The Baghdad deal
BAGHDAD - Much of the world was
surprised. After the spirited resistance in the south of
Iraq, how could Baghdad possibly have fallen in only two
An Asia Times Online investigation in
Baghdad, Tikrit and Najaf has yielded a clear certainty
among Iraqis, both Sunni and Shi'ite, as to the answer:
The Pentagon and the Ba'ath Party leadership made a
safqua ("secret deal" in Arabic) for the (almost)
bloodless fall of Baghdad. Crucially, this safqua
may have included a package of American green cards for
top Republican and Special Republican Guard commanders
and their families.
"Shaku maku"? ("What's
new"?). "Makushi"? (No news). In the answer to this
popular exchange in Baghdad slang, makushi has
been replaced by safqua.
al-Douri, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations,
was the one who pronounced the famous last words "the
game is over" - referring to the end of Saddam Hussein's
regime. And a game it might well have been. (Al-Douri,
according to al-Jazeera television, has enjoyed safe
passage to Syria, and might even end up the UN
ambassador of the new Iraqi government).
beginning of last week, a congregation of sheiks clad in
dazzling black linen robes was camped in the lobby of
the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. They were once again
seeking an appointment with Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi,
the self-anointed governor of Baghdad (now demoted by
The sheiks wanted to talk about
their main priority: security. They wanted cooperation
with the US Marines, but most of all they needed
medicine for their hospitals and all the help they could
get to "rebuild our country". Sheik Altai was among the
participants. An affable and subtle man, he was a
political prisoner of Saddam's regime from 1995 to 2002
in a Baghdad jail. He commands the allegiance of about
70,000 people. And as an important tribal leader, he
ultimately ended up being courted by Saddam himself.
From a long conversation with the sheik,
observations from a Ba'ath Party official who calls
himself Ali and now lives in discreet civilian garb in a
nondescript house in the Karada district, former Ba'ath
Party officials laying low in Tikrit and top Shi'ite
clerics in Najaf, it's possible to reconstitute how the
"fall" of Baghdad was staged.
No one will know
what really happened in this war until a number of
crucial questions are answered. And Iraqis are not
expecting these answers to be spelled out by the
How did American forces manage to storm into and
take over Baghdad with practically no resistance? In
Basra, which is much smaller and which was relatively
lightly defended, there was no pro-Anglo-American
uprising, and the city took three weeks to be subdued.
What happened to the 20,000-strong, well-equipped
Special Republican Guards, charged with the defense of
Baghdad? Where did they melt away to?
How come there was no coordination between the
Ba'ath Party-Republican Guard defense of Baghdad and the
jihadis who poured in from Syria, Algeria, Yemen and
Egypt to help?
How come the Republican and Special Republican
Guards did not destroy a single bridge in Baghdad - an
effective tactic to delay the American invasion?
How did the entire Iraqi cabinet manage to escape?
This includes Saddam and his sons, Vice President Taha
Yassin Ramadan, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, Dr A K
Hashimi (Saddam's personal adviser), the ministers of
defense, economy, trade and health and the
unforgettable, insult-laden Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf of
the information ministry.
Similarly, how did the vast majority of the Ba'ath
Party leadership and the Republican Guard evade capture
What happened to the infrastructure of the regime -
the bulk of the estimated 500,000 elite?
What has happened to Saddam? Is he still in Iraq, in
Taramiya, not far from Tikrit, or in Mecca, as per wild
speculation in the Arab world?
Why were the oil fields in northern and southern
Iraq not set on fire - a tactic already used by Saddam
in Kuwait in 1991?
Where are Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction
- the official reason for the war?
confirm that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah - who enjoys
excellent relations with the Bush family - had been
working tirelessly for months for a political solution
to the Iraqi crisis. If Saddam is in Mecca, the
architect would surely have been Prince Abdullah. His
rationale always was to prevent by any means a long,
bloody guerrilla war in Iraq which would turn the whole
Middle East into a volcano. The Bush administration
rationale was to grab a chance to engineer an allegedly
quick post-Saddam stabilization process and so create a
shortcut to the much-talked-about but yet-unpublicized
roadmap supposed to solve the Israeli-Palestinian
At the beginning of the
war, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his
Pentagon briefings highlighted the constant flow of
"communications" between the Americans and Republican
Guard commanders. But Iraqis are now saying that the
most important set of secret channels was between
Republican Guard commanders and commanders of the
Fedayeen of Saddam. This channel completely bypassed
Saddam and his son Qusay - the de facto commander of the
defense of Baghdad.
The whole issue was about
survival, considering that the regime's demise,
confronted by overwhelming American power, was
inevitable. At least two Republican Guard divisions plus
the well-trained, well-fed, well-armed Special
Republican Guard could have raised hell against the
Americans in the defense of Baghdad. The Palestinization
of Iraq, coupled with a jihad fought like a guerrilla
war, could have lasted months, if not years. So as the
Americans approached Baghdad they came up with an offer
selected Iraqis could not refuse.
So the story
goes that a reward package for the "peaceful" handover
of Baghdad was offered to Republican Guard commanders
and, later on, the Fedayeen of Saddam. Republican Guard
commanders received a lot of cash, a "secure" relocation
outside of Iraq, and crucially for those not considered
war criminals, the promise of a new job in post-Saddam
Iraq. After all, the new American government will need
cadres to run the remains of the devastated state
apparatus. Top commanders were offered the option of
residency in the US, for themselves and their families,
and most of all the chance to play a relatively
prominent role linked to some factions of the Iraqi
opposition - basically the Iraqi National Congress (INC)
led by the Pentagon's pet Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi.
