Target: HIS AXIS OF EVIL; as a Paranoid Control Freak, Saddam Will Ultimately Pay the Price for Not Even Trusting His Own Generals

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER DE LA BILLIERE

by Sir Peter de la Billiere

BRITISH COMMANDER IN THE FIRST GULF WAR

THE devastating 'shock and awe' assault on Iraq which had been so heavily trailed was launched last night, 24 hours later than had been publicly predicted.

The first night of the war had instead seen a surprise attack - quite possibly the first of several dramatic surprises we might expect in the days to come.

The initial assault of the war had been a bold, though unsuccessful attempt to 'decapitate' the Iraqi regime by killing Saddam Hussein and five of his top men.

It would be easy, with hindsight, for critics to sneer at what was undoubtedly a typically American initiative. Indeed, British military thinking has traditionally been less attracted to the idea of wiping out key enemy players.

But success in war is, in part, about the ability to spot an opportunity and seize it ruthlessly. That was what was attempted in the early hours of yesterday morning and it bodes well for the future conduct of the war.

As for the suggestion that President Bush was remiss to give Tony Blair only two hours' notice of the attempt to kill Saddam, it is sheer nonsense.

It would quite simply be impossible to fight the war properly if every military decision had to be debated by both political leaders of the coalition.

It was not as if it was a matter of prolonged and agonised political consultation over whether it would be tolerable to launch a devastating attack on a hospital full of sick children under which Saddam and his cohorts were holed up in a bunker.

The first-night attack on Saddam was the sort of decision which could almost have been left to commanders on the spot.

And, paradoxically, it was General Norman Schwarzkopf, the American commander who remarked to me during the last GulfWar, that he envied the ability of British politicians to leave their senior officers to exercise their own initiative without constantly referring back for authority.

So, how exactly were Saddam and company located? The fact that they were supposedly in the building which was attacked, would have been deduced by American specialists who analysed the 'electronic emissions' coming out of it.

They would have been urgently drawn to the great flood of radio and other electronic messages suddenly pouring into and out of that already identified location.

The reason for such frantic electronic activity is that Saddam is, to use business jargon, a 'micro-manager'. He cannot delegate, and that, among other characteristics, will ultimately prove his undoing as the war unfolds.

Instead of passing authority down the line of command, he attempts to dictate every action taken by his generals and field commanders. He fears, no doubt rightly, that any one of them could become too powerful and pose a threat to the regime.

So, even though the attempt to kill the Iraqi dictator failed, it will have been quite usefully disruptive, upsetting the endless flow of orders from the centre.

And we should not forget that it is perfectly rational for a tyrannical ruler such as Saddam to be paranoid and obsessive about the need to maintain a constant, detailed grip on power. …