Iraq: April 7, 2003


The U.S. 3rd Mechanized division sent a force of nearly a thousand troops (in 65 M-1 tanks, 40 M-2 infantry vehicles and some other armor) into the center of Baghdad. The troops entered the two presidential palace compounds and killed hundreds of Iraqi troops who resisted. Scores of unarmed Iraqi troops could be seen fleeing on foot. All this took place across the river from the hotel where foreign journalists stay. The raid, in effect, went off right in front of the foreign reporters cameras. Coalition spokesmen described the operation as a raid, not an occupation of the center of the city. Some commandos were seen going into Iraqi occupied buildings, indicating that the raid has some specific objectives beyond a show of force and demonstration that coalition forces can go wherever they want in Baghdad. American soldiers and reporters were allowed to wander through the luxurious rooms of the palaces. Yesterday's raid resulted in only one American soldier killed, and over a thousand dead Iraqis. So today's raid also serves to kill off those Iraqis who are willing to resist. As was shown in southern Iraq, the number of Iraqis willing to fight is limited. When you kill most of them, things quiet down and Saddam's crowd is no longer in control. The raid had the element of surprise, coming early in the morning and catching most Iraqi troops by surprise. While the raid was going on, reporters were in the nearby Information Ministry. With the sounds of artillery and gunfire in the background, the Minister of Information assured everyone that the American forces downtown had been destroyed. 

The first U.S. Marines have entered Baghdad from the southeast. 

An Iraqi general captured in the south has been offered amnesty and refuge in Britain if he cooperates in providing incriminating information on other senior officials in Saddam's government.

Coalition commandos have apparently established check points on all the main roads leading out of Baghdad.

American troops have destroyed the last organized resistance in the southern city of Karbala (80 kilometers southwest of Baghdad). This city is the site of many of the most holy shrines of Shia Islam. A brigade of the 101st Airborne division fought Saddam loyalists for two days, killing at least 400 of them. There were about a dozen American casualties. 

British troops have taken key areas of Basra, destroying the last organized resistance. British troops also found the body of "Chemical Ali" (Ali Hassan al-Majid), a cousin of Saddam Hussein who was in charge of defending southeast Iraq. Ali Hassan was responsible for using chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians and rebels in the late 1980s. 

Coalition intelligence efforts have enabled bombing attacks that have destroyed most Iraqi military headquarters, as well as many armored vehicles. The result of this is that Iraqi generals cannot gather large forces to face advancing coalition forces. This is why most battles appear to be between coalition armored vehicles and Iraqi infantry on foot, or light trucks (with machine-guns mounted in the back.) This is also why there are more than a hundred Iraqi casualties for each coalition one.

The Iraqi National Congress (INC), the largest Iraqi exile group, is sending 700 of its members to Iraq to serve as translators and negotiators for coalition forces. The INC has also supported a two year occupation of Iraq, to provide sufficient time to create a new constitution and hold elections. Local groups of armed Iraqis are starting to show up, offering their assistance to coalition forces. Some of these groups may be used to maintain order and deal with the looting and crime in general. The current American plan calls for the U.S. Army to run the country for six months, until all armed resistance has been suppressed. Then a military governor would administer Iraq for 18 months and then leave once elections had selected a new Iraqi government.

In the north, Kurdish militia have advanced to within ten kilometers of Mosul. 

Saddam's Gangsters Go Freelance

Like many dictatorships, Saddam Hussein maintained his power with legal, and illegal enforcers. The various police and secret police organizations spent most of their time maintaining law and order and keeping an eye on each other. These groups (Special Security Organization, General Security, General Intelligence, Military Intelligence and Military Security)contain about 25,000 members. 

All this was supervised by the Baath Party. With about 1.5 million members, no one of any significance in Iraq can survive without that Baath party card. Actually, only about 25,000 senior members of the party really count for anything. The rest joined to demonstrate their loyalty.

But Saddam also recognized there was another layer of Iraqi society that he had to control to prevent any meaningful opposition. This was the criminal underground. Smuggling, the black market, prostitution, gambling and the usual rackets have always existed in Iraq. Rather than make a vain attempt to stamp them out, he copied a trick from his heroes Hitler and Stalin and made the gangsters part of his police effort. With the criminal gangs, the deal was simple. Cooperate to keep Saddam in power and we cut you some slack in the prosecution department. There were several smuggling and black market efforts where Saddam (or one of his henchmen) were partners with the gangs. It was a partnership of equals, as some of the gangs had been involved in earlier attempts to knock off Saddam. But for the last ten years, the have found it easier (and safer) to work with Saddam.

