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Saddam's SS By: Barry R. McCaffrey
The Wall Street Journal | Wednesday, October 16, 2002


The survival of Saddam Hussein's regime, and the continuation of his clandestine nuclear-chemical-radiological-biological program, depends fundamentally on the fighting ability and loyalty of the elite Republican Guard, a force of some 100,000 brutal, combat-hardened troops. The Guard is to Saddam what the Waffen-SS divisions were to Hitler during the closing months of 1945 -- a hammer to keep a desperate people fighting, and a powerful military tool to hold their enemies at bay, if only temporarily.

Iraq commands armed forces of one million men, including reserves. They are equipped with an immense armored force of 2,200 main battle tanks, 3,800 armored infantry vehicles, and 1,700 artillery pieces. This military is still a ferocious threat to Iraq's neighbors. However, in general, the armed forces are badly trained and led -- morale is low -- their equipment is in terrible condition. Under attack by a pounding U.S. air-ground-sea assault, the Iraqis are going to unravel. The Republican Guard is the exception. They will fight. And they will do so with varying degrees of combat effectiveness.

The Guard is now a weak shadow of its former self. In 1990, it was a large force of modern and heavily armed formations, comprised of eight divisions, 12 separate brigades, and 150,000 volunteers. Today, Iraq has a Guard order-of-battle of 60,000 to 80,000 men organized into six combat divisions. The three tank divisions, Hammurabi, al Nida and Medina, are the heart of this fighting force, each with 8,000 troops. These divisions are held in strategic reserve around Baghdad.

Saddam's ultimate protection is his "Golden Division" of the Special Republican Guard. Organized into four brigades, these 15,000 troops are known for their loyalty, and are carefully selected from Saddam's Tikrit tribal alliances. The Special Guard has heavily equipped, combined-arms formations complete with tanks, artillery, and air defense. This force moves Saddam between his many secure locations. They also guard and move stockpiles of chemical and biological agents, and secure the nuclear weapons development program. In turn, they are closely watched by competing intelligence services.

Combined, the six Guard combat divisions and the four Special Guard guard brigades are formidable fighting formations which will kill without mercy. They have existed in constant warfare since 1980. They are executed if they hesitate to follow orders. Most of their leaders come from the minority 20% Sunni population. These leaders know that a ruinous fate will befall them if they should end up in the hands of the Shia and Kurdish populations whom they have so cruelly repressed.

However, in my judgment the Republican Guard forces simply are not capable of dealing with the violence, tempo, night operations, and precision munitions of a U.S.-British air-ground assault. Untrained in urban warfare, they would be largely surrounded in the cities by a Shia population that despises them. The Guard forces have also suffered greatly from sanctions: Their equipment is poorly maintained, their training days are greatly decreased, and their scruffy appearance hints at the general malaise of the army. Many of their best leaders have been murdered by Saddam, killed in battle or loaned to the regular army to support its primary objective -- to repress the people. Finally, it is believed that few of the common soldiers have the stomach to die for Saddam.

The conflict on the battlefield, however, will be bloody at times, and will likely involve the employment of chemical weapons to attack U.S. forces upon arrival. In the end, allied forces will be compelled to kill the 15,000 troops of the Special Guard, and the cohesion of the Guard divisions will be pulled apart. Unfortunately, U.S. forces are likely to endure significant casualties during a short and violent military campaign. The outcome of this military operation will end Saddam's regime, and cleanse Iraq of her nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It will also mark the beginning of a lengthy international nation-building effort to create a peaceful and viable Iraq.

Gen. McCaffrey is a professor of national security studies at West Point. He earned three Purple Hearts in Vietnam and led the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division.




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