On Native Ground
DID THE IRAQI ARMY TAKE A DIVE FOR THE U.S.?
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- After the opening week of battle in Iraq, many feared the worst.
The supply lines were stretched too thin. There were few reserves available. Fighting was unexpectedly tough in southern cities such as Basra and the toughest fighting was still ahead in Baghdad. The "cakewalk" predicted by the hawks in the Bush administration wasn't happening.
Then, the situation totally changed within a few days. The Iraqi army seemingly disappeared and the U.S. forces swept into Baghdad with a minimum of resistance.
With overwhelming superiority in firepower and total control of the air, a U.S. victory in Iraq was certain. But few believed it would take barely four weeks to achieve nearly all of the military objectives.
It all looked so easy. Maybe too easy.
In the days after the fall of Baghdad, reports started bubbling up that there was a reason why the U.S. won Gulf War II so easily: the fight was fixed.
The French newspaper Le Monde reported on April 15 that the commanding general of Iraq's Republican Guard, Maher Sufyan, cut a deal with U.S. forces in exchange for his escape.
The Republican Guard had 20,000 well-equipped troops defending Baghdad. This was the force that was fully prepared to raise hell with U.S. forces, but suddenly melted away without a fight. Why?
Citing anonymous sources, Le Monde's correspondent in Baghdad wrote that Sufyan ordered his troops to lay down their arms and go home. A short time later, an Apache helicopter escorted Sufyan from the Al Rashid camp, east of Baghdad, to an undisclosed safe haven.
Sufyan was not included in the deck of cards created by the U.S. Defense Department that contained pictures of the 55 most wanted members of Saddam Hussein's regime. His whereabouts are still unknown.
The deal may have been sweeter than Le Monde knew. The Arabic-language weekly Arab Voice reported that there had been secret talks between U.S. forces and the Republican Guard. A deal was allegedly approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that offered large sums of money to the top echelon of the Republican Guard and offers of American citizenship for commanders and their families. If they chose to stay in Iraq, those commanders would be offered official roles in post-war Iraq, provided they hadn't committed war crimes.
The capper to the deal, according to Arab Voice editor Walid Rabah, was for the Republican Guard commanders to give information about the exact location of Saddam and the rest of the Iraqi leadership. U.S. forces then used it to launch a missile attack on April 7 on a building in a Baghdad suburb where the Iraqi leadership was meeting. Nobody knows for certain if Saddam or his sons were killed in that attack.
The Russian Ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titirenko, also said there may have been a deal. "I am confident that the Iraqi generals entered into a secret deal with the Americans to refrain from resistance in exchange for sparing their lives," Titirenko told Moscow's NTV.
According to the Iranian news agency Baztab, Saddam Hussein and Russian intelligence worked out a deal 13 days before the war began where Saddam allegedly pledged to hand over Baghdad with minimal resistance to U.S. forces in exchange for sparing the lives of Saddam and his family. The U.S. then promised to give Saddam's entourage safe passage to an unnamed third country, while Russia would get $5 billion to broker the deal.
How plausible are these stories? More than a few military analysts believe that one part of this tale is true - that the bulk of Iraq's army did take off their uniforms and took off for home.
A recent story from the Knight Ridder news service contained an interview with Major Sallah Abdullah Mahdi al Jabouri, a 17-year Iraqi army veteran and a Republican Guard battalion commander.
Even though U.S. airstrikes had killed one-third of his 4,000-man brigade, Jabouri said his men were prepared to defend Baghdad when he and his fellow field commanders received orders on April 8 to withdraw and return to their bases north of the city.
When they arrived at their base, they were told go home. The next day, U.S. forces swept into central Baghdad unopposed.
"We went to war expecting everybody was going to die; we imagined the worst," said Jabouri. "But to lose your country is bigger."
Some would say all this is foolish speculation. The U.S. won the war and Saddam is gone. Why worry about how it may have happened? It's worth talking about when you consider how the Bush administration's whole case for invading Iraq was built upon lies.
ABC News reported on April 25 that the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam's alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction to gain the legal justification for war and scare Americans into supporting an attack.
"We were not lying," said one official. "But it was a matter of emphasis."
According to U.S. and British intelligence agencies, Iraq did not pose a threat to the U.S. But that information was ignored in the run-up to this war, and the information that was emphasized by the Bush administration was apparently fabricated. The proof of that fabrication is that none of those weapons have yet been found and probably didn't exist in the first place.
The Bush administration's real rationale for invading Iraq was, as ABC White House correspondent John Cochran described it, to put on "a global show of American power and democracy."
It didn't hurt that Iraq had been effectively disarmed and had been regularly bombed for the past dozen years since the end of Gulf War I in 1991. Or that it was located between Syria and Iran - two nations that the Bush administration has on its hit list, but would be much tougher military targets. Or that with things still bogged down in Afghanistan, the Bush administration wanted a quick and easy military victory in the "war on terror."
View the case of the missing Iraqi soldiers through this line of thinking, and it seems all too plausible that an administration willing to lie, cheat and steal to achieve its political objectives would resort to rigging the outcome of a war.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).