Saddam Hussein Calls Top Leadership Into Emergency Session

A Declaration of War?

by DEBKAfile

13 October 2002

Saddam Hussein wasted no time before calling his leadership and parliament into emergency sessions Saturday, October 12, in response to the congressional endorsement US president George W. Bush gained for waging war on Iraq. DEBKAfile’s Gulf sources report that the day after the US Senate in Washington approved a pro-war resolution, the Iraqi ruler went through the motions of seeking a parallel mandate from Iraq’s governing institutions. The mandate he demanded to defend the Iraqi republic and people against American aggression is tantamount to a declaration of war.

Our sources add that the Iraqi ruler also demanded that his successor be named in case he comes to harm in the hostilities. Only one name was put forward by, Saddam’s son Uday Hussein. The top Iraqi brass perceived this action as a legitimate counter-move against the American drive to oust the Saddam Hussein regime in Baghdad. They are divided only over the wisdom of publishing the decision now, at the risk of flawing Saddam Hussein’s image of as an unvanquished war leader, or rather leaving it up to the Iraqi voter who will be asked in a referendum taking place Tuesday, October 15, to endorse the Iraqi president for a second seven-year term.

While these moves are essentially ritualistic, they point to the Iraqi government’s realization that the time has come for Iraq to respond actively to US military operations in and around Iraq for the last three months. DEBKAfile’s military sources see Iraq gearing up for military action. It will not immediately take the form of unconventional warfare against American forces in the field or other pro-American targets like Israel, Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But a message is being broadcast that the time for using them is not far off.

The debate going back and forth in Washington last week over what kind of government will rule Iraq after Saddam Hussein is gone – in which secretary of state Colin Powell, the White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, the Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clark and the New York Times have been actively engaged – distracted attention from some important military developments:

A. The US-Turkish special forces takeover of northern Iraq with the help of pro-American Kurdish and Turkmen units is complete. Americans commandos have been beefed up by US Marines and engineering units. The stretch of territory now in US hands ranges from Sinjar near the Syrian border in the west and runs east as far as 10-15 miles north of the oil town of Mosul. Then, still further east, US-led forces have by-passed the friendly Kurdish stronghold of Erbil, which commands the highway to the second northern oil city of Kirkuk, to fetch up on a line roughly 20 miles south of Erbil, 35-40 miles north of Kirkuk.

DEBKAfile ’s military sources report that Iranian Badr Force units, a sort of Iranian Revolutionary Guards foreign legion, have joined the US-Turkish thrust into the area of the northeastern Iraqi key town of Sulimaniyeh. Comprising mostly Iraqi and Afghan exiles, this force has linked up with the US-led covert offensive in Iraq under a secret Iran-US military cooperation pact, first revealed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 78 on September 27.

B. In the west, a military standoff has developed along Iraq’s Jordanian border region, an area considered the strategic gateway to the Iraqi heartland - Saddam’s hometown Tikrit and Baghdad. The military sources of DEBKAfile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly ’s (No. 79, October 4) reported fierce battles taking place from late September into the first week of October, between US special units and Middle East commandos, around the H-2 and H-3 bases, centers of command cores, air defense installations, missile bases and air force facilities. The fight put up by the Americans prevented Iraqi transporters from reaching those west Iraqi bases and positioning several mobile surface missile batteries. But reinforced Iraqi units fought back and prevented the American-led assault troops from coming close enough to those bases to lay them to siege.

The prime cause of this standoff was Washington’s reluctance to throw adequate air might into backing up US-led ground forces.

C. In the south, the American war command continues to beef up its troop concentrations in bases ranging from Cairo-West, Jordan – mainly in the air-ground base of Ruwayshid near the Iraqi border, Eritrea and Djibouti in East Africa, the Indian Oceanisland of Diego Garcia, Socotra (Yemen), and Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain along the Gulf.

Last week, the Americans tested the operational systems of the new base they have built at Herat in eastern Afghanistan, but then ran into a snag. Iranian defense minister Admiral Shakhmani first declared on October 4 that Iran would not shoot at American warplanes “straying’ into its airspace on their way to attacking Iraq. DEBKAfile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources reported this was interpreted in Washington as permission for American planes to take off from the Afghan base to the east and reach Iraq through Iranian skies. A spokesman in Tehran later denied its defense minister ever made this statement, putting paid to the use of Herat for striking at Iraq from the east, which would have rounded off the American aerial siege of Iraq.

According to DEBKAfile ’s sources in Tehran, Iran-US relations were the main topic of the talks British foreign secretary Jack Straw held in Tehran Thursday, October 10. Straw obtained some promises from the Iranian leadership that included: refraining from selling weapons to Iraq, buying Iraq oil or sending Iraq supplies in the course of the American offensive.

