View Full Version : "Saddam Never Wore Muddy Boots"

03-16-03, 07:20 AM
From the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal 3/15/03

Will They Fight?
Iraqi officers recount the "mother of all battles."

Saturday, March 15, 2003 12:01 a.m.

Twelve years ago, I led a top secret team of interrogation specialists in a
covert location "somewhere in the Middle East." Our mission was to
interrogate Saddam Hussein's senior officers, whom we expected to capture as
a result of the fierce ground offensive of U.S. and coalition forces. We were
confident of a swift victory, in spite of the bombardment of prewar hype by
defense and media pundits.

We were told our coalition forces would face a million-man, battle-hardened
Iraqi army whose soldiers were masters of defense. Had not Iraqi artillery
harvested Iranians by the tens of thousands in the recently concluded
Iran-Iraq War? Saddam's ruthlessness would mean chemical, biological, even
nuclear weapons might rain down on coalition forces. Thirty thousand
Americans might die. The Iraqi dictator would unleash the mailed fist of
terrorism world-wide, and the world economy would be destabilized as oil
prices skyrocketed to $200 a barrel. Israel could be drawn into the conflict,
which would engulf the entire Middle East in a doomsday-like scenario.

A few months later, after a 39-day air campaign and barely four days of
ground combat, the Iraqi army was routed as perhaps no army in modern times,
all with negligible coalition casualties. No weapons of mass destruction were
employed, the vaunted Iraqi artillery played almost no role in the war.
Iraq's air force sat out the war, and some 70,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendered,
many without even offering token resistance. Israel abstained from the
combat, and the feared wave of world-wide terrorism was all but a non-event.
The price of a barrel of sweet crude quickly dropped to prewar or lower
levels. The road to Baghdad lay open, the prize for the taking.

As we poise to pounce on Iraq, the American public is again being treated to
conflicting views offered by talking heads on the left and the right,
including draconian pronouncements on the wisdom and dangers of the impending
conflict. Two key questions posed during the debate are: "Will the Iraqis
fight?" and "Will our forces be seen as liberators or invaders?" For an
educated opinion, grounded in history, consider the words of Saddam's
humiliated generals and colonels as they agonized over their defeat in 1991.

"Saddam," one general remarked bitterly, "never wore muddy boots." The man
had no training or skills as a soldier. Saddam, several observed, had no
respect for his generals, other than a few in his trusted inner circle. One
general recalled wryly, "Only selected Republican Guard commanders had any
warning that Kuwait was to be invaded. Most of us learned of the operation
from the television news."Once Kuwait was occupied and the Americans began
their buildup, many officers, veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, were recalled
from retirement. "We were told to occupy our sectors, dig in, and await
orders," one general lamented, "and the orders never came." One senior
personnel officer reported that when 37,000 reservists were recalled to fill
the ranks of the combat divisions, only 5,000 answered the call. Iraqi
regular army units thus went to war at no better than 80% strength. Equipment
shortages were serious, especially engineer equipment vital to prepare and
camouflage defensive positions in the open desert. As a result, the coalition
air offensive was a "turkey shoot." By the time coalition forces launched the
ground offensive, casualties from the fierce bombing and losses by desertion
had turned the 42-division Iraqi force defending Kuwait and southern Iraq
into a demoralized force of some 200,000 men, hunkered in their bunkers,
listening to the BBC for news of the inevitable onslaught. One deputy
division commander, a good English speaker, sheepishly confessed that he
spent his last night before capture teaching the division staff enough
English ("Help! I love Boosh.") so that they could surrender to the Americans
(none wanted to surrender to the Kuwaitis or the British).

