by Austin Bay
March 12, 2003
A recent report in Britain's Sunday Mirror, filed from CampCoyote in Kuwait, smacks of slapstick comedy. But clamp the laughter, forit's bitter comedy born of Iraq's long-term tragedy.
As British paratroopers test fired their rifles near the border,"Terrified Iraqi soldiers ... crossed the Kuwait border and tried tosurrender," the Mirror reported on March 9, "because they thought the warhad already started."
The paras ordered the Iraqis, who came waving white flags, to goback to Iraq because "it was too early to surrender."
Call that the punch line -- a sad punch line -- that's also anintelligence indicator both the United States and Saddam understand.
A significant chunk of the Iraqi army is ready to surrender toAmerican-led forces. The same goes for the Iraqi people. As a result, U.S.and British forces have developed battle plans designed to limit Iraqicivilians AND Iraqi army casualties, as well as limit damage to roads, powerstations, oil fields and other civilian infrastructure.
These plans are intricate, and to pull them off in combatrequires highly accurate, real-time intelligence. In questionablecircumstance, U.S. commanders will "first protect the lives of deployedallied soldiers," a Pentagon way of saying the slightest indication ofresistance or trickery will be met with overwhelming firepower. However, thelong-range assessment is "enemies" like the poor Iraqis who met the Britishparas will soon become allies. Surrendering Iraqi soldiers may ultimatelyserve as security personnel in post-Saddam Iraq.
Saddam also gets the punch line. Trust me, he's not chuckling.He knows his army is ready to bolt. Heck, his country is ready to bolt. Hiswar plans take this into account. American firepower and mobility aren't theonly reasons he's pulling back to Baghdad. Iraqi army units man the firstdefensive ring around Baghdad. Behind the army, in another defensive zone,sit 40,000 of Saddam's elite Republican Guards. The Special RepublicanGuards may be preparing other defensive positions inside Baghdad. Thus iffyIraqi army units dig in before the guns of the Republican Guards. Barrels tothe back may stiffen frightened spines.
Saddam intends to force the United States to conduct a siege ofthe city, and suck allied infantry into savage house-to-house fighting. Butthis defense also makes Baghdad Saddam's ultimate hostage. What keeps theRepublican Guards from slaughtering the relatives of surrendering Iraq armysoldiers? The answer is the same thing that currently prevents them fromcarrying out any murders in Iraq: nothing.
Until the northern no-fly zone was established and the Kurdsachieved a degree of autonomy, Saddam held the whole of Iraq hostage. Withnukes and missiles and terrorist accomplices, Saddam would hold New Yorkhostage.
Over the past year, Iraqi exiles have told me that Saddamdoesn't have the loyalty of 10,000 people inside Iraq. The figure may betheir best guess, it may be their blind hope. While defections from theIraqi army occur frequently, defections from Saddam's General Directorate ofSecurity are few, and that's where Saddam's regime is held together. The keyleaders in the General Directorate of Security -- a super secret police --come from Saddam's tribe.
It's fair to say that since Saddam took full control of Iraq in1979, his ruling clique has done little more than rape and rob the country,with the General Directorate of Security's terror and torture apparatus themeans of subjugation.
Oil revenue bought advanced weapons. Saddam built palaces -- hesays he's the new Hammurabi. But his nation of hostages faced anotherreality: death and poverty. A note from an exile in 1995 mentioned a cousinin Baghdad had sold his fax machine to buy a kilo of rice. Saddam, ofcourse, would blame the fax sale on U.N. economic sanctions.
But the Iraqi soldiers at the Kuwait border know Saddam's theculprit. A British para described the Iraqis for the Sunday Mirrorcorrespondent: "(Y)ou could barely describe them as soldiers -- they werepoorly equipped and didn't even have proper boots. Their physical conditionwas dreadful, and they had obviously not had a square meal for ages."
These wretched men are victims of war all right, a war waged onthe Iraqi people. Surrender, in this case, is liberation.