Senior Iraqi officers who commanded troops crucial to the defence of key Iraqi cities were bribed not to fight by American special forces, the US general in charge of the war has confirmed.
Well before hostilities started, special forces troops and intelligence agents paid sums of money to a number of Iraqi officers, whose support was deemed important to a swift, low-casualty victory.
General Tommy Franks, the US army commander for the war, said these Iraqi officers had acknowledged their loyalties were no longer with the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, but with their American paymasters. As a result, many officers chose not to defend their positions as American and British forces pushed north from Kuwait.
“I had letters from Iraqi generals saying: ‘I now work for you’,” General Franks said.
It is not clear which Iraqi officers were bribed, how many were bought off or at what cost. It is likely, however, that the US focused on officers in control of Saddam’s elite forces, which were expected to defend the capital. The Pentagon said that bribing the senior officers was a cost-effective method of fighting and one that led to fewer casualties.
“What is the effect you want?” a senior Pentagon official said. “How much does a cruise missile cost? Between $1m and $2.5m. Well, a bribe is a PGM [precision guided missile) - it achieves the aim but it's bloodless and there's zero collateral damage.
"This part of the operation was as important as the shooting part; maybe more important. We knew that some units would fight out of a sense of duty and patriotism, and they did. But it didn't change the outcome because we knew how many of these [Iraqi generals] were going to call in sick,” he added.
The revelation by General Franks, who this week announced his intention to retire as commander of US Central Command, helps explain one of the enduring mysteries of the US-led war against Iraq: why Iraqi forces did not make a greater stand in their defence of Baghdad, in many cases melting away and changing into civilian clothes rather than forcing the allied troops to engage in bitter, street-to-street fighting.
John Pike, director of the Washington-based military research group, GlobalSecurity.Org, said: “It certainly strikes me that this is part of the mix. I don’t think there is any way of discerning how big a part of the mix it is … but it is part of the long queue of very interesting questions for which we do not yet have definitive answers.” In the run-up to the war against Iraq, the Pentagon revealed its ambitious efforts to try to encourage Iraqi soldiers and officers to lay down their weapons rather than stand and fight.
As American and British troops massed in northern Kuwait in preparation, millions of leaflets printed in Arabic were dropped over towns and cities where troops were thought to be concentrated, urging them not to support Saddam. The leaflets gave specific instructions as to how the troops should surrender and included such information as ensuring that all tanks turrets were turned around and pointed towards the north. Senior officers were also targeted by US psy-ops officers using e-mails and telephone calls to their private addresses and mobile phones.
As a result, while some Iraqi forces – especially those supported by militias – put up staunch resistance in several cities as Allied forces marched north, many thousands of Iraqi soldiers chose not to fight, in most cases simply throwing off their uniforms and going home to their families.
But the confirmation – revealed in the current edition of Defence News by reporter Vago Muradian – that crucial senior officers were bribed, would explain why there was so little resistance in locations where it was anticipated that better-trained troops such as the Republican Guard would make a stand.
Some of the techniques employed by the Pentagon to persuade Iraqi troops not to fight were used with some success in the recent war in Afghanistan, where US special forces carried with them considerable sums of money in dollar bills to buy off warlords whose support was deemed crucial to the war effort.