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Monday, March 31, 2003

Saddam Eyes Endgame, Gathers in His Elite Forces
The Iraq war is resolving itself into a battle of wits whose lines are deliberately blurred by the bravado, ambiguous maneuvers and half-truths propagated by both sides. The protagonists are US General Tommy Franks and Saddam Hussein. The score on Day 12 of the war is even. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources and military analysts stress that both are perfectly aware that the war will end in an American battlefield victory. With an eye on the endgame, the two are maneuvering over its cost.
Exactly!! There are no two ways about the fact that the Coalition forces are going to win this war. It is inconceivable that the combined might of US and UK air-force, army, navy and dolphins could be defeated by the Iraqis. The only thing that matters for both the sides is the cost of war.Franks’ goal is a victory with the lowest number of American casualties, whereas Saddam, who has no inhibitions about the human cost to his army and people, seeks to extract from the conflict enough leverage to dictate the conditions for his and his sons’ survival.Saddam has been playing a game of chess in last couple of days. He has pulled back his Republican Guard from many major cities. In doing so he has beefed up the Republican Guard presence around his two centres of power. viz. Baghdad and Tikrit. All indications of the fact that Saddam knows that the war will never result in an Iraqi victory. Only thing that remains is to salvage his pride.

On another front, the Sunni Saddam is striving to enlist a powerful weapon, the rival Shiah, Iraq’s largest population segment.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report that, Sunday, March 30, Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei directed Iraqi Shiites not to rise up against Saddam Hussein or help the US-UK coalition topple his regime. The order was conveyed through their leaders – the Tehran-based SCIRI (Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq) and the Dawa Party. The Tehran government’s calculus was simple: The Shiites can afford to stand aside while the Iraqis and Americans spill each other’s blood. The Shiites will gather the spoils whoever comes out on top.
Saddam, picking up fast on the Tehran-Shiite strategy, directed his spokesmen to start using Shiite terminology. The Iraqi officer who blew himself up to murder four American soldiers near Najef was posthumously renamed Al-Husayn Ben Ali after the son of the first Iraqi Shiite leader who lived in the Karbala region in the seventh century. This gesture was aimed at making the suicide bomber a martyr honored by the Shiites.
In the Arab world, its all about being a martyr for a cause. If the Shiites view the suicide bomber's death in the light that Saddam wants them to see, any hopes of a Shiite upsrising in the North or anywhere in Iraq would remain a pipe-dream for the Allies.
It is hard for the American psy-op machine to get a handle on these arcane yet tidal semantic currents or fit the coalition message into their powerful religious context. In the race for the hearts of the Shiites who make up more than half of Iraq’s population Saddam has the advantage of being able to manipulate these nuances, leaving coalition forces to address the Shiites in what sounds to them like an alien tongue.
The price for this unfamiliarity with shifting local mores was paid on Sunday, March 30, when British forces launched Operation James in the Basra region and failed to make headway after finding themselves let down by the predominantly Shiite citizenry. For Basra’s Shiites, the Imam Ali is clearly a far more potent icon than 007.
Clearly, Gen. Franks needs to chalk a strategy that takes into account Saddam's mind-games. Flyers and pamphlets do not make as much of a psychological impact as do the subtle communal machinations of the tyrant of Baghdad.


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Sameer/Male/27. Hails from India/Maharashtra/Mumbai/Prabhadevi, speaks Marathi, English and Hindi. Spends 60% of daytime online. Uses a Faster (1M+) connection. And likes Reading/Computers.