Today's date:





Kanan Makiya is a leading opposition figure in the Iraqi National Congress living in exile and author, under the pseudonym Samir Al-Khalil, of the 1991 book on Saddam's Iraq, "The Republic of Fear." Global Viewpoint will periodically carry his reports as the war in Iraq advances.

By Kanan Makiya

LONDON -- The world is now getting acquainted with the Fedayeen Saddam, the thugs who are keeping Iraqi citizens in check, most vividly right now in the cities of the south. Western estimates of their strength vary -- on Thursday (March 27), U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put their size at "probably somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000" -- but Iraqi opposition sources say they number at around 50,000, in regiments of 3,000 across Iraq's 18 provinces. They were created by Saddam's elder son Uday in 1991 with the specific purpose of countering any future intifada, especially in the predominantly Shiite south. (Saddam has since given control the Fedayeen over to his more stable son Qusay.) According to a former Iraqi intelligence officer -- let us call him Khalid -- who worked for the opposition while he was still in the security services and only made his (narrow) escape when his activities were uncovered, the organization largely recruits young teenagers, whose families are impoverished. The sanctions did a great deal to draw such jobless kids into the Fedayeen. The organization is known also to have drawn from criminal elements.

The Fedayeen training in the infamous camps of Salman Pak, Khalid says, is characterized by its intensity and its deliberate attempts, through psychological means, to isolate recruits from society at large and transform them into a fiercely disciplined and deliberately cruel force. The training instills in recruits a sense of paranoia, the feeling that the very precariousness of the regime is a personal threat to them. This is a force that sees plots against the regime everywhere, even though the regime is all-powerful over them. This paranoia soon turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the people they terrorize would gladly rip them limb from limb if they got half a chance. The Fedayeen, in other words, is a force that knows what fate awaits it after liberation. Khalid is certain that, unlike the regular army, they will therefore fight to the finish.

Khalid says the Fedayeen are armed with guns, rifles, grenades and in some cases RPGs and mortars. They are trained in explosives and taught to fight without weapons, or with whatever they can scavenge in a city: judo, knives, hand-to-hand combat. In order to escape detection, not every Fedayeen member travels around armed. What this force seems to have done in preparation for the war is to hide weapons caches in each town, in nondescript places. When it comes time to fight, they go from place to place as civilians, locate their weapons and surprise their targets.

Fedayeen Saddam are ubiquitous. But, Khalid says, they are frequently strangers to the towns and cities in which they operate. This is their Achilles' heel, but it is also the essential ingredient of what makes them cohere as a force whose first and foremost task is to act as an insurance policy against another intifada. Now that the war to destroy Saddam is underway, the regime is collecting on that insurance policy.

Khalid got a call from a friend in the all-Shia city of Najaf on Tuesday (March 25). Khalid shouted in frustration at him, "Where is the intifada?" The American and British tanks were sitting right outside the city, and he urged his friend to get with it, as liberation had finally arrived. His friend responded, "How can I make an intifada? If I go outside the Fedayeen will kill me." He told Khalid the bloody Fedayeen are everywhere, and he was darting his eyes around in fear every time someone looked at him for too long.

The Fedayeen operate in small units, keeping in contact with one another other by radio. But their chain of command is not like that of an army. They have been trained to take cues from state television, Khalid says. If the Americans and the British were to take out Iraqi state television, there would be a sudden increase in cell phone calls among the Fedayeen, but confusion would set in and morale would diminish. Fearing retribution, they would probably try to melt away into the population in the event of a breakdown in their chain of command.

The danger is that the Americans won't know how to tell them apart from ordinary Iraqis. Indeed, rooting out such a force will be virtually impossible for anyone who does not have an intimate familiarity with Iraqi society and daily life under Saddam. The Fedayeen, Khalid says, move about stiffly, as if their military training hangs around their necks. They typically look cleaner than the rest of the people in a town. But only Iraqis will be able to judge these things, to determine who is suspicious and why. It will eventually be the nuances that give these thugs away.

Khalid says he knows how to fight these men; he says he knows how to tell one apart from the other. But extracting the thugs of Saddam's police state, and communicating with Iraqis who can help do this, are not something that can be written on a three-by-five rules-of-engagement card. The opposition has a lot of people like Khalid, who grasp intuitively what would take months to teach to coalition forces, through no fault of their own.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 3/26/03)