saddam hussein, ted lapidus, and the iraqi order o

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    Does Iraq have a fighting army?

    This question has divided Iraq-watchers for weeks. Some experts foresee victory for the US-led coalition in days. Others speculate about months, if not years, of urban guerrilla warfare of the type practised by the Somali warlords in the 1990s.

    Both views could be described as extremes. One is inspired by imprudent optimism, the other by unwarranted pessimism.

    The first question to ponder is whether there is an Iraqi army. On paper, the answer is yes.

    The Iraqi army is supposed to consist of four autonomous corps, or a total of 23 divisions, representing some 460,000 men at full mobilization. Estimates show that an average 23 percent of the annual Iraqi national budget has been allocated to the armed forces for the past 30 years.

    In reality, however, the Iraqi army exists mostly on paper.

    Leaving aside the civilians who provide bureaucratic, ancillary and logistical services, the army's backbone personnel numbers around 8,000. These consist of some 50 two-star generals and above, some 1,200 other officers, and over 6,000 noncommissioned officers. The soldier-mass of the army consists of conscripts aged 18 to 24.

    The latest estimates show that the army at present has no more than eight divisions at full strength within the Fourth Army Corps, nicknamed Saladin. A further 10 divisions, at less than a third of their full strength, are kept in reserve for rotation purposes.

    Surprisingly, Saddam Hussein, apparently convinced that he will somehow avoid a new clash, has taken no measures to put the army on a war footing. This may indicate his distrust of the army that, if rebuilt to its full strength and put on a war footing, might decide to enter Baghdad, remove Saddam from power and make a deal with the US-led coalition.

    Theoretically, all the 8,000 or so professional soldiers who provide the backbone of the army are loyal Ba'athists. But Saddam knows that a Ba'ath Party membership card is no guarantee against betrayal. During the past 10 years alone, over 40 of his generals have defected, among them his own son-in-law. A further 150 generals have been cashiered and live under close surveillance in Baghdad.

    It is no mystery that Saddam, who did not serve in the army even as a conscript, has never been popular among the Iraqi military. His massive purges of the military elite, including hundreds of executions, remain part of the Iraqi army's collective historic nightmare.

    The conscripts, most of them Shi'ites, have even less love for Saddam. They fought during the Iran-Iraq war because they were persuaded that the Iranian mullahs wished to conquer Iraq and turn it into a colony for 'the Persians.' Now, however, it is unlikely that many Shi'ites would wish to die in order to keep Saddam in power.

    Unsure of its loyalty, Saddam is using the regular army for policing missions. Army units are sent to guard the oilfields of the north and the south and to protect sensitive installations and infrastructure.

    Also, Saddam suffers from the fact that he is now perceived as a loser, whereas in 1980 and 1990 he was still looked upon as a potential winner.

    THE IRAQI army's performance during the eight-year war against Iran and in the Kuwait campaign could be described as a mixed one. In September 1980 it launched a three-pronged invasion of Iran at a time when the Iranian side was in disarray, with no credible defences.

    Nevertheless, the Iraqis failed to score major strategic gains. They alternated between a strategy based on positional warfare, at times recalling the First World War, and rapid Panzer-style movements that fit into no discernible pattern.

    The Iraqi army showed itself caught between two cultures. One was the Soviet military culture that emphasized political control, discouraged military initiative, and relied on territorial mass as a counterweight to enemy pressure. The other was the European, mostly British and French, military culture that encouraged initiative, relied on movement, and aimed at destroying an enemy's assets rather than seizing his territory.
    The Iraqi army's problems were further complicated by the fact that the various commanders were not allowed to have direct communication among themselves. Everything had to pass through Saddam Hussein. The result was a series of unnecessary defeats for the Iraqis.

    In one battle, in Hamiyieh in 1984 for example, the Iranians annihilated two Iraqi divisions virtually within sight of six other Iraqi divisions that could not intervene because they had not received Saddam's orders to attack.

    The present defense minister, General Sultan Hashem Ahmad, then a young officer, was one of the few Iraqis who managed to escape with his life from the battle. He has had almost 20 years to ponder the slaughter of his men and comrades caused by Saddam's insane system of control.

