Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Getting a Backfix on the Last Days of Saddam

This is speculation. Take it for what it is worth in the light of the capture of Abid Hamid Mahmud, the Ace of Diamonds.

In the final days of the Ba'ath regime, the inner circle of Saddam Hussein must have realized that the fall of Baghdad was inevitable. In line with Saddam's penchant for political warfare, they decided to conserve their forces and withdraw to a redoubt. From there, they would wage a version of the feyadeen-type warfare which found some success against American formations. The plan was to project the vision of a "quagmire" before the Western media. They had fallen for it before. They would fall for it again.

  • They withdrew to the heart of the Sunni triangle, the area north of Baghdad and around Tikrit, in which they had many family connections, a sure of base of supporters and a network of marshes to hide in.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, CENTCOM's efforts would be consumed by two tasks: restoring order to Iraq and replacing the divisions which had seen active service in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Ba'athists calculated they could infiltrate the post-war Iraqi government in that transitional period, as well as prepare for a feyadeen campaign against American outposts and patrols.

  • Knowing the Americans would eventually come looking for them, the Ba'athist inner circle made a critical decision: they would abandon all the lower cards of the Deck of Death, who would not be told the plan. In the days after the liberation of Baghdad, nearly all the small cards were scooped up by the Americans. But what did they know? The Ba'athists little calculated that their unexpected ignorance was itself a clue.
  • The feyadeen attacked, not for maximum military damage, but for maximum theatrical damage. Soldiers and civilians died because CNN would report it.

Two things went wrong with that plan. The first is that the Americans kept elements of the 101st and the 3rd ID in country instead of completely rotating them with the 1st Armored and the 4th ID as planned. This gave the US forces, as Phil Carter pointed out, enough force to prosecute the peacekeeping and rehabilitation missions and begin an offensive against the Ba'athists much sooner than expected. The outcomes were Operation Peninsula Strike and Desert Scorpion. The ferocity of the resistance, which included the shootdown of an Apache AH-64 and several counter-attacks meant that the US forces had made contact with the core of the Ba'athist forces deep in the Sunni Triangle. This was, of course, misread by the press to mean that the US attacks were futile, little thinking that those Ba'athist counter-attacks would never have materialized had the American blow been directed against empty swamp. Right behind the troops were a team of linguists and interrogators who would exploit the intelligence.

VOA quotes the Commander of the 4th ID, commenting on the capture of Mahmud, as saying:

"Our soldiers are involved in almost daily contact with non-compliant forces, former regime members and common criminals," he said. "To defeat these attacks and to continue to improve the security and stability within our area, the task force is conducting search and attack missions, presence patrols and raids to disarm, defeat and destroy hostile forces as well as to capture the former regime members."

General Ordierno says the raids are helping to stabilize areas north of Baghdad.

He says in the latest raid U.S. soldiers discovered large amounts of cash and detained senior Iraqi military officials.

"Soldiers from 122 infantry conducted two raids on separate farm houses outside of Tikrit seizing $8.5 million (US), 300 to 400 million Iraqi dinars and English pounds and Euros yet to be counted," he explained. " In addition we seized a large cache of jewel and gems estimated to be worth over a million dollars in value."

General Ordierno says soldiers also confiscated late-model Russian-made night-vision goggles, sniper rifles and uniforms of Saddam Hussein's personal guard.

The capture of Mahmud signifies two things:

  • the Americans were well aware of the Ba'athist strategy and have specifically addressed
  • the inner wall of Ba'athist security is breached. The sacrifice of the lower cards in the Deck of Death was ultimately in vain; if Saddam and his sons are still alive, they must flee the country now or be captured in the next few weeks.