A branch of Saddam Hussein’s secret service is behind a wave of bombings and other attacks in Iraq in a guerrilla campaign planned even before the US-led invasion, according to a newly disclosed Pentagon report.
The insurgency waged by a directorate of the old Iraqi intelligence service called M-14 was disclosed last week in congressional testimony by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, with details elaborated Thursday by The New York Times.
Wolfowitz submitted a report from the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) on the M-14, ironically dubbed by Saddam the anti-terrorism directorate, that specialised in hijackings, assassinations and bombings.
The report said former M-14 agents were “currently involved in planning and conducting (attacks throughout Iraq with) numerous improvised explosive devices, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and radio-controlled improvised explosive devices.”
Wolfowitz said they were also the source of the “fairly sophisticated explosives” taking a toll on US forces as they battle insurgents in the Sunni Muslim stronghold of Fallujah and elsewhere.
The explosives section of M-14 began preparing the campaign before the March 19, 2003 invasion, constructing hundreds of suicide vests and belts for use by the elite Saddam Fedayeen militia, Wolfowitz told Congress.
He said the Iraqi intelligence service established cells in an organisation that was “purposely decentralized so attacks could be carried out in the event that cell leaders were captured and killed.”
As US troops drove on Baghdad last April, officers expressed concern that significant portions of the Republican Guard, Saddam Fedayeen and other Iraqi forces were melting away with their weapons.
But the new Pentagon report was the first indication that Saddam, who was captured in December, might have been planning for guerrilla warfare at the outset. US officials still refer to insurgents as isolated thugs and terrorists.
The New York Times quoted US officials as saying M-14 officers were responsible for “the majority of attacks” today in Iraq.
One senior US official who read the seven-page DIA report told the Times “we know the M-14 is operating in Fallujah and Ramadi,” two bastions of resistance to the occupation west of Baghdad.
The paper said the guerrilla plan was dubbed “The Challenge Project” and was drafted as US-led forces prepared to strike Iraq. It called for M-14 officers to scatter and lead an insurgency using bombings and other attacks.
“They carefully laid plans to occupy the occupiers,” another US official told the Times. “They were prepared to try and hijack the country. The goal was to complicate the stabilization mission and democratization” of Iraq.
John Pike, director of the GlobalSecurity.org defense think tank, said early plans for guerrilla warfare could be one explanation for the collapse of the Iraqi army as US-led forces rolled through the desert last year.
Pike also said the sudden burst in kidnappings of foreigners this month was likely the work of one group, perhaps M-14. “The good news is that that has stopped. The bad news is that I assume it can get turned back on.”
Retired army general William Nash, a military analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, said the guerrilla insurgency could have been an early contingency plan that only blossomed later.
Otherwise, Nash asked, why was there not a better plan to hide and protect Saddam, who was found dirty and unkempt in a spider hole underneath a farm near his hometown of Tikrit?
Saddam was not military genius, said Nash, also a consultant for television. But since his arrest “other people have taken over and more and more it (the insurgency) seems to be a directed effort.”
“It’s clear that they have not only been able to sustain some organisation but to rebuild and recruit,” he said.