    Through eight years of war against a disorganized Iran, the Iraqis failed to show much sparkle. They fought textbook battles and lost nearly all, against an enemy that, using Iran's demographic advantage in the most cynical way, dispatched suicide-squads of teenage boys to neutralize the Iraqi armor. It was not until the Iraqis started massively using chemical weapons that they managed to 'tame the Iranian teenage beast,' as Saddam subsequently boasted.

    The tactic of digging trenches and using chemical weapons worked: The Iranians were stopped and ultimately forced to accept a cease-fire.

    The same tactic, however, cannot be employed against the US-led coalition.

    The Iraqi army today lacks air cover, and thus could not organize in and along lines of trenches. Nor can it use chemical weapons if only because, unlike the Iranians, the US-led forces are likely to come prepared. Also, the Iranians had no means of retaliating in the face of chemical attacks while the Americans do, at least with low-grade uranium warheads.

    For the Iraqi army to engage in positional warfare could be suicidal. The American-led forces could bypass whatever position is held by the Iraqis and then encircle and destroy them.

    The Iraqi army's occupation of Kuwait in 1990 was a textbook operation based on the seize-and-control doctrine.

    It went like clockwork and showed the Iraqi army at its operational best. But that was largely due to the fact that the Iraqis faced no opposition; the tiny Kuwaiti army had no means of conducting positional warfare in a flat desert territory.

    The 1991 war in which the Iraqis were driven out of Kuwait by the US-led coalition gave the Iraqi army no real chance to develop a strategy. It lasted 100 hours, and ended after only a few mini-battles near Um-Qasar and Safwan.

    Many Iraqi officers never forgave Saddam for what they regard as his readiness to surrender to the Americans only to stay in power.

    WILL THE Iraqi army fight now?

    The best considered answer is no.

    What is more likely is that the army may intervene to remove Saddam from power and thus deny the Americans a pretext to occupy Iraq.

    A provisional government, headed perhaps by the octogenarian former president Abdulrahman Aref, himself a retired general, could be set up to seek a cease-fire with the US-led coalition. (Aref recently returned to Baghdad after an exile of 22 years in Turkey.)

    The Iraqi army might fight only under one hypothetical condition: Saddam has been overthrown and a new provisional regime is installed, but the American-led coalition still presses on for full occupation of Iraq.

    To fight and die for Saddam is not a cause that would attract many Iraqis these days. The cause of preventing Iraq from becoming an 'American colony' might.

    This is why it is vital that a provisional Iraqi authority be created as soon as Saddam's end appears close.

    Saddam has other forces that he hopes may fight for him.

    There is his parallel army, known as the Republican Guard, under the command of his son-in-law, General Kamal Mustafa. The Republican Guard has a theoretical strength of 11 divisions, some 220,000 men. (But being a son-in-law is no guarantee of loyalty. Saddam's first son-in-law and favorite, Gen. Hussein Kamel al-Majid, betrayed him and defected in 1995.)

    Saddam's second son, Qusay, also heads a smaller force of some 8,000 men and women whose task is to protect the person of the leader.

    These forces, however, are more experienced in internal repression than in classical warfare. Most guardsmen have joined to benefit from privileges (including better salaries, housing priority, automobiles, color TV sets, etc.) It is not certain how many might fight if they saw Saddam as a lost cause.

    Talk of urban guerrilla warfare lasting for years is fantasy.

    Saddam and his gang are not guerrilla leaders. They are used to ostentatious life-styles. Most have potbellies and love an after-diner digestive. (Iraq is the world's second-biggest importer of French Cognac, after Japan.)

    The theatrical military uniforms Saddam and his associates wear were designed by Ted Lapidus, the French haute-couture maison, and are made of the choicest mixture of silk and cotton. Every Havana cigar smoked by Vice-President Taha Yassin al-Jizrawi or Deputy Premier Tareq Aziz costs $15.
    Saddam and his coterie are wealthy men. If they become engaged in guerrilla warfare they will be the most de-luxe guerrilla group of all time.
    Saddam has only one chance: The Americans may win the military side of the war but bungle the political side by transforming themselves from liberators into occupiers. Such a transformation could happen within days, even hours.

    It is to that contingency that the American planners must pay attention.

    The writer, an Iranian author and journalist, is editor of the Paris-based Politique Internationale.

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