ONE day after the start of the war against Iraq American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appeared on American television screens to say something that the press interpreted as some sort of American propaganda. In reality, though, it was the basis for what was later to take place.
Rumsfeld said that there had been communications between the Americans and leaders in the Republican Guard in Iraq. He said that the details could not be disclosed now, but urged listeners to wait for coming days.
Three days later the American media played an audio tape on which recorded voices could be heard speaking in Arabic guiding American forces to important bombing targets. The voices were translated immediately in the headquarters of the American forces so that orders could be issued accordingly.
In fact, Rumsfeld was not just talking at random. There had been communications that took place in total secrecy between the leaders of the Republican Guard and the Commanders of Saddam’s Fedayeen, unbeknownst to the Iraqi leader and his son who was in charge of a huge military organization that could have made life hell for the American forces had they joined the battle.
The communications grew in intensity after the Republican Guard entered its first battle against the American forces in the environs of Baghdad, and after much of its equipment was destroyed. The Americans could see that they were facing a force with high military preparedness, one that was well trained and could inflict tremendous losses on the American forces whenever they tried to enter Baghdad.
The offer proposed by the American command in Iraq to the Republican Guard and Saddam’s Fedayeen was generous. The offers were run past Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who okayed them immediately. The provided for:
1. In return for not opposing American forces and for laying down their weapons, the United States will give the following:
· Transportation for the Republican Guards top echelon to secure locations outside of Iraq,
· Transportation of the Republican Guards leaders of the second echelon to “liberated” places of which the Anglo-American forces had control inside Iraq,
· Granting to the top echelon of the Republican Guards large sums of money, with lesser sums going to the second echelon,
· Granting some of the leaders of the top echelon of the Republican Guard, and to those who had not committed “war crimes” official roles in “liberated” Iraq after the end of the war,
· Granting American citizenship and residency in the United States to some of the first echelon commanders and their families, depending on their wishes,
· Establishing a balance between the Iraqi Opposition that will have a limited role in the administration of Iraq on the one hand, and Republican Guard commanders who did not fight the American forces, on the other.
2. As a guarantee of this (which the commanders of the Republican Guard did not completely trust), the United States disclosed some of its agents whom it had planted among the “human shields” who were guiding the American military to positions to be bombed and where President Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi leadership could be found. A brief meeting was held between one of the agents serving as a “human shield” and some members of the Republican Guard during which the latter were handed official written documents addressed to the first echelon of the Republican Guard. These reassured the Republican Guard commanders that the assurances were reliable. The documents provided for:
· After the occupation of Saddam International Airport, Republican Guards of the top echelon should arrive at the airport so that they could be transported away. If that proved impossible, a place should be agreed upon where an Apache helicopter or two could land somewhere near Baghdad in order to transport them away.
· Some commanders of the second echelon should secure themselves within the Iraqi Republican Palace adjacent to the Airport. American forces would fire some shells at it in order to announce that they had taken it, then American forces would transfer them to the airport.
· Orders should be issued to the commanders of the Second Echelon of the Republican Guard not to resist and to lay down their weapons, together with promises of their safety, and that of their families, and they would be transported to secure locations. In turn they were to issue orders to those of lower rank in their commands not to put up resistance. The Republican Guard’s first echelon used a deception to get lower ranks to accept such an order by telling them that the resistance would be carried on secretly in accordance with a plan prepared by the Iraqi leadership to protract the war and catch the American forces in a trap that had been laid for them. This trick was used on the lower ranking commanders of the Republican Guard.
· First and Second echelon commanders of the Republican Guard would be given sums of money in dollars as a down payment to guarantee the implementation of the agreement.
The occupation of Saddam International Airport was a turning point inasmuch as it enabled the American forces to carry out their entire plan as it had been detailed in the documents that they had been given and as they had been promised. The commanders of the Republican Guard were reassured, in particular those of the first echelon, that what the American forces had promised them was the truth. The Republican Guard commanders then provided complete information about the various military positions around the airport and inside of it. They also gave complete information about the tunnels that extended from the Republican Palace to inside the airport, tunnels that had been built especially so that the Iraqi president could use them should he ever be in danger. American forces occupied these tunnels, unknown to any but the first echelon of the Republican Guard.
On the second day after the occupation of the airport Muhammad Sa`id as-Sahhaf assured the world that Saddam International Airport was still in the hands of the Iraqi forces. He based his assurances on a promise of an “innovative and unusual” sort of response, as he put it, when Iraqi fighters and Republican Guards would sweep from the palace through the tunnels and on towards the airport in a surprise attack on the American forces occupying the airport. He did not know even as he spoke that American forces had discovered the location of those secure tunnels and that they would confront the small numbers of Iraqis who were sent there, under the leadership of third echelon commanders of the Republican Guard, and who would find the Americans waiting for them.
