U.S. Intelligence Believes Saddam Has Hidden WMD In Desert Enclaves Well Protected

by DEBKAfile

July 15, 2003

DEBKA-Net-Weekly, in its last issue on July 11, defined two tough questions posed by the current military situation in Iraq as being:

1. What is stopping the American army from going into Saddam Hussein’s fortified underground bases around Samarra, capturing the former ruler and his sons and removing the threat posed by the enclave to the Bush administration’s overall plans for the Middle East and global war on terror?

2. Why have US forces allowed Saddam’s forces a free hand to plague them with attacks in the Baghdad-Ramadi-Falluja-Balad triangle, when those attacks have clearly tipped over from irregular warfare into well-prepared professional military operations?

On Sunday, July 5, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that despite the string of deadly attacks on coalition forces, “the resistance in Iraq is far from monolithic or nationwide, instead appearing fragmented and limited to a small triangular area from Baghdad to the north and west.”

Three days later, the chief US civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, voiced the opposite view: “The continuing attacks are the work of professional assailants and loyalists of Mr Hussein and possibly terrorists who appear in some cases to have had military training.”

These divergent appraisals by two top American strategists on Iraq mean either that the Bush administration cannot make up its mind how to handle the post-war situation, or else it has come to a decision but neglected to inform US personnel in the field.

Whichever it is, up until the publication of this issue, our sources found no US forces in Iraq venturing into the enclave in which Saddam, his sons and high command are thought to be holed up in well-prepared underground citadels. No American troops are to be seen Samarra which remains dominated pro-Saddam loyalists.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources have several explanations for this omission:

1. The first is a scenario. US Task Force 20, the unit formed to catch Saddam Hussein and sons and locate his unconventional weapons, hopes to put them to sleep by letting them believe they are gaining control in Iraq – and then, when they are off guard, pounce. Based on this premise, US forces are getting ready for the final battle well out of sight in other parts of the country.

2. The Americans may be short of precise intelligence on the ex-ruler’s subterranean fortresses and facilities, his precise whereabouts in the system and its secret openings. They also need to know more about his battle strength. US surveillance and intelligence teams may well be on covert missions in the target zone looking for this information.

3. Like the last days before the war, American and foreign go-betweens are seeking access to people close to Saddam so as to explore the possibility of negotiating his surrender without a battle. We have received exclusive information that such contacts are indeed taking place mixed rather than encouraging results. High-ranking Bush administration officials have been told that while the prospect of American forces raiding their underground hideouts strikes profound dread in the hearts of the men around the Saddam, the same men are gaining courage day by day and venturing to hope that their leader will eventually prevail.

This mood is having a psychological effect not only on Saddam loyalists, ex-military, Baathists and Sunni Muslims. Non-Sunni religious and ethnic figures across the country have been infected with enough uncertainty to keep a close watch on Samarra to see what happens.

4. The determining factor holding American military hands may be the indications found by US intelligence that Saddam Hussein has gone underground with the portion of his chemical and biological weapons that were not smuggled out to Syria.

On January 17, 2003, DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 93 published a verbatim interview in Amman, Jordan, with a former Saddam bodyguard we called Jassem Abdulla, a pseudonym to protect him from assassination by Saddam’s agents.

Following is an excerpt from that interview:

Where are the weapons of mass destruction?

In the desert. It is a vast expanse, and they have cameras,,, the minute someone approaches, such as UN personnel, they move to another place. Tikrit is closest to the site. Weapons are also located in Baghdad.

There's a place called Ouja near Tikrit. (Ed. Between Tikrit and Samarra.) It’s a peninsula of sand dunes. I saw with my own eyes bunkers that move from place to place inside the dunes, underground. It is simply unbelievable; it is done by remote control.

Twenty-five people went there in 1994. We were told they were Americans, but the truth is we really didn't know who they were. They were there for four years, until 1998. In early 1991, they worked there and built weapons of mass destruction. But I don't know what's exactly there now. No one saw them. They came by car, with maps. It was strange, because we thought sanctions were in place, but they came and built the complex. Immediately afterwards, they brought the bombs and weapons systems. They built a ceiling and put chemical and biological weapons inside. The Russians followed, and there were Chinese in there too. The Russians tested the strength of the structure. They fired at it and set off explosions. But nothing happened to the Chinese inside. They did not die. I saw the Chinese leave the complex one by one and in one piece.”

