- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

A recent report in Britain's Sunday Mirror, filed from Camp Coyote in Kuwait, smacks of slapstick comedy. But clamp the laughter, for it'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 to surrender," the Mirror reported on March 9, "because they thought the war had already started."

The paras ordered the Iraqis, who came waving white flags, to go back to Iraq because "it was too early to surrender."

Call that the punch line a sad punch line that's also an intelligence indicator both the United States and Saddam understand.

A significant chunk of the Iraqi army is ready to surrender to American-led forces. The same goes for the Iraqi people. As a result, U.S. and British forces have developed battle plans designed to limit Iraqi civilians and Iraqi army casualties, as well as limit damage to roads, power stations, oil fields and other civilian infrastructure.

These plans are intricate, and to pull them off in combat requires highly accurate, real-time intelligence. In questionable circumstance, U.S. commanders will "first protect the lives of deployed allied soldiers," a Pentagon way of saying the slightest indication of resistance or trickery will be met with overwhelming firepower.

However, the long-range assessment is "enemies" like the poor Iraqis who met the British paras will soon become allies. Surrendering Iraqi soldiers may ultimately serve 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. His war plans take this into account. American firepower and mobility aren't the only reasons he's pulling back to Baghdad.

Iraqi army units man the first defensive ring around Baghdad. Behind the army, in another defensive zone, sit 40,000 of Saddam's elite Republican Guards. The Special Republican Guards may be preparing other defensive positions inside Baghdad. Thus iffy Iraqi army units dig in before the guns of the Republican Guards. Barrels to the back may stiffen frightened spines.

Saddam intends to force the United States to conduct a siege of the city, and suck allied infantry into savage house-to-house fighting.

But this defense also makes Baghdad Saddam's ultimate hostage. What keeps the Republican Guards from slaughtering the relatives of surrendering Iraq army soldiers? The answer is the same thing that currently prevents them from carrying out any murders in Iraq: nothing.

Until the northern no-fly zone was established and the Kurds achieved a degree of autonomy, Saddam held the whole of Iraq hostage. With nukes and missiles and terrorist accomplices, Saddam would hold New York hostage.

Over the past year, Iraqi exiles have told me Saddam doesn't have the loyalty of 10,000 people inside Iraq. The figure may be their best guess, it may be their blind hope. While defections from the Iraqi army occur frequently, defections from Saddam's General Directorate of Security are few, and that's where Saddam's regime is held together. The key leaders 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 in 1979, his ruling clique has done little more than rape and rob the country, with the General Directorate of Security's terror and torture apparatus the means of subjugation.

Oil revenue bought advanced weapons. Saddam built palaces he says he's the new Hammurabi. But his nation of hostages faced another reality: death and poverty. A note from an exile in 1995 mentioned a cousin in Baghdad had sold his fax machine to buy a kilo of rice. Saddam, of course, would blame the fax sale on U.N. economic sanctions.

But the Iraqi soldiers at the Kuwait border know Saddam's the culprit. A British para described the Iraqis for the Sunday Mirror correspondent: "[Y]ou could barely describe them as soldiers they were poorly equipped and didn't even have proper boots. Their physical condition was dreadful, and they had obviously not had a square meal for ages."

These wretched men are victims of war all right, a war waged on the Iraqi people. Surrender, in this case, is liberation.

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