- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

BAGHDAD — A shadowy group of Saddam Hussein loyalists calling itself al Awda, meaning “the Return,” is forming an alliance with Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda for a full-scale uprising against the U.S.-led occupation in mid-July.

The information comes from leaflets circulating in Baghdad, as well as a series of extended interviews with a former official in Saddam’s security services who held the rank of brigadier general.

Al Awda is aiming for a spectacular attack and uprising on or about July 17 to mark the anniversary of the Ba’athist revolution in 1968, the former general said.

The Islamists have indicated they are willing to join forces to battle the Americans, even though they dislike Saddam and his secular Ba’ath Party ideology.

A leaflet by Jaish Mohammed, one of two Islamist groups operating in Iraq, said it was willing to work with the Ba’athists despite Saddam’s repression of Islamic fundamentalism.

The leaflet, obtained by The Washington Times, makes a direct appeal for former intelligence officers, security personnel, Fedayeen Saddam members, Republican Guard troops and Ba’ath Party members to join forces.

“The first act will be spectacular, possibly smashing an oil refinery near Baghdad,” said the former general, who has been urged by al Awda to join the leadership of the planned anticoalition front.

The former officer said the effort goes well beyond the sporadic shootings in the past three weeks that have left at least 10 Americans dead.

Al Awda is well-financed, he said. It uses money stashed away by Saddam and his supporters well before the coalition’s invasion, and its funds are enhanced by bank robberies and the removal of huge quantities of cash from the central bank early in the conflict.

The former officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he had agreed to join al Awda, though still may avoid full commitment, because “otherwise they’ll come tomorrow and throw hand grenades into my house and at my wife and kids.”

Among al Awda’s membership were a considerable number of former Iraqi commandos and well-trained soldiers, who now had no jobs or prospects of employment, the informant said.

“The coalition pushed them into the Ba’athists’ arms by disbanding the whole army and security services.

“That left these men with despair and hatred and so easy pickings for Ba’athists with money and propaganda,” he said.

He claimed that his own growing contempt for the American occupation led him a week and a half ago to shoot a U.S. solider through the neck using a Russian-made sniper rifle.

He said he was the third-best sniper in the armed forces in his younger days and that he believed the American solider died.

Less-experienced fighters are being trained in guerrilla-warfare skills and assaults using abandoned buildings and remote locations, the informant said.

“At first, they were offering between $500 and $600 to anyone killing an American. Now it’s up to 1 million dinars [more than $700],” he told The Times.

Copies of a handwritten, signed letter purported to have been composed by Saddam urging an uprising were scattered in several Baghdad neighborhoods yesterday.

The two main Sunni Muslim Islamist groups are Jaish Mohammed, or “Mohammed’s Army,” in the north, which began operating in Jordan even before the war, and Islamic Jihad in the west.

Each has similar commitment to the hard-line Wahhabi philosophy, originating in Saudi Arabia, that places them within the al Qaeda sphere.

One band from Jaish Mohammed was eliminated by U.S. troops through combined helicopter and land action, killing about 70 in an encampment on the Euphrates River last week.

From the camp, soldiers captured handwritten pages from lined notebooks showing diagrams to make bombs and grenades. The papers, seen by The Times, bear the slogan “Either victory or martyrdom.”

They state that C-4 should be “mixed with RDX, half put into a can of [gasoline], and close it carefully.” C-4 and RDX are plastic explosives.

For grenades, the instructions say, “Place nails inside to have a bigger explosive effect, and strongly tighten the lid.”

Other scraps of paper urged fighters to change their names.

“Get ready to take action. … You have to seize the chance to gain intelligence,” it advised, and elsewhere added the warning “Beware of traitors and hypocrites.”

That the Ba’athist al Awda has been wooing the Islamists in recent days is evident from some of the Islamic terminology it is using.

It is referring in its underground leaflets to al Awda fighters as mujahideen, a term used for Muslim rebels in Afghanistan and in other conflict zones.

The al Awda propaganda is venomously anti-Western.

“Teach your children to hate all foreigners,” and “all foreigners are enemies,” said leaflets distributed in Fallujah and other Ba’athist strongholds.

The Islamic groups have been spreading an even more vicious form of propaganda.

In attempting to demonize the coalition, its adherents have been calling L. Paul Bremer, the chief administrator, “Bremer Hussein” and using the slogan “One dictator goes, another dictator comes.”

In a recent sermon in a Fallujah mosque that was packed with adherents and broadcast by loudspeakers to many more outside, a preacher demanded, “Fight the Americans. Don’t deal with them. Don’t shake hands with them. They are dirty.”

The preacher added that Mr. Bremer was encouraging Jews to return and reclaim their houses, and any Arab businessman helping this process should be killed.

In Baghdad yesterday, a 12-year-old schoolboy asked his father if all Americans — as he had been told — were carriers of AIDS.

He said adults had told him this was evident from blood seemingly coming out of the ear of a female U.S. soldier who had visited the school.

A Western reporter saw a recent gathering at which men in Western garb sat in rows of white plastic chairs alongside others in white robes — another apparent sign that Ba’athists and Islamists were holding joint meetings.

The reporter was unable to hear what was said at the meeting, which took place in the yard of a home near Baghdad airport.

Both parties are portraying the uprising as a chance to regain the wealth of the country, its oil fields, from the American invaders.

They also are exploiting widespread resentment at U.S. forces’ raids on private homes, where doors have been kicked in and women’s rooms entered, and this week’s stringent stop-and-search policy at roadblocks.

Few weapons have been found in these operations, locals say. So far, the uprising plans have been confined to Sunni Muslims and Ba’athist sympathizers.

“If they can persuade the Shi’ite Muslims to join in, the Americans will not be able to survive two months,” said the former general.

The Shi’ites, who make up about 60 percent of the Iraqi population and have been treated the worst of all segments under the old regime, remain on the sidelines, he said.

“They are also resentful, but their masters have told them to wait — so far,” the former general said.

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