This testimony has been borne out by subsequent intelligence probes in Iraq. However, the most intense efforts to reach that hidden cache have thus far been defeated.

Firstly, in mid-April, Task Force 20 began scouring the country for Iraqi officers and personnel involved in concealing the forbidden weapons or secreting them out of the country to Syria. The force received hundreds of leads. By the time a team arrived at a suspect location, it was invariably bare of contents. The Bush administration is still hunting for solid proof of Saddam’s possession of WMD since testimony by his top regime officials and scientists will not satisfy the skeptics.

Secondly Many of the officers and men of the Special Republican Guards listed as operators of chemical and biological warfare systems, who denied knowledge of their whereabouts in earlier interrogations, have recently disappeared from their homes. Some have turned up around Samarra.

A key deterrent to a major US assault on Saddam’s subterranean bases in the Samarra enclave is the possibility of him letting loose with the toxic weapons cached with him. According to every intelligence estimate, Saddam has never used his weapons of mass destruction outside Iraq. Even during the Iraq-Iran war that ended in 1989, he waited till Iranian troops invaded before attacking them with poison gas. He is unlikely to pass up the opportunity of fighting off an American assault inside Iraq with unconventional weapons.

Washington’s options as seen by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military experts are as tough as its dilemmas:

A. Unconventional warfare, including tactical nuclear weapons, would be the surest and most efficient way to overcome the Saddam enclave and wipe out the burgeoning military threat it poses to US forces in the country. That option is unthinkable. Washington cannot become the first power to use weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In any case, although Saddam, his illegal weapons and all his works would be wiped out for good, so too would the proof needed to convince American and world opinion that the Bush administration had good reason, namely the unconventional weapons in the hands of the Iraqi ruler, for going to war in the first place. Mistrust of Washington’s motives would only gain ground.

B. A massive conventional assault on the Saddam enclave might work, but it might equally expose US troops to the risk of Iraqi chemical or biological warfare. Substantial military reinforcements would also be called for, a contentious issue in Washington.

C. Washington might be better off not attacking the enclave at all but casting it into isolation by means of a protracted siege.

Most experts agree that Washington’s current state of indecision is the worst possible course. It opens the way for Saddam to grasp the initiative, decide what happens next and determine whether to engage in a fight to the finish or make a run for it.

This would leave Washington sunk in exactly the same quandary as it faced ten days before going to war.

The uncertainty also has a detrimental effect on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the prospects of dragging it out of stalemate. Syrian president Bashar Assad and Hizballah chairman Haasan Nasrallah are heavily invested in both conflicts. So too is Yasser Arafat, who is matching his steps with Saddam Hussein and waiting for the outcome of the coming round of warfare in Iraq. Any gains by the deposed Iraqi ruler will encourage Arafat to further wreck the slim chances of progress in the exchanges between Mahmoud Abbas and Israel.

As it is, terrorist groups on the West Bank and Gaza Strip do not bother to hide their preparations to revive their suicide assaults immediately after the agreed ceasefire ends in two months. Hamas, undeterred by the roundup of 20 operatives out of thousands in a timid operation by Abbas’ internal security minister Mohammed Dahlan, has been testing over the Mediterranean the range of the thousand or more Qassam surface missiles accumulated during the period of relative calm. In Ramallah, Arafat’s terrorist masterminds have been busy too. His allies in the southern Gaza Strip are smuggling in a fresh supply of weapons and explosives from Egypt while keeping up the level of shootings and bombings. IDF forces are constrained by adjusted rules of engagement from destroying the smuggling tunnels, as well as going after West Bank terrorist gangs. Thus, the general level of attacks may have dropped, but the situation is far from being a truce. In the last two weeks, gunmen have sniped at Israeli road workers, a suicide attack was carried out in Yabets village inside Israel, a taxi driver was taken hostage by Arafat’s Fatah and an Irish bomb expert imported to improve the performance of Arafat’s bombers so that he can escalate his campaign to mega-attacks in Israeli cities.