Time at that difficult juncture was golden. The American forces saw that the road had opened up to Baghdad, so they carried out two essential operations simultaneously:
The first operation: to introduce tanks to the approaches of Baghdad from where they would penetrate to the area of the Palestine Hotel, on condition that they would not cross the bridge to the opposite bank. This occurred after they were sure that orders had been issued to the Republican Guard to disappear in accordance with the “secret plan” to which the first echelon commanders had already alerted their junior officers.
The second operation: to prepare a military transport plane of at least 200 seats to transport the first echelon commanders of the Republican Guard and some members of the second echelon to secure locations.
The orders given to the American soldiers who advanced to secure a bridgehead for the rest of their forces were as follows:
First: attempt to silence the media that were transmitting pictures of the places where the breakthrough was occurring (this is what took place when the offices of al-Jazeera TV, and the Abu Dhabi TV station, were shelled) and to try to herd the journalists into a place from which they could not move, except by order of the coalition forces, or, to be precise, the US Marines.
Second: To cut communications and electricity off from the area and to attempt to shell the little electricity generators in the area in order to completely knock out any means for transmission once and for all.
Third: To shell the satellite dishes on the roof of the Palestine Hotel. It was here where the al-Jazeera journalist Tariq Ayyoub was martyred.
Fourth: To deal with the limited resistance in the area of the bridge with small arms rather than with artillery bombardment because some of the second echelon the Republican Guard were too late to reach the appointed meeting places in time and might possibly have to reach the coalition forces by crossing the Sanak Bridge.
Many first-echelon commanders of the Republican Guard gathered at Saddam International Airport. They had to wait eight more hours before the rest of the commanders showed up. The American command found to their surprise that the first echelon commanders of Republican Guard forces had brought along with them the top commander of Saddam’s Fedayeen, a man who took his orders directly from Saddam Hussein’s son. This convinced the American forces that they had put Saddam’s Fedayeen out of action along with the Republican Guard. After that commander informed them that had been attracted by the agreement reached with the Republican Guard, and requested that he be accorded the same terms that had been granted to the Republican Guard, consent was granted immediately.
The American military aircraft took off from Saddam International airport at 8:00 p.m. on the third day of the occupation of the airport. Some sources in the American command maintain that the plane flew directly to the United States, via Germany. Others say that it took them by way of Kuwait. What is certain, however, is the fact that they left for the United States. At the same time two helicopters were whisking the second echelon commanders of the Republican Guard to Basra where they were met by British forces.
Some American political sources maintain that those secret communications between Republican Guard commanders and the Americans took place according to American instructions that were issued to the Republican Guard leaders so as to prevent their being detected. The most modern technology was used, including tiny transmitter-receiver devices that had been given to the Republican Guard Commanders in their first meeting with the Human Shields. This is the secret of how they kept Saddam Hussein in the dark about their contacts.
The final task of the Republican Guard Commanders gathered at the airport was to give the important information about the location of the Iraqi president and his leadership in what was to be their last meeting in al-Mansour. This information enabled the American forces to aim at the place where the meeting was being held and strike it with guided missiles. Most probably the Iraqi President and his leadership, including his two sons, were killed in the bombardment. None of the leadership was saved from that attack except Muhammad Sa`id as-Sahhaf, the Information Minister, whose whereabouts are still unknown. He alone among the members of the leadership was out of the area at the time of the attack, which came shortly after he delivered a press statement in front of the Palestine Hotel that day.
The American Authorities have kept quiet about the whereabouts of Saddam’s family, in particular the women and children among them, although they know where they are, and whether they are living or dead. There are some reports that they are in Syria. Others have said that they slipped away to Tikrit. In fact, however, the American forces bombed the location where the family was staying and were able to catch the whole family together after they slipped away to the place where the President’s half-brother Barzan at-Tikriti was staying. When his house near Baghdad was bombed the family was wiped out.
A Final Word: This information was leaked by American sources. Nevertheless, it should be more than 75 percent true because it originated with political and not military personnel.
One question remains: Where did those mountains of weapons go? Where did the forces who “melted away” into the angry Iraqi population go?
The Marines did discover vast storehouses of weapons that could have been used by the Republican Guard — though they were in fact never used — heavy weapons, light weapons in a huge store room in Baghdad. American forces are keeping that quiet — which is a further indication of the proof of what we have said.
But one major question remains open. If they did not find the bodies of Saddam, his leaders and his two sons, the matter remains a source of embarrassment. Coming weeks will no doubt provide us much more information.