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Sunday, 12/12/2004 6:34:41 PM

Sunday, December 12, 2004 6:34:41 PM

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Seeds of Chaos

Top Stories - U.S. News & World Report
Sat Dec 11, 5:17 PM ET
By Edward T. Pound

In the fall of 2002, several months before the United States and its allies invaded Iraq (news - web sites), Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) dispatched more than 1,000 security and intelligence officers to two military facilities near Baghdad where they underwent two months of guerrilla training, according to a secret U.S. military intelligence report.

Anticipating his defeat, intelligence reports show, the Iraqi dictator began laying the foundation for an insurgency as Washington worked to convince the United Nations (news - web sites) and allies around the world that Saddam had to go.

The insurgency that has gripped much of Iraq the past 19 months wears many faces and has many different actors. But Baath Party operatives linked to Saddam, along with Sunni extremists from both inside and outside Iraq, have played a central role in resisting U.S.-led forces and the creation of a new democratic government in Baghdad. Although Saddam and many of his relatives and top aides have been captured or killed, American intelligence officials and others say that his supporters remain a formidable foe. "I believe that Saddam regime elements are still playing a significant role in the insurgency," says Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon (news - web sites) official who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq. "Of course, there are many other insurgents--radical Islamists supported by Iran, for example--but most certainly, Saddam planned his insurgency long before we invaded Iraq."

Until now, it hasn't been clear how Saddam created his guerrilla force or what role he played in directing attacks against U.S. troops and allied forces on the ground. But classified intelligence reports, reviewed by U.S. News, provide the clearest picture yet of his role in planning and carrying out an insurgency before he was captured in his "spider hole" last December, near his hometown of Tikrit. They also detail the roles some key regime aides have played in the insurgency.

The reports cover the period July 2003 through early 2004; they are based on interviews with Iraqis and other sources throughout Iraq, including fighters captured by U.S.-led forces. Most of the reports were prepared by U.S. analysts and military intelligence officers, although they also include assessments by British intelligence officials. The reporting organizations include the CIA; the Defense Intelligence Agency; the Iraq Survey Group, which was dispatched to Iraq to hunt for weapons of mass destruction; the Coalition Provisional Authority, the caretaker government in Iraq until last June; and various American military commands and units on the ground.

Although many of the raw intelligence reports are uncorroborated, interviews with current and former government officials indicate that information linking Saddam to early planning of an insurgency was right on the money. In his public report issued in October, Charles Duelfer, the chief weapons inspector for the Iraq Survey Group, suggested that Saddam was planning an insurgency as the U.S.-led invasion neared in March 2003. Duelfer wrote: "In Saddam's last ministers' meeting . . . just before the war began, he told the attendees at least three times, 'Resist one week, and after that I will take over . . .' There are indications that what Saddam actually had in mind was some form of insurgency against the coalition."

Project 111. Thousands of pages of secret intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News spell out some of Saddam's plans in vivid detail, along with the activities of other elements of the insurgency. Saddam, the reports say, reportedly established "new subversive organizations"--including Jaish Muhammad, known as the Army of Muhammad, and the Black Falcons--to carry out attacks against coalition forces. The reports say he also directed regime leaders and supporters to use Sunni mosques for clandestine meeting places, and several reports describe how mosques were used to store weapons. Saddam, the reports say, sought to create a secret communications network, code named Project 111, and also reportedly developed Plan 549, a scheme to attack water plants throughout Iraq.

In one of their most important discoveries, coalition forces uncovered a July 2003 Baath Party memo that provides rare insight into the insurgency being carried out by former Saddam operatives. A report distributed to the intelligence community by Intelink, the highly classified government website, describes the memo: "The document outlined the recommended structure for resistance groups fighting coalition forces. . . . The document dictates the need for secrecy and directs a transition to covert operations. . . . Memo highlights: Organization of cells was to be small and closed in order to prevent penetration by coalition forces (five members). . . . Members were encouraged to avoid written communication and common party language; days, numbers, and locations should be encoded. Emergency operations are listed for situations when member of cell or group is detained . . . . Party members should have their loyalties continuously tested and always have a cover story prepared for their activities."

According to the secret reports, insurgents linked to Saddam or his supporters carried out numerous attacks and bombings, sometimes at his direction. One military report linked the Oct. 26, 2003, rocket attack on the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying, to a relative of a Saddam crony, Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali" for his purported role in the 1988 chemical attack on Kurdish villagers.

Numerous reports indicate that Saddam's forces were working with foreign terrorists, including al Qaeda, in carrying out some attacks on coalition forces and Iraqi citizens. "Many Iraqis," wrote a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst in November 2003, "believe foreign terrorist groups are collaborating with Saddam to conduct attacks." Another report, prepared by a military analyst, said al Qaeda was providing funds to some former Iraqi military personnel: "Al Qaeda is capitalizing on the current economic plight of former military members and local Iraqis by enticing them with monetary rewards." Uncorroborated reports from informers suggested that al Qaeda and former regime members also were behind a bombing that killed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, a leading Shiite cleric, in August 2003. Others also were suspected in Hakim's murder, which remains unsolved.

