Battle For Baghdad Not Yet Begun -- Is the War of Words over?
Day 20 of Iraq War April 8, 2003
By the end of Day 20 of the war, some of the creative dust dramatizing its progress had settled and some hard facts were surfacing. First, the true scale of the US thrust into the heart of Baghdad on Monday, April 7.
The US 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, reaching its appointed sector 48 hours behind schedule, put up a floating span over the Diyala River and poured thousands of troops into eastern Baghdad under sustained artillery and mortar fire. Two Marines were killed and two were wounded. The units tardy arrival cost one of the forces senior commanders Col. Joe Dowdy his command despite his achievements in the fierce battles of Nasiriya. War commander Gen. Tommy Franks who demands the strictest adherence to his plans timeline relived him of his post. The second fact was the takeover of three of Saddam Husseins palaces, the Republican Palace by the Marines, the Radwaniya south of the international airport and the Northern Palace at the tip of its northern runway, by the US 3rd Mechanized Division. The first of the three though sumptuous is empty of furniture and obviously unused.
Just as crucial is the war of wits and words between the coalition and the Iraqi war commands which ran on into Tuesday, April 8 - although a US military spokesman said: The war of words is over. He must have realized that the verbal battle was giving the Iraqi side a useful platform on which to challenge American statements and was not doing their credibility much good.
The stream of rhetoric notwithstanding, DEBKAfiles military sources maintain the decisive battle for Baghdad has not begun; neither have American forces laid the capital to siege. The presence of the Marine force enables the continuation of armored probes into the city begun last Saturday, April 5, to test the intensity of Iraqi armed resistance in the various parts of the town.
Towards the end of Tuesday, the Iraqi command grip in the field appeared to be slackening. The fighting units seemed uncoordinated and under the direction of low-ranking officers. The Americans for their part began bringing up fresh troops. DEBKAfiles military sources report that the 4th Infantry Division, whose arrival was delayed by the Turkish veto on the passage of US units for a northern front, was entering Iraq at last from Kuwait. Most of the division, which has the heaviest firepower of any American unit, was originally intended for the battle areas of Mosul and Kirkuk in the north. But at this late date some units may be diverted to Baghdad to relieve US 101st Airborne Division units who have fighting continuously for 20 days.
The Iraqis gained some propaganda mileage Tuesday from the US tank shell that hit the media center at Hotel Palestine in Baghdad, killing two TV cameramen and injuring two more journalists.
DEBKAfiles intelligence sources have discovered that the shell did not come from a US tank. The explosion that hurt the correspondents occurred on an upper floor and was rigged and planted by Iraqi military intelligence. To avoid a row with the press corps covering the war and nip the incident in the bud, the US command assumed responsibility and apologized before it went any further. This is unlikely to work.
Saddam is gone from Baghdad
Contrary to the convictions voiced Tuesday by US military spokesmen, DEBKAfiles sources believe that the Iraqi ruler, Saddam Hussein, and his sons are no longer in Baghdad or even hiding in any of his four underground command cities. Suspicions that he was there prompted the American raid of leadership targets in the Mansour district of Baghdad on Monday, April 7. According to our military and intelligence sources, from the middle of last week, Saddam managed the war from outside the capital possibly from Tikrit, the town north of Baghdad which is his clans home ground, or a hideout in Syria. Indications that he has been smuggled into Syria are mounting. But then, on Saturday, April 5, hours after the first American tanks rolled into Baghdad, Saddam and his sons went underground, cutting themselves off from most of the Iraqi leadership and observing total electronic hush.
There was therefore no chance of the American bomb finding him in a restaurant in Baghdad on Monday, or of a tip-off on his whereabouts from any of his associates.
Neither is there any real proof that his cousin, General Ali Hassan Majid, Chemical Ali was killed in Basra, notwithstanding the assertions of local British commanders.
Chemical war threat intensifies with battle of the tunnels
Similarly, coalition forces have turned up no unambiguous stores of weapons of mass destruction. One suspected site after another has proved innocent of banned biological or chemical substances in any real quantity. At the same time, the US war command is convinced that the danger of a chemical attack has become acute enough to issue grave warnings to allied troops and Iraqs neighbors. US radio broadcasts beamed into Iraq have in the last 24 hours issued grave warnings that anyone wielding banned chemical substances will face prosecution as a war criminal. The warning applies equally to those with knowledge of the threat who fail to forewarn coalition authorities.
Beneath the heavily exposed surface battles, a fierce secret war is raging
in the subterranean tunnels linking Saddams four of five command and control
fortress-bunkers spread out under the Baghdad region. DEBKAfiles sources
reveal that US Special forces are locked in hand to hand combat with Special
Republican Guards and Saddams Fedayeen commanded by Uday Hussein. All
that we know about the battle of the tunnels for the moment is that American
forces uncovered two or three secret entrances to the underground labyrinth
two of them at the international airport of Baghdad after its capture.
At least one of those entrances led to a broad underground highway system with
roads some 12 meters wide through which two armored personnel carriers can pass
each other comfortably. Some of these passageways are designed as blind alleys
to lead interlopers astray; the ones leading to the command and control bunker-fortresses
are guarded by Iraqi commandos.