- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 20, 2003

BAGHDAD — Former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, who surrendered to U.S. forces on Friday, had quarreled with Saddam Hussein as American troops prepared to invade Iraq last spring. However, Saddam rejected military plans to defend Baghdad in the belief that a political solution remained possible.

Gen. al-Tai had sought to challenge U.S. forces by surrounding Baghdad with huge numbers of land mines and by ringing the city with T-72 tanks.

Because Saddam overruled the battle plan, Iraqi resistance to invading coalition troops in the spring was far less than many observers on both sides of the conflict expected, according to a former Iraqi general.

The general, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr. al-Tai’s battle plan also included the deployment of troops in small groups of fighters. The object would have been to make the coalition advance very slowly and painfully, drawing out the battle and then to put up “a powerful defense” through urban warfare in and around Baghdad, the general said.

“We believed neither Bush nor Blair could handle the political pressure at home if [many] soldiers were dead,” he added. Instead, the general said, Saddam believed he could “solve the problem politically, as he had done at the end of the 1991 Gulf war,” and he clung to that belief almost to the end.

The Iraqi dictator chose to rely primarily on forces under the control of his two sons. Saddam also put Basra, the country’s second-largest city, in the hands of the notoriously vicious and militarily inept Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as ‘Chemical Ali.’

The unidentified former general said there was a furious argument, lasting more than 15 minutes, between Gen. al-Tai and Saddam just three days before Baghdad fell.

The defense minister, who is thought to have trained at Britain’s elite Sandhurst military college, had demanded control of the Special Republican Guard and Republican Guard units, both under Saddam’s son, Qusai.

Gen. al-Tai and Saddam argued after the failure to defend Saddam International Airport, which U.S. troops quickly secured. The general had argued against last-minute plans to send 10,000 soldiers to defend the airport on the outskirts of Baghdad, contending they would become easy pickings for U.S. aircraft and artillery.

Saddam had insisted on moving the troops, but the Iraqis lost most of their equipment and vehicles and more than half of the soldiers.

Despite their disagreements, the two men once had been very close. They were filmed in their last known public appearance together in Baghdad on April 9, as Saddam sought to rouse the populace in a pro-Saddam neighborhood.

Several weeks later, Gen. al-Tai faked his own death. His family held a mock funeral with numerous guests attending and more than 20 sheep slaughtered for the wake. Three days of mourning followed.

The ruse failed when the general was seen eating at another family’s table sometime later. His surrender followed weeks of negotiations with U.S. forces.

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