The story also goes that although there were
less than 50 human shields in Baghdad when the war
started, many had been coming and going since February.
The role played by some was not that of a completely
innocent bystander: they were Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) agents. These agents, equipped with
sophisticated micro-communication devices, were in fact
the only American "human intelligence" on the ground in
Baghdad. They worked as a kind of carrier pigeon in
meetings with key Republican Guard commanders.
Saddam and his son Qusay seem to have been
totally out of this loop. It's certainly difficult to
conceive that Ba'ath Party officials could not or did
not do enough to detect the spies among the human
shields placed in factories and water and power plants.
In most of these installations, there were underground
bunkers with a dizzying array of weapons - enough to
fuel a guerrilla war for years. It's an open secret in
Baghdad that these weapons were later duly discovered by
the Marines as they took control of the capital.
The CIA human shields updated and guided the
American forces to the bombing of key regime
installations, and to selected places where Saddam and
the Ba'ath Party leadership would meet: thus the origin
of the information that led to the "decapitation strike"
with four 900 kilogram bombs in the Mansur district on
April 8, the first night of the war. Saddam survived.
But 14 civilians were killed - members of two Christian
families, mostly women and children. Asia Times Online
has been to the site twice: for Baghdadis, it's an
unofficial shrine to the horrors of this war.
the Americans bribed the resistance, the order not to
resist started streaming from the top commanders down.
Republican Guard commanders told the rank-and-file that
the resistance would be secret and long-term, according
to Saddam and Qusay's long-elaborated scenario of a
guerrilla war. The "fall" of Saddam International
Airport was the first part of the deal. Another open
secret in Baghdad were the famous tunnels linking the
main Republican palace of Saddam to the airport.
Republican Guard commanders tipped off the Marines, and
the tunnels were immediately seized.
Saddam and top Ba'ath Party officials were out of the
handover loop was the promise by Mohammed Saeed
al-Sahaf, in one of his briefings, that the media should
expect an "unusual" Iraqi counter-attack to retake the
airport. Many thought about chemical and biological
warfare, when in fact the plan was to send Special
Republican Guards through the tunnels to take the
Americans by surprise. The surprise went the other way.
When the American Abrams tanks arrived close to
the Palestine Hotel - Baghdad's international media
headquarters - the "game" was practically over. The
Republican Guard commanders were about to be airlifted
out of Iraq, and their soldiers had orders to demobilize
and melt into the civilian population. Independent media
had to be intimidated, silenced or corralled - and
that's why the al-Jazeera office and the Abu Dhabi TV
office were hit, as well as the Palestine Hotel itself.
The deliberate communications and power black out of
Baghdad fit into the pattern: the Pentagon and the
Republican Guard had to be dancing together in the dark.
The commander of the Fedayeen of Saddam had
heard about the American offer to the Republican Guard
elite officers. He realized that his own best interests
were to get his own piece of the action. He got it. The
Fedayeen were instantly beheaded, and were left to roam
helplessly around Baghdad and finally dissolve into the
civilian population. Game over.
Baghdad now can
watch satellite TV in the streets. The communication
blackout is slowly being lifted. Away from the American
media spin, the same theme is being replayed over and
over again in Iraq, from Sunni neo-entrepreneurs to
Shi'ite clerics, from last week's unprecedented street
demonstration after jumma (Friday) prayers at the
Abu Hanifa mosque to the emotional convulsion of the
Shi'ite celebrations in Karbala: the Americans want
Iraq's oil, and the guerrilla war will start sooner or
George W Bush solemnly promised that war
criminals would be brought to trial in Iraq. There are
around 60 secret police headquarters in Baghdad. They
are all empty. The giant Mukhabarat complex - the secret
services' pleasure dome, thoroughly bombed by the
Americans - is empty. When one goes to these places,
still loaded with shredded, burned or partially readable
documents, only reporters are to be found: not a single
American forensic specialist. War criminals of lower
rank - Saddam's invisible professional torturers, the
so-called "B" list of the Ba'ath Party - are not being
pursued. Iraqis openly say that most of these people are
now seeking to work for the new occupying power: all
smiles in their newfound, nondescript, civilian clothes,
they were to be found starting from 9am every day
outside the Palestine Hotel, trying to get a job with
the Marines' Civil Affairs Unit. In an effort to
disclose names and responsibilities in a giant,
totalitarian police state, every bit of information is
helpful. The Americans are not even trying to make an
So all these unanswered questions keep
resurfacing in Baghdad. Like the mysterious "fires" in
dozens of ministries, in fact all of them except the
Ministry of Oil and the Ministry of Interior. The top
floor of the Ministry of Information - a mine of
information, in fact - was on fire in the middle of last
week. Marines on site were patrolling the streets. The
Ministry of Education was on fire by the end of last
week: Marines in the Palestine Hotel asked this
correspondent, "What city is that?"
Baghdad believe these recurrent fires were provoked by
the "remnants of Saddam's regime" - as goes the official
Washington line. They don't know for sure for whom the
arsonists are working. But they are asking themselves
three questions. Who profits from the destruction of the
whole infrastructure of the Iraqi state? Who profits
from the destruction of Iraq's invaluable cultural
wealth? And why are Americans soldiers just
blank-stared, gum-chewing spectators of all this
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