as a means to sustain the military. The commission and a series of subordinate organisations promised new capabilities to offset the effects of poor training, poor morale and neglected equipment.

One senior Iraqi official has alleged that the commission's leaders were so fearful of Saddam that when he ordered them to initiate weapons programmes that they knew Iraq could not develop, they told him they could accomplish the projects with ease.

Later, when Saddam asked for updates on the projects, they faked plans and designs to show progress.

This constant stream of false reporting undoubtedly accounts for why many of Saddam's calculations on operational and political issues made perfect sense to him.

Bending the truth was particularly common among the most trusted members of Saddam's inner circle. A 1982 incident vividly illustrated the danger of telling Saddam what he did not want to hear.

At one low point during the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam asked his ministers for candid advice. The Minister of Health, Riyadh Ibrahim, suggested that Saddam temporarily step down and resume the presidency after peace was established. The next day, pieces of the minister's chopped-up body were delivered to his wife.

According to Abd al-Tawab Mullah Huwaysh, the head of the Military Industrial Commission and a relative of the murdered minister, "This powerfully concentrated the attention of the other ministers, who were unanimous in their insistence that Saddam remain in power."

After the war, several military commanders commonly noted four other factors that affected military readiness:

1. Irrelevant guidance: A close associate once described Saddam as a deep thinker who lay awake at night pondering problems at length before inspiration came to him in dreams. These dreams became dictates the next morning, and invariably all those around Saddam would praise his great intuition.

All of the evidence demonstrates that he made his most fateful decisions in isolation. He decided to invade Iran, for example, without any consultation with his advisers and while he was visiting a vacation resort.

2. The rise of paramilitary forces: After the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings of 1991, the threat of another uprising consistently remained Saddam's top security concern. One of the precautions he took was to create private armies made up of politically reliable troops: the Saddam Fedayeen, the al-Quds Army and the Baath Party militia.

These organisations actually worsened national security by making Army recruitment more difficult and by stripping the military of needed equipment. And when they eventually went to battle against the coalition forces, they were obliterated.

3. Relatives and sycophants: Saddam truly trusted only one person: himself. As a result, he concentrated more and more power in his own hands. No single man could do everything, however; forced to enlist the help of others, Saddam used a remarkable set of hiring criteria.

As one senior Iraqi leader noted, Saddam selected the "uneducated, untalented and those who posed no threat to his leadership for key roles".

Always wary of a potential coup, Saddam remained reluctant to entrust military authority to anyone too far removed from his family or tribe. As a result, in 2001 he placed Qusay Hussein as head of the Republican Guard, making his youngest son the commander of Iraq's most elite combat units - even though Qusay's military experience was limited to a short stint at the Iranian front in 1984, where he had experienced little if any real combat.

4. Security and command limitations: The commander of the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard provided an example of how hard it was to function: "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 command.

"This process did not change during the war and in fact became more centralised."

Military commanders also had to contend with at least five security organisations, including the Special Security Office, the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the General Military Intelligence Directorate and various security service offices in the Republican Guard bureaucracy.

Moreover, the number of security personnel in each of these organisations increased dramatically after 1991. In many cases, new spies were sent to units to report on the spies already there.

The Second Republican Guard Corps commander described the influence of the internal security environment on a typical corps-level staff meeting: "First a meeting would be announced and all the corps-level staff, the subordinate division commanders and selected staff, as well as supporting or attached organisations and their staffs, would assemble at the corps headquarters.

"The corps commander had to ensure then 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.

"I spent considerable time finding clever ways to invite even the spies I was not supposed to know about."

* Kevin Woods is a defence analyst in Washington. James Lacey is a military analyst for the US Joint Forces Command. Williamson Murray is a distinguished visiting professor of history at the US Naval Academy.
A full copy of the report is available at the Foreign Affairs website.

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