22 - 28 August 2002
Issue No. 600
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
Preparing for warHow will Iraq confront a US-led attack aimed at overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime? Galal Nassar went to the Jordanian-Iraqi border to find out
The threat of war looms heavily in the air over Jordan. In recent weeks it has become more certain that the Bush administration will strike against Iraq in an effort to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. However, the effects that military action will have on Jordan remains unclear. In fact, Jordan's role in any US military actions remains unresolved. Many in the region are debating whether Amman will participate in the strike or simply provide strategic support to US forces. Joint US-Jordanian military manoeuvres seem to support those who proclaim the importance of Jordan's role in any military action against Iraq. However, Jordanian King Abdullah II and his government deny that Jordan supports US military action against Iraq or that it will allow the use of its territory in any such action.
The preparations Saddam Hussein has been taking have also been the subject of speculation in the media and the general public. A security source recently back in Amman from Baghdad has told Al-Ahram Weekly that the core Iraqi strategy will be to prevent invading forces from building up a large presence on Iraqi territory and to protect vital interests throughout the country. Other sources report that special plans have been drawn up to guarantee the security of the Iraqi central leadership including; President Saddam Hussein, his two sons Qusai and Uda and other members of the family. These plans also detail protection for the Revolutionary Command Council and prominent figures such as Ezzat Ibrahim, Taha Yassin Ramadan and Tareq Aziz.
Sources also confirm that the Iraqi leadership will resort to using its remaining weapons of mass destruction if US troops make significant progress on the ground.
Meeting with security sources on the Iraqi-Jordanian border, the Weekly learned that President Hussein has taken up residence in a secret location which is fortified to withstand missile strikes and is heavily guarded against any possible assassination attempt. The Iraqi president has shunned modern communication. He no longer uses ordinary telephones, mobiles, or even the secret scrambler communications network, which was designed exclusively for him by a Swedish firm in the 1980s. The Iraqi leader has prohibited his private secretary and close associates from contacting him at his hideaway or at any other location. He also hand-picked private guards to serve as communications officers -- each is entrusted with transmitting his orders (encoded and bearing his personal signature) to command centres around the country.
Sources in the Republican Guard say Hussein and his personal secretary have selected a number of private homes throughout the country as residential hide-aways for the president. The homes, belonging to private citizens or close associates in the Baath Party, are known only to the president and his private secretary. The Republican Guard sources add that alternative headquarters are located in most of Iraq's provinces and the western desert.
Maintaining secrecy around Hussein's movements from one location to another in the event of hostilities poses an additional problem. Instead of the customary heavily guarded official motorcade, the president will use vehicles chosen precisely for their inconspicuousness including Toyota taxis, older Land Cruisers and Suzuki pickups. No vehicle will be used more than once. As in the Gulf War, Hussein will be driving alone, disguised in ordinary Iraqi dress, with just a high-powered American-made machine gun by his side.
Iraqi general security forces will be permitted to use axial cable and wireless communications linked through a secret communications centre. This network of communications devices includes a mobile phone network supplied by a Malaysian firm under a memorandum of understanding between the two countries and on the pretext that the 25,000 public lines will be at the disposal of security services only in the event of a war and the resulting destruction of public and military communications centres.
Iraq's security agencies, army, government ministries and party organisations have been put on a state of extreme alert. Borders have been placed under tight surveillance and are prepared to close immediately. Iraqi experts, with foreign technical assistance, have developed a mobile air defence system which will be under the president's personal command in the event US aircraft pinpoint his whereabouts and invading forces attempt to assassinate him. The mobile defence system contains Russian-made land to air missiles which are upgraded to increase their range and have been well concealed. The system was given a trial run under the personal supervision of Hussein's son Qusai, who reported satisfactory results. Indeed, having downed some pilotless American aircrafts a few months ago, the missiles were given a practical test run.
In addition, dozens of long range land-to-land missiles with a range of more than 1,000 kilometres have been moved into a western region of Iraq, which extends hundreds of kilometres in the direction of the Jordanian border. The deep caves that abound in this area and can provide cover for large amounts of massive equipment. From these locations, Iraqi missiles could strike at targets in the Gulf, neighbouring Arab countries and Israel.
According to some sources, Hussein and Qusai have drawn up a parallel plan to strike at US interests in the event of an assault. The sources say that over the past weeks some 300 suicide fighters have received training and have been sent into various Arab, Asian and European countries. The suicide fighters are said to be under the command of the Iraqi Intelligence Agency and its covert operations department and will be supervised by special field agents. Some of these agents, who include Major Abu Akthum Al- Hamiri, Colonel Samir Al-Takwiti and a Special Forces officer known as Colonel Hisham, have supposedly already left Iraq to be in place for executing the plan.
Three alternative broadcasting stations have been set up, the most important being that in Al- Rashidiya, sources revealed to the Weekly. Also at the ready are mobile broadcasting units, stationed temporarily in Tikrit and Tharthar. Similarly, presses for publishing a daily newspaper have also been concealed in a secret location.
The sources add that a team consisting of Qusai, his cousin Ali Hassan Al-Majid and Minister of Defence General Sultan Hashem drew up defence plans, as well as contingency defence plans for the locations Hussein will occupy if Baghdad is attacked. Those locations are likely to be the presidential residences in either Tharthar or Tikrit, which are also undergoing full-scale war preparations.
Recently, it has also been reported that Udai Saddam Hussein paid a secret visit to Moscow. Some speculate that the purpose of the trip was to make arrangements for the flight of his father and his family in case the regime cannot withstand the US attack. Deputy chief of the parliamentary council of foreign affairs, Costatine Kristchov confirmed the visit, but revealed no details of the trip.
The Iraqi army appears fully prepared for a land battle against US forces. In spite of attrition brought on by years of sanctions and poor conditions, the Iraqi armed forces have sustained a powerful military infrastructure. Military capabilities were built up in cooperation with the former Soviet Union during the long-standing relationship between the two countries. The army still possesses advanced tanks, field artillery and missiles with ranges from 100 to 150 kilometres and from 150 to 900 kilometres.
The major fighting units are the Republican Guards and the Commandos. These forces were tested in the previous Gulf War. In a battle with Allied Forces of 150 tanks outside the city of Al- Nasiriya in southern Iraq, the Iraqi Special Forces Hammurabi regiment proved the most adept at desert combat. The battle of Al-Nasiriya, forced President Bush (senior) to over-ride the wishes of Generals Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell, and declare an end to the war against Iraq.
In preparation for new US aggression, Iraq has mobilised some 400,000 of its best troops and militias, who have been trained in urban combat and the pursuit of paratroopers. A comprehensive plan which places importance on the protection of urban centres includes underground contact points and communication networks. Iraqi plans rely heavily on land combat and defending its territory on the ground. Experts believe that Iraq will make only very limited use of its air force, which is now far too weak to contend with a combined US- British air force.
On the other hand, Iraq will rely heavily on its missiles. Sources claim that missiles will be used to extend the scope of battle beyond Iraqi borders. Initial targets will be neighbouring capitals which support the US.
Such a development would prove awkward for Washington, which pledged to protect Israel and other countries in the region. Washington is particularly alarmed at the prospect of Israel intervening to respond to an Iraqi strike against it. In addition to the embarrassment Israeli action would cause Washington with its Arab allies, it would also serve to propel anti-US and anti-Israeli sentiments in the Arab and Islamic worlds, further jeopardising US interests world-wide.
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