Saddam's firepower came from what intelligence reports describe as "former regime elements," or FRE s. In a 10-page "special analysis" of the FRE s prepared Dec. 8, 2003, just days before Saddam's capture, the DIA's Joint Intelligence Task Force said that Saddam and his allies "appear to have planned for an insurgency before the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom." The report describes the FRE s as primarily Sunnis who once served under Saddam, including the paramilitary force, the Fedayeen Saddam, the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the Special Security Organization, the Special Republican Guard, and former Baath Party leaders.

According to the report, which cited "multiple sources," the FRE s' insurgency has "grown in coordination, command and control, and lethality." Former regime elements, it says, trained in "guerrilla and terrorist tactics" and had access to small arms, mortars, rockets, and other weapons, including man-portable surface-to-air missiles. "FRE s retain access to virtually all the weapons systems and ordnance previously controlled by the Iraqi military, security, and intelligence assets," the report says, citing "unsecured arms depots and storage sites. "FRE s' prewar "operating and support structure, access to resources, and training and capabilities," the report says, "make them the greatest threat of all anticoalition groups in the near term." It concludes that the FRE s "are assessed to be behind the majority of attacks" in Iraq.

"Last Friday's Army. " That assessment remains true today, says Army Brig. Gen. John DeFreitas, the Pentagon's senior intelligence officer in Iraq. In an interview, DeFreitas said that while the insurgency has many faces, the former regime elements clearly are the biggest problem. Some insurgents remain loyal to Saddam, the general said, but what they really want is to return to power. "You have a power struggle going on here," DeFreitas explained. "The old regime controlled the reins of power in the country for years, and they are not willing to let them go without a fight."

Others ascribe a range of motivations to the insurgents. "The vast majority," says Anthony Cordesman, a prominent defense analyst and Middle East expert, "are Sunni Arabs motivated by nationalism, religion, fear of loss of power to the Shiites, anger at [the] U.S., anger at occupiers, and sometimes profit or simply being caught up in events."

Sorting out the elements of the insurgency is mind-boggling work and may help explain why coalition forces have had such a difficult time keeping the peace in Iraq. For one thing, no one seems to really know how many insurgents there actually are. Estimates range to as high as 20,000, but current and former government officials say coalition forces simply don't know how many there are. Ahmed Hashim, a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College, has studied the insurgency and concluded in a paper last summer that the "insurgency is not a monolithic, united movement directed by a leadership with a unitary and disciplined ideological vision." David Kay, the former chief weapons inspector for the Iraq Survey Group, agrees. "There is still no agreement" in U.S. government circles," Kay says, "on what the insurgency is--its structure and command."

Given the mayhem in the provinces of Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad Din, and Ninawa, such confusion seems understandable. The insurgency includes not just Sunnis and former Baathists who want to turn back the clock but also militant jihadists and foreign fighters determined to make their stand in Iraq. Each day, it seems, another terrorist group is born, albeit sometimes with very few members. They have had names such as "the Army of Hawks," the "Jihad al-Islam," and "Last Friday's Army." Nearly 1,300 U.S. military personnel have died in the Iraqi conflict.

Militant Shiites, primarily the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, also have fought fierce battles with coalition forces in Najaf and Baghdad, although Sadr reached a cease-fire in October with the United States and Iraq's interim government. In addition, according to the intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News, Iraq's next-door neighbor, Iran, set up an intelligence network in Iraq in the months after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam, helped finance Sadr, and trained terrorists and planned attacks against U.S. forces. Iran's role in Iraq was detailed last month by this magazine.

Whatever their motivation, the insurgents all want the U.S-led coalition out of Iraq. To that end, there have been some strange marriages. Ansar al-Islam, a Sunni Muslim group of Iraqi Kurds and Arabs that has carried out some of the most violent attacks, is believed to have ties to the Fedayeen Saddam paramilitary force. But the terrorist group also has worked with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to intelligence reports. Saddam's regime and Tehran were bitter enemies; the two countries fought a brutal eight-year war in the 1980s. "We think a lot of the groups will work together, short term, for tactical benefits," a senior U.S. military intelligence official says. "The short-term goal is to get us out of [Iraq], and that allows for tactical cooperation."

Whether Saddam has discussed his role in the insurgency with his captors isn't known, but there is little question about the importance of that role. In the fall of 2002, according to a report issued by the Pentagon's Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, Saddam ordered between 1,000 and 1,200 officers to undergo guerrilla training at military facilities at Salman Pak and Bismayah, near Baghdad. "Young and talented officers" from the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the Directorate of Military Intelligence, and the Directorate of General Security "were chosen to attend two months of training," the task force report says. "The officers were assigned numbers and aliases while in training. Saddam Hussein numbered himself 'No. 1.' " The officers "were told to prepare themselves for recontact following the collapse of the regime," the report says. In August, as the insurgency grew more violent, the report continues, the officers were directed to begin attacks on the coalition: "Network commanders stated they were prepared to provide money, cars, and explosives."

