Tuesday, March 25, 2003

The war goes on :
Guard are dictator's last hope
By Rachel Morris and agencies
March 26, 2003

THEY are highly trained, armed to the teeth and apparently blindly loyal to their President and brother in arms Saddam Hussein.
The Republican Guard which lies in wait for coalition forces as they approach the capital Baghdad are their master's trump card in this war.
Concealed in entrenched positions around schools, hospitals and mosques � away from military buildings that might be targeted by allied bombers � they are ready to fight.
They are better equipped, better trained and better motivated than the conscripted foot soldiers who have surrendered en masse.
"There will be surprises," coalition forces commander General Tommy Franks said last week. "We have not yet seen them."
The Republican Guard was formed in 1986 when Saddam's army suffered surprise defeats at the hands of arch enemy and neighbour Iran.
They also pioneered the modern use of mustard gas and other chemicals.
It is believed the Guard has six divisions with about 60,000 men.
There is also the Special Republican Guard with 15,000 men and 100 tanks.
The Special Republican Guard is now the only major force trusted enough to operate in central Baghdad and provide protection for Saddam and his inner circle.
And inside the Republican Guard is the elite of the elite � the Fedayeen Saddam � which has been planted into the regular army to stop them from surrendering.
The regular army is so distrusted by the highest levels of the Iraqi regime that, before this conflict, tank units were issued with only six shells for their guns so there was no chance they could launch a successful rebellion.
When the regular army is defeated, the Fedayeen Saddam then go behind the lines and attack coalition forces.
The members cover their faces and alternate between white uniforms in summer and black in winter.
The key to the Guard's loyalty lies in their background � their privileges and indoctrination.
Like most nations in the Middle East, Iraq is a tribal society where power is based on bloodline, kinship and long-standing friendship.
All members of the two units come from tribes and towns close to Saddam's regime, mainly from Tikrit north of Baghdad, and almost all are Sunni Muslims, the same branch of Islam as Saddam.
Completing the circle of fear and indoctrination is the fact that all Republican Guard units are under the direct control of Saddam's son Qusay.
Qusay rules the Republican Guard with a mixture of bribery and fear.
Each division has a 200-strong unit attached to it, called the Siriya, which will kill anybody who thinks of desertion or fails to fight. Possession of civilian clothes which might aid desertion leads to instant execution.
Each fighter is a volunteer, rather than a conscript, earning 11,000 dinars a month � 4000 dinars more than the regular army.
They also receive superior rations and subsidised housing. In some cities and villages, it is a great honour to have a son join the Guard.
They carry top notch ammunition, are equipped with the latest in Soviet weaponry and have gas masks and copious supplies of expensive antidotes to chemical attacks � all not available to the regulars.
The Guard is highly trained in the use chemical artillery, which could be their not-so-secret weapon � one that, if Saddam's back is against the wall, they will use without fear.
The Daily Telegraph



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