In the Service of Saddam

Article excerpt

A US led invasion of Iraq looks almost certain. President George Bush and his advisors have committed themselves to regime change in Baghdad too often and too publicly to risk the political humiliation of last minute diplomatic compromise. By early next year American and British troops, with or without a UN mandate, will be advancing on Iraq's capital from their bases in Kuwait and Turkey. But the forces ranged against them should not be underestimated. This is unlikely to be quick, easy or without pain.

IT IS HARD TO OVERESTIMATE WHAT IS AT STAKE FOR IRAQ, America and indeed the whole international community. As he plans the most important and far-reaching decision of his presidency, George Bush must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of such a hazardous military action. At the centre of his calculations is the potential opposition his army will face once it crosses into Iraqi territory. There is no shortage of advice. However, the problem is that those commenting on the subject all seem to share common assumptions and conclusions.

In Washington, Fouad Ajami, a distinguished scholar of the Arab world, argues that 'the tormented people of Iraq would be sure to erupt in joys as soon as the US liberates them from their oppressors. General Barry McCaffrey, who commanded an infantry division in the Gulf war, believes that the invasion would succeed in as little as twenty one days, as Iraqi troops lose confidence and the will to fight. Even senior Whitehall sources are looking for 'a political outcome; an implosion of Iraqi power from within, as opposed to 'an industrial strength war.'


But how realistic are these optimistic claims of a quick and virtually cost-free victory? How much is know about the Iraqi army and the security services that have protected the Bathist regime that has ruled Iraq since July 1968? Since the Bath party took power it has managed to keep the army out of politics, something all its predecessors failed to do. In the ten years before 1968 the army waltzed in and out of power at will, sweeping aside civilian politicians whenever they disliked what they were doing.

Today, US forces will face an army that has been thoroughly indoctrinated, with party commissars attached to every unit. In addition, a ruthless system of surveillance and constant purges mean that the officer corps has had to renounce political activity to survive. To quote President Saddam Hussein himself: With our party methods, there is no chance for anyone who disagrees with us jumping into a couple of tanks and overthrowing the government. These methods have gone:

However, government control over the army came at great cost to its military efficiency. Early successes in the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq war were quickly overtaken by a number of disastrous defeats. To survive the war, Saddam was forced to give the army much more autonomy to make independent decisions on the basis of strategic need. To counterbalance this new threat he greatly expanded the elite regiments of the Republican Guard, partly to act as the army vanguard but also to protect the regime from an increasingly powerful military leadership.

This tension between the political needs ofthe regime and the strategic demand for an efficient army dominated the 1990 to 1991 Gulf war. Those military analysts that argue regime change in Iraq will be comparatively easy cite the hundred-hour ground offensive that pushed Iraq out of Kuwait. It is true that Iraqi resistance was negligible. The troops that surrendered in their thousands to coalition forces were badly trained, poorly led and had not, in many cases, been fed for days. The Gulf war was a very one-sided affair, with the Iraqis overwhelmed by superior weaponry, technology and air power.

However, it is often forgotten that the Iraqi leadership made no serious attempt to defend Kuwait city. Fortifications were half-- hearted and badly planned. They were primarily designed for propaganda, to convince coalition forces that military liberation would be too costly. …