In 1994, Saddam's oldest son, Uday, got into the act by organizing the Saddam Fedayeen ("Saddam's Redeemers"). Uday, either intentionally or otherwise, copied a technique used by several communist dictators, and recruited this new force from orphans and criminals. He wanted young guys who had no other loyalties. The one catch was, he only took Sunni Arabs. This was the minority (20 percent of the population) that had long ruled Iraq, and was much hated by the Shias and Kurds who made up the other 80 percent. Uday's goal was to recruit enough Fedayeen to be able to handle simultaneous unrest in several parts of the country. The rest of the time, the Fedayeen would provide local Baath party officials with some muscle to terrorize those thought to be disloyal to Saddam. This included some police and Baath party members. So the Fedayeen were placed above the law. The only one who could control a wayward Fedayeen was another Fedayeen. This quickly got out of hand, and in 1996 control of the 20,000 or so Fedayeen was taken away from Uday and given to his more sober (literally and figuratively) younger brother Qusay. This transfer was helped by an assassination attempt on Uday in 1996. The bullets didn't kill him, but made it difficult for him to walk. The injuries also made him even nastier than before. By 2000, Uday had cleaned up his act enough to get control of the Fedayeen once more. By now the Saddam Fedayeen had become, well, outlaws. 

Becoming a Fedayeen was an attractive deal for young Sunni Arabs. The UN embargo had trashed the economy and created more than fifty percent unemployment. The Fedayeen were something of a dream job for young guys. You got to dress in black, carry a gun and not get hassled by the cops. You got to beat people up and rape women. Some Fedayeen, especially those originally recruited from prison, picked up some extra money by working with their old gangster pals. On top of that, the pay was 10-30 times what the average government employee got, there was free health care and bonuses. But best of all, the cops left you alone. OK, not completely alone. If you went on a looting rampage, the cops would call in your Fedayeen boss, who would, in true Fedayeen fashion, blow your head off on the spot. Even in the Fedayeen, there were some limits.

A week after coalition forces swept through southern Iraq, most Baath party officials and police decided it was time to go as well. These guys were considered Saddam's, and when the Shias rebelled in 1991, the first thing they did was kill, often in a gruesome fashion, any of Saddam's people they could catch. But Saddam's Fedayeen were sent south, along with some security people, to create some resistance. The Fedayeen did not flee, but they did change into civilian clothes and lost the big, bulky weapons. A 9mm pistol in the waistband was all they needed. Because the police were gone, as were many of your Fedayeen superiors and the pay and benefits. The coalition troops were not playing cop, but were starting to bring in food and medical aid. It was time for the Fedayeen to take care of themselves the only way they knew how. The lads began to take what they wanted, at gunpoint if need be. At first it was just looting government offices and warehouses. In Basra, the British encouraged the locals to do this, so they could see for themselves how Saddam and his crew had lived large while most Iraqis starved. 

The freelance Fedayeen has several things going for them now. They knew how to intimidate Iraqis, and Iraqis knew not to mess with these guys. If "the stare" didn't do it, you whipped out your pistol and that usually compelled compliance. Many in the Fedayeen had contacts with the criminal underground, so there was an easy way to sell large quantities of stolen goods. The Fedayeen were going after everything, from farm machinery to bottled water. The ease with which the Fedayeen operated, encouraged many other rootless young men. With all the Iraqi soldiers, cops and Baath party fleeing north, there were plenty of guns being abandoned. Anyone with the nerve for robbery had no trouble picking up a weapon to get started with.

But this crime wave won't last. Iraq is a land of villages and neighborhoods, where everyone knows everyone. Once there are police, even if they don't speak Arabic, the locals will begin turning in the "strangers" with the 9mm pistols under their shirts and the smug sneers on their faces. There will be some gun battles. The Fedayeen will lose. Except for the few sharp ones who get themselves "adopted" into one of the established criminal gangs. Freelancing is fine, but in post war Iraq, a regular gig can save your life. 




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