Report: Saddam's 'last circle' ready to die for him

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, his military decimated, still has thousands of bodyguards and fighters ready to die for him, a new report says.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies asserts that Saddam has organized several units that would fight to their death in defense of the president. The Washington-based center said such units include military intelligence, internal security forces, bodyguard details and youth militias.

"Iraq has extensive military intelligence and internal security forces, and they are designed to force military units to be loyal to Saddam to the last," the report, authored by senior fellow Anthony Cordesman, said. "Their success may be marginal in many areas, but some of these forces have combat elements, and many may feel their survival is tied to that of the regime."

The report, entitled "Saddam's Last Circle: The Core Forces Likely to Protect Saddam in the Battle of Baghdad," listed some of the units that would die for Saddam. Written on March 18, the eve of the war, Cordesman's study cites the Military Intelligence Service, a unit of up to 6,000 people based in Baghdad and which reports directly to Saddam. The force focuses on eliminating subversion within the military forces.

Another unit that has already seen significant action is Fedayeen Saddam which is commanded by Lt. Gen. Mezahem Saab Al Hassan Al Tikriti.

Other Iraqi units being prepared for suicide missions include the Popular Army, which Iraq claimed had as many as seven milllion members, and the Ashbal [Lions] of Saddam, a youth paramilitary group. The Ashbal recruits youngsters ages 10 to 16.

Saddam also has a presidential secretariat that contains 100 staffers.

They are responsible for Saddam's personal security. The secretariat is headed by Lt. Gen. Abi Hamid Mahmud, a cousin of Saddam and head of two Sunni Iraqi tribes.

"Mahmud is regarded by some as the real number two figure in the Iraqi leadership," the report said. "He controls all access to Saddam possibly with the exception of Qusay and Uday Hussein and has the ability to override government decisions."

Mahmud is also a member of the Special Security Committee, created in 1996 and which protects presidential office, ministers and Baath leaders. The report said the committee, the deputy chairman of which is Qusay, is the only organization responsible for providing bodyguards to Saddam and his sons.

The report said about 40 bodyguards are responsible for Saddam's immediate security and they mostly come from Saddam's tribe in Tikrit. The report said the U.S. search for Saddam will be difficult. Cordesman cites the huge security network as well as the constant movement by the president.

"Saddam is always under deep cover," the report said. "He moves constantly, has a wide range of shelters and facilities, and often conceals himself in buildings or facilities outside palace compounds."

The report said Iraq has obtained techniques for the building of shelters from the former Yugoslavia. In addition, Saddam has built a network of shelters and underground facilities, connected by tunnels.

The Special Security Service controlled by Qusay, is regarded as an ultra-loyal force with up to 5,000 men who protect Saddam and ensure the loyalty of other services. The organization has its headquarters on Palestine Street in Baghdad.

The organization has two key agencies. One, termed the Special Protection Apparatus, is composed of an elite group of bodyguards from Saddam's Abu Nasir tribe. The other, the Special Location Group, protects Saddam in all of his homes and his family. The Salih or Mobile Group protects him while moving.

"[They] will probably die for Saddam," the report said.

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