Iran agreed to send a secret delegation to Baghdad headed by Revolutionary Guards commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi to test Iraq’s readiness to consider a leadership change in Baghdad who would accept UN Security Council resolutions to the letter, thereby obviating the need for war.

D. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that some of these developments slowed down the impetus of the US-UK air offensive against Iraq’s air and air defense resources. While air raids continue against Basra and Talil in the south and H-2 and H-3 in the west, Iraqi air command and control centers in the north near Kirkuk and at Taj in central Iraq have not been touched..

E. Most alarming are signs that the Islamic extremist al Qaeda is back in action and its initiation of a fresh wave of strategic terrorist strikes. The group’s two chiefs, who appeared to vanish off the face of the earth eleven months ago in the thick of the Tora Bora battle, began to surface in the first week of October and signal that they are very much alive and as threatening as ever. Bin Laden was reported on October 4 by a Saudi correspondent, who talked to al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, as preparing to reappear soon and “wake up the sleeper cells”. His senior deputy, Ayman Zawahri, declared in a recorded interview aired by the Arab satellite TV station on October 6 that “the youth of Islam will target key sections of your economy”.

From that moment on, the terror attacks have been coming thick and fast.

Limburg Attack – Just the Beginning

On the day of the interview, the French oil supertanker Limburg was struck on its way into a Yemen port in an attack similar to the crippling of the USS Cole frigate two years earlier at Aden port. Responsibility was claimed by the Yemeni Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, an umbrella organization for Yemeni extremists who identity with al Qaeda goals operating around Aden, in the Hadhramauth and in northern regions bordering on Saudi Arabia. Among them are 300 or 400 Yemeni Islamists who fought the Americans in Afghanistan and made good their escape home through Iran. DEBKAfile ’s military sources report that, since early September, US special forces have been operating in Yemen to break up the terror networks the Afghanistan veterans have been building among Yemeni tribes. In recent weeks, clashes occurred in Hadhramauth and on both sides of the Yemen-Saudi frontier, between American commandos and high-ranking al Qaeda fighters.

The fact that the all-out American campaign against al Qaeda has not reduced the network’s ability to bring off a strike as meticulously planned and strategically damaging as the attack on the Limburg, means that the sea traffic passing through the region - tankers, US warships and aircraft carriers and commercial shipping, some of it carrying equipment and supplies to American forces in the Gulf of Aden - are vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Two day after the Limburg was struck, Kuwaiti terrorists fired on US Marines on joint maneuvers in Kuwait, killing one and injuring two. The oil emirate abutting Iraq is an important point of concentration for a US troop invasion of Iraq. Yet a large and high-placed al Qaeda cell, its members drawn from some of the emirate’s most prominent families, including even the Mufti of Kuwait’s Grand Mosque, has been at large inside the protective US military perimeter -
under the noses of US and Kuwaiti intelligence.

What is more, the American military buildup for war on Iraq has seemingly become the magnet of a resurgent al Qaeda campaign. The concatenation of the two events certainly beg such questions as:
1. Is the current wave of terror the product of joint pre-planning between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahri and the rest of the al Qaeda command? The circumstantial link between the timing of the terror incidents and the Iraqi leadership’s time-table is glaring enough to provide all the evidence the Bush team may still lack of Saddam’s association with terrorists.
2. What are the chances of the current wave of terrorism spreading to American targets in other parts of the world and America itself? This is to be expected in the near future.
3. Are other terror groups likely to join al Qaeda’s campaign of terror? The Palestinians and the Hizballah are likely to back up bin Laden by targetingIsrael and Jordan.

The internal situation in Iraq is not exactly ripe for the hyped up debate on the shape of government in post-warBaghdad. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources perceive no signs of collapse in the Baghdad regime or the army command. Reports of clandestine US contacts with Iraqi commanders to persuade them to hold their fire in battle are probably exaggerated, disseminated more to demoralize than as an expression of tangible deals.

Some of the difficulties now facing the US campaign to win over Saddam’s followers in the army are largely generated by Washington itself.

Talk of replacing the Saddam regime with a new, democratic administration, is perceived by Iraq’s Sunnis, the backbone of the existing regime, as a threat to dilute the authority of central government, dissolve the army and secret services and fragment the country into autonomous Shiite, Kurdish and Turkmen sectors. However much many Sunni tribal leaders and generals may detest Saddam and his family, they find the Bush vision dismaying in that it will force them out of the privileged positions they enjoy, thanks to Baghdad’s repression of Iraq’s non-Sunni peoples.

As for Iraq divesting itself of unconventional weapons, that too is feared by many high-placed Iraqis who hate the ruler, because they believe it would leave their country completely at the mercy of Tehran and Iranian domination of the Persian Gulf region.

Therefore, the road to a democratic Iraq – even assuming the war is quickly won – is bound to be uphill and tortuous. [Emphasis Added]