The officers weren't alone. The Army of Muhammad and another militant group linked to Saddam known as Hizb al Awda (the Party of the Return) also began planning attacks, according to other military intelligence reports.

They were to include bombings against oil pipelines, electrical plants, and military convoys, the report says, as well as assassinations of Iraqi government officials and other Iraqis "suspected of cooperating with western and U.S. militaries."

The Army of Muhammad, a Baathist group composed of former intelligence, security, and police officers in Saddam's regime, has been a particular source of trouble. It publicly claimed credit for downing an American Chinook helicopter in November 2003, near Fallujah, that killed 16 Americans. It was also heavily involved in the recent battle in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. In an intelligence report in late 2003, an analyst at coalition headquarters in Baghdad wrote that the Army of Muhammad "uses cash bonuses, as well as health and death benefits, to recruit members." Army leadership, the report says, uses "a combination of nationalism and Sunni Islamic zealotry to motivate its fighters." Another report identified Sayf al-Din Fulayyih Hasan, who was chief of staff of Saddam's Republican Guard, as a principal leader of the group. He remains at large.

Saddam's allies, at his reported direction, planned and carried out attacks against Iraqi police, in an intimidation campaign. Another Saddam-linked group, the Black Falcons, was tasked to target coalition forces with improvised explosive devices, or IED s. According to an Iraq Survey Group intelligence report, the Black Falcons were directed by former military and intelligence officials loyal to Saddam. Still other reports say that Saddam targeted water plants. A report prepared at the military's coalition headquarters in Baghdad tells the story: "Plan 549, a document purporting to provide guidance from Saddam Hussein to his forces . . . calls for attacks on water plants. Such attacks could be devastating in terms of the populace's confidence in the coalition and public order." In late November 2003, U.S.-led forces "detained an individual who had over 40 videotapes of water purification sites throughout Iraq," a military task force report said. "The tapes were used for reconnaissance for future attacks."

Agents in place. The intelligence provides no clarity on how Saddam communicated with insurgents loyal to him. But one report, a "daily threat assessment" issued in December 2003 by the Iraq Survey Group and the Coalition Provisional Authority, makes it clear that Saddam was actively directing his forces. "Previous reporting indicates Saddam Hussein had sent a communique to his supporters," the report says, "indicating a more concerted effort should be made to capture coalition forces to exchange for captured former regime elements."

Several former Saddam aides were identified in the reports as key figures in the insurgency. They include Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, who was chairman of the regime's National Security Council, and Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmed, a leader in the Baath Party's Military Bureau. Both men remain at large. In a raid last December on a Samarra safe house, allegedly controlled by Duri's associates, coalition forces discovered $1.94 million in cash. Duri and Ahmed, the reports say, have "provided guidance and funding" for insurgents who flocked to northern Mosul, one of Iraq's largest cities, both before and shortly after the invasion. One military assessment says that an estimated 1,200 fedayeen fighters were based in Mosul at the time of the invasion. Another "1,000 former military leaders and Baath loyalists have taken up residence since the fall of the regime," the report says. "Reporting indicates at least a dozen FRE groups are currently operating in the city." Mosul remains a serious trouble spot and a haven for former Saddam loyalists and some foreign terrorists, U.S. military officials say.

Infiltrating operations. Saddam's hand in the insurgency was not always clear to analysts, who repeatedly described attacks and planned operations as the handiwork of former regime elements or "former regime loyalists," without any specific reference to the individuals involved. One report, citing "foreign government service sensitive reporting," says Baath Party members were offering money to Iraqis and others to carry out assassinations and attacks on Iraqi infrastructure. Former regime intelligence officers also infiltrated coalition operations, including the Coalition Provisional Authority, and planted agents as journalists in some media operations, according to various reports. Former regime elements "are seizing the opportunity to place agents in positions that permit them to monitor all coalition activities from the inside," a headquarters military analyst in Baghdad wrote more than a year ago. "Background investigations of these individuals to try and eliminate possible spies will become a necessity if any semblance of both internal and operational security is to be maintained."

Numerous reports linked al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam to former regime operatives. "Reporting suggests greater cooperation between FRE and various actors--foreign elements and criminals--to facilitate violence," a military analyst wrote last January. These insurgents, the analyst wrote, favored "standoff" terrorist techniques--remotely detonated car bombs, roadside bombs, and mortar and rocket attacks.

Saddam's role in the insurgency ended last December 13 when American troops finally captured the disheveled former dictator. It was quite a comedown for a man who had lived lavishly and killed and tortured with abandon for more than a quarter century. The way U.S. intelligence analysts saw it, just days later, Saddam's capture would change little about the insurgency. New leaders would spring up among the former regime elements, they wrote. And they predicted, accurately, that the insurgency's attacks would continue, and even worsen. "The capture of Saddam Hussein will not likely deter insurgents who are fighting to 'free Iraq' from occupation," wrote an analyst for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. "The perceived humiliation of the former Iraqi leader by current occupiers seen on international television, the lack of basic infrastructure needs, and the presence of foreign troops on Iraq's soil will continue to fuel support to a variety of terrorist groups."