Iraq Bombings: Aim to destabilise Saddam's security

The Military Analysis
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The Independent Online
DETAILED ANALYSIS of the West's targets in Iraq suggest Britain and America are no longer content to weaken Saddam's military capacity. Experts believe they are also trying to threaten his very regime.

The targeting of Saddam's daughter's house, the barracks of the Special Republican Guard and military intelligence headquarters reveal that Operation Desert Fox has become distinctly personal.

"The policy of Britain and America has undergone a sea-change," said Professor Paul Rogers, of Bradford University's department of peace studies. "It is no longer satisfied with trying to contain Saddam."

Information released yesterday by the Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation, the media arm of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, detailed the security and military targets across Iraq which had been hit in the first two nights of bombing.

The initial attacks launched by Britain and the US concentrated on airfields, radar sites and conventional military bases. Two key airfields - at Rashid, near Baghdad, and Mosul - were hit early, as were Republican Guard bases, armoured units and army headquarters.

This was all in the line with the West's repeatedly stated intention of the operation, namely to "degrade" Saddam's capacity to make "weapons of mass destruction" and to reduce the military threat he poses to his neighbours.

At a briefing yesterday, the Defence Secretary, George Robertson, repeated this line saying that failure to comply with UN resolutions will lead to continued attacks and tightening of sanctions. "The policy is based on a very simple, clear message. We are not going to go away," he said. "We have a clear long-term strategy. Until he complies fully, we will not withdraw the threat of further military action without warning."

But behind the soundbites, repeated at times like a mantra, there lurks a far more radical intention on the part of the West. Messed around repeatedly for seven years, taken to the brink too many times by the master of brinkmanship, it appears the West - or at least some members of the West - have had enough of Saddam Hussein.

The MoD was keen to stress yesterday that all of the locations attacked over the past three days were legitimate military targets.

General Sir Charles Guthrie, chief of the defence staff, stressed that all the targets had been selected with great care. "We have had eight years since the Gulf War to identify the key targets," he said. "Our aim is not to destroy Saddam's forces but to cripple them by hitting these key points."

But analysis of the sites shows that is not the full picture.

Tim Trevan, a former spokesman for Unscom, the UN commission whose job has been to uncover Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, said: "The sites chosen are very apposite to Britain and America's aims. They have chosen the airbases and military headquarters to reduce Saddam's capacity to wage war, but there have also been other targets."

He pointed out that the coalition had also bombed the house of Saddam's daughter, Hala. This was intended to psychologically damage him, in much the same way as the 1985 bombers of Libya targeted Colonel Gaddafi's daughter.

Likewise the attacks on the barracks of the Special Republican Guard and the headquarters of the Special Security Organisation - both organisations key to Saddam's personal security - were designed to undermine his safety both psychologically and in reality, he said.

According to the IBC, the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service was also hit. The IIS, or Mukhabarat, is probably the most important of Iraq's intelligence organisations, spying and mounting covert operations abroad, and maintaining a guard against subversion at home. Ten other offices of the Mukhabarat were hit across the city.

The US also hit the Special Security Service, or Al Amn Al Khas, whose primary duty is the close protection of key members of the Baath party.

The heaviest damage, however, appears to have been done to facilities of the Special Republican Guard. This unit, some 25,000 strong, holds the keys to the regime.

As well as functioning as an elite combat unit, it is responsible for guarding the President, his family and their homes, key strategic locations, and maintaining security.

Indeed, if the IBC reports are correct, then perhaps a dozen different locations of the SRG have been hit. They were, apparently, targeted in the first wave of strikes, on Wednesday, indicating that the US hoped to have caught the SRG unaware, with its members sleeping.

Amongst units that seem to have been hit from the First Brigade, which is largely charged with security duties, are the First Battalion, which escorts Saddam's motorcades and operates 150 Mercedes, the Second Battalion, which runs protection for presidential sites, and the Seventh Battalion, a plain-clothes unit which protects officials' residences.

Outside Baghdad, the US also hit SRG sites in the presidential area in Mosul, in northern Iraq, and at Jebel Mak-Hool, a key presidential site near the central Iraqi town of Samarra.

Slowly but surely , the props which have supported Saddam are being bombed away.

"The West has had three options. It could either let Saddam carry on regardless, it could try a policy of containment or it could be seen to try to get rid of him," said Mr Trevan. "It would seem that Britain is now moving towards the third option."

He said that with hindsight, the West's policy of trying to deal with Saddam through the weapons inspectors was flawed from the start.

"The policy was based on the notion that through sanctions and the threat of military action, Saddam would be punished if he did not comply," he said. "I think everyone underestimated just how obstinate he was going to be. After five years of living with sanctions there was no way these were going to effective. He was not in danger as long as the people he relied on to keep power did not go without.

"It basically means they have given up on the weapons inspectors and are now going to deal with Saddam through sanctions and the use of military force whenever he gets too powerful."

If America and Britain are trying to get rid of Saddam, it is a policy which brings its own dangers. Not only would it threaten huge instability in an unstable area, but Saddam would not go willingly.

"If the West is trying to bring down Saddam it is an extremely dangerous option," said Professor Rogers. "This regime is all about staying in power. If there came a time when he was threatened it might be the occasion when he would use those biological weapons."