Saddam, one general recalled contemptuously, ridiculed Americans as a soft
people who were afraid to die, and boasted that Iraqis would know how to
bleed in the impending "mother of all battles." "When I heard that speech,"
the cynical officer quipped, "I realized he was talking about me and my men.
We would bleed and sacrifice, but not Saddam, safe in his palace
bunker.""Once it became clear that the Americans were building up their
forces," a senior commander pointed out, "and that we had no strategy, all of
us felt that Saddam the master bluffer had some secret plan that would
humiliate the Americans and there would be no war. We were sure Saddam the
manipulator would order withdrawal before the ground attack."Another general
officer recalled, "In January, a Ministry of Defense delegation was supposed
to tell Saddam the truth about our state of unreadiness in the south, and
urge him to order withdrawal from Kuwait. But when they met with Saddam, they
lost their nerve and instead pledged the undying loyalty of the armed forces
to his leadership and wisdom."

A mechanized division commander recalled that one of his veteran sergeants
approached him after a particularly furious coalition air attack. "Sir," the
sergeant announced, "I am 37 years old and still single. For two years I
fought the Kurds. Then I fought the Iranians for almost eight years, and now
it is Kuwait and the Americans. My question, sir, is this, 'Do you think I
might be able to get married after this one, or does Saddam have another
target in mind?' " The colonel eyed his interrogator in anguish. "During the
Iran-Iraq War, that kind of remark would have gotten the sergeant shot. But
what could I do? I knew that he was reflecting what most of us officers
believed."Some of our officer prisoners were tribesmen, Turkomans and Shia
Muslims. They could not conceal their fear of Saddam, or their hatred. One
commander volunteered to his interrogator that he was willing to attempt to
assassinate Hussein. As it became clear that coalition forces would not cross
the Euphrates and move on Baghdad, one officer was distraught. "You have just
made a big mistake, Colonel," he intoned. "When you try to kill a snake, you
must strike the head, not the body. You should have done to Saddam what you
did to Noriega." Another told his debriefer with sadness in his voice, "If
you had sent your troops to Baghdad, the people would have welcomed them as
liberators, and Saddam's security forces would have melted away. You have missed your big chance."

The depth of distrust and hatred for Saddam Hussein among these army officers
astounded us. "He does not trust us," one general told me, "To him we were
expendable. That's why he positioned the Republican Guard with an escape
route, and left the regular army to be defeated." Almost all of our prisoners
expressed mixed feelings of envy and animosity toward the privileged
Republican Guard ("They even had special phone lines to call their families,"
one colonel pointed out, "while our troops had to depend on letters that
often did not arrive because of the fierce bombing.")

One hears that this time around, things will be different. After all, the
reasoning goes, unlike 1991, Saddam Hussein has nothing to gain by restraint.
Perhaps so, but when hostilities erupt, the militarily unschooled dictator's
calls for a total war against the infidel invaders will have to be executed
by an ill-equipped and demoralized army and a weary, untrusting population.
Forced to choose between sacrificing their lives for an over-the-hill
dictator or welcoming the Americans as liberators, I believe most of Saddam's
army and millions of Iraq's citizenry will opt for celebration, not

Some 65% of Iraq's 24 million inhabitants are Shiite Muslims, large numbers
of whom had relatives butchered by Saddam's Republican Guard as it quelled
the uprising in the south that followed the 1991 defeat in the desert. Tens
of thousands of Iraqi draftees are the children of these victims of the
regime's savagery. In the north, the Kurds' hatred for Saddam is legendary,
while the regular army is almost surely a demoralized shadow of the force we
faced in 1991.

Nonetheless, our forces have prepared for a conflict much fiercer than the
first Gulf War, as they must. The war will surely be more lethal at the
outset than Desert Storm, particularly if Saddam employs the weapons of mass
destruction that he insists Iraq does not possess. This said, with the
exception of some Republican Guard units, hopelessly outclassed, and the
dictator's inner circle, all Iraqis have much to gain from the defeat of
Saddam Hussein.

When the ordnance starts flying, let's hope that Gen. Tommy Franks's campaign
plan to "shock and awe" the Iraqi leadership and its military doesn't
squander the opportunity to gain the support of Saddam's hosts of enemies.
President Bush's assurances that we have nothing against the Iraqi people
must be reinforced by precisely directed firepower, so that the many Iraqis
who might be inclined to turn on Saddam Hussein and his inner circle will