- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

The United States has learned why neither the Iraqi military nor the CIA was able to topple Saddam Hussein in a classic coup d’etat.

The CIA’s voluminous report on Saddam’s regime details how he stayed a safe distance from the Republican Guard. The seven army divisions stood as Saddam’s most potent weapon. They invaded Kuwait, crushed uprisings in the Shi’ite south and Kurdish north and protected Baghdad. But Saddam did not trust the Guard’s commanders.

“[The Republican Guard] was the last and the heaviest armed tier of regime security,” said the report, filed last week by chief weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer. “While it was essential to the protection of the regime, Saddam kept the unit away from Baghdad to prevent their involvement in any military-led coups.”

He kept watch by embedding spies from the feared Special Security Organization (SSO), which, like the equally dreaded Mukhabarat intelligence services, was dedicated to Saddam’s survival.

Shortly after Saddam’s debacle in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the dictator survived at least one assassination attempt by top Guard officers, according to the report.

He responded by creating a layered security force around him in the form of the SSO. He put his most trusted aide, his oldest son, Qusai Hussein, in charge.

The SSO permeated the Special Republican Guard, which manned presidential palaces, and the larger Republican Guard, which defended major cities. The Guard stayed positioned outside the capital, a safe distance from Saddam and other Ba’ath Party leaders.

Qusai assigned SSO officers at the battalion level, where they enforced loyalty and filed complaints against wayward officers, Mr. Duelfer said.

After the 1991 Gulf war, Mr. Duelfer writes, “The SSO shifted its focus to monitor the military commanders to guarantee their loyalty and political reliability. These security officers, reminiscent of Soviet commissars, were embedded within Republican Guard units down to the battalion level, and they did not answer to the [Republican Guard] command.”

When U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, the Republican Guard was no match for the combined Army-Marine Corps ground assault that swiftly moved from Kuwait. Many tanks and armored vehicles were hit in air strikes or by the 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Marine Division. Presumably, many members of the Guard were killed in these confrontations.

But many officers escaped, and some continue to prove their loyalty to Saddam by fighting and leading the deadly insurgency that bedevils coalition forces. Qusai, however, is not there to lead them. He and his brother, Uday, were killed by U.S. soldiers in a shootout north of Baghdad.

Mr. Duelfer described Qusai’s power:

“Qusai, in the role of the ‘Honorable Supervisor’ of the Republican Guard, like his father, kept a keen eye on the military forces closest to the regime. No piece of military equipment could be moved — even for repair — by a brigade, division, or corps commander without the prior written permission of Qusai through the [Republican Guard] secretariat. Security officers from the SSO were embedded within the Republican Guard to ensure that this was strictly followed and report if it was contradicted.”

In the end, Saddam’s obsession with his own survival proved costly. In the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, he frequently visited individual units to check on combat readiness.

But before the 2003 coalition invasion, he rarely had visited troops.

“He instead relied upon reports by officers, who later admitted misleading Saddam about military readiness out of fear for their lives,” the Duelfer report said.

Saddam became so reclusive that even top leaders, such as the now-detained Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan, could not locate him.

“According to Ramadan, he never phoned Saddam directly after 1991, never privately socialized with him and was often unable to locate Saddam for days, even in periods of crisis,” the CIA report said. “Simply locating Saddam could be a problem even for senior officials. Ramadan said, ‘Sometimes it would take three days to get in touch with Saddam.’”

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