Why is the Iraqi Army so weak? Amir Taheri says it’s not just because of defeat in ’91 and a dozen years of sanctions. Saddam’s army is starved on purpose:
Surprisingly, Saddam Hussein, apparently convinced that he will somehow avoid a clash, has taken no measures to put the army on a war footing. This may also indicate his distrust of an army that, if rebuilt to its full strength and put on a war footing, might decide to enter Baghdad, remove Saddam from power, and make a deal with the U.S.-led coalition.
Theoretically, the 8,000 or so professional soldiers who provide the backbone of the army are loyal Baathists. But Saddam knows that a Baath party membership card is no guarantee against betrayal. During the past ten years alone, over 40 of his generals have defected, among them his own son-in-law. A further 150 generals have been cashiered and live under close surveillance in Baghdad.
It is no mystery that Saddam, who did not serve in the army even as a conscript, has never been popular among the Iraqi military. His massive purges of the military elite, including hundreds of executions, remain part of the Iraqi army’s collective historic nightmare.
So it becomes a question not only of which units will fight, but which units can fight.
Like the Soviet Union of old (or any other dictatorship, for that matter) Saddam has army-like security units set up alongside, and in opposition to, the regular Army. First and foremost is the Special Republican Guard Division, which is based in Baghdad and is really an overly-large personal security service — albeit one with army uniforms and weapons. Will they fight? Almost certainly. These are men complicit in Saddam’s crimes, with everything to lose in a Coalition occupation.
Next up is the Republican Guard. Perhaps less personally devoted to Saddam than the SRGD, they are nonetheless selected from the best recruits, and given the best (and most) weapons. Regardless, the RG is still less of a fighting force than it is a tool of repression, as shown in ’91 at the Battle of 73 Easting. Will they fight? Many will, but many will be doing so under duress, and will probably surrender as soon as Coalition troops are closer than their own officers.
There’s a world of difference between the conscripts who make up the various Iraqi forces, and the officers who lead them. And when I say “lead,” I mean, “threaten them with death if they don’t obey orders.” Most of the officers will fight. Most of the men will fight only so long as their leaders seem more of a threat than our forces.
The regular army, if what Taheri claims is true, will be less able to offer any real resistance than it could in ’91. The Republican Guard will put up some fight, but probably give up as soon as things look bad for them. That leaves the Special Republican Guard to try a Stalingrad-type defense of Baghdad.
That leaves confusion, terror and Gotterdammerung-type destruction as Saddam’s only real tools of defense. Burning oil wells, civilians slaughtered by disguised RG troops, poison gas and germs. . .I fear we’ll see all these things. We’ll take the international heat for Saddam unleashing all those banned weapons he doesn’t have, and all those terror methods he’s too peaceful to contemplate.
What Saddam can’t know is which (or how many) SRGD officers will make a deal with us to kill or capture Saddam, in exchange for immunity from war crimes prosecution.
But Tommy Franks will know — assuming he doesn’t already.