Iraqi Saboteurs' Goal: Disrupt the Occupation
Michael R. Gordon
CAMP DOHA, Kuwait, June 27 -- Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency devised a plan to challenge the allied occupation of Iraq: sabotage its own country.
The targets have included oil pipelines, the Baghdad electrical system, a liquid natural gas plant and other crucial installations. With each attack, life for Iraq's roughly 24 million people has become more onerous and the mission of allied forces more complex.
It is difficult to say how much of the economic sabotage is coordinated. But there are new indications that at least some of it may have been planned before allied forces crossed into Iraq.
Allied officials say they recently obtained a document prepared by the Iraqi Intelligence Service calling for a sabotage campaign in case of Mr. Hussein's ouster. Marked "secret" and dated Jan. 23, the document was found in the southern Iraqi city of Basra but is marked for distribution to intelligence officers throughout the country.
The "emergency plan" in the document outlines 11 steps, including looting and burning government offices, sabotaging power plants, cutting communication lines and attacking water purification plants, a familiar list to anybody who followed events in Iraq over the last two months.
The measures are described in the plan, which was prepared by the Iraqi Intelligence Service, as "steps necessary after the fall of the Iraqi leadership by the American-British-Zionist allies, God forbid."
The document has been cited by The Washington Times and The Herald of Glasgow in Scotland. This reporter recently reviewed a copy and an English translation, which are circulating among allied commanders who say they believe that the document is authentic.
The allied goals are not just to kill and capture remnants of Mr. Hussein's government and the Iraqi and foreign fighters who support them, but also to win over Iraqis by persuading them that the new Iraq offers a better future.
The two goals are intertwined: the allied forces need the cooperation of Iraqis to ferret out their attackers and want to prevent guerrilla attacks from developing into a popularly supported insurgency.
It is difficult to determine how much of the damage to Iraq's infrastructure might be the result of the intelligence service plan. One thing, though, seems clear to allied administrators and military commanders: a substantial amount of the damage to Iraq's essential services is not the result of impoverished looters, but of more organized elements out to undermine allied administration of Iraq.
This month L. Paul Bremer III, the chief civilian administrator for the allies, visited a liquefied petroleum gas plant in Basra that was attacked on April 28 in what was originally thought to be the work of looters.
"As I looked around the plant," Mr. Bremer said, "it was very clear that what had happened was professional saboteurs had gone into the control room and had taken the racks of computers out, cut the cables, thrown the computer material and electronics on the floor.
"There was no looting going on. There was nothing they were trying to steal. It was a pure act of political sabotage, almost certainly by elements of Baathists who want to show that the coalition is unable to run this country. We still face this kind of activity, and we need to defeat it."
It is not easy to distinguish between looting and sabotage. The weather station at Baghdad's international airport was stripped of its scientific instruments. Its records - the weather history of modern Iraq - were burned. Was that the work of looters looking for scrap metal and trying to cover their traces, or Hussein supporters trying to frustrate civilian airport operations?
During a recent trip to the Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq with Task Force Rio, experts on Iraqi oil discussed what damage resulted from looting and what from sabotage. Task Force Rio, which includes civilians and contractors as well as military officials and was established before the war to restore Iraqi oil production after the war, tried to determine whether damage had resulted from looting or sabotage.
Driving through the oil field, Brig. Gen. Robert Crear the commander of Task Force Rio, who comes from the Army Corps of Engineers, discussed an episode in which a crucial piece was removed from a pipeline that carried crude oil near the town of Zubayr. No one observed the attack, but like some other attacks in the area, it caused destruction that seemed too carefully chosen to be a random act of looting.
"It was assessed as sabotage," General Crear said. "It could be Baathists. It could be any organization that wants chaos and does not want the coalition to be successful. Our No .1 priority is to secure these areas."
During the push to Baghdad, American forces sought to limit the damage to Iraq's infrastructure. Conscious that they would have to rebuild and administer the country until a new Iraqi government was established, the Americans refrained from targeting electrical generators and limited their strikes on other important installations, like bridges.
The American forces were also quick to seize and secure the Rumaila oil fields. The American calculation is that Iraq's oil exports can pay for reconstruction, and during the war the fields were protected by allied troops and even a Patriot antimissile defense.
But stopping sabotage is harder than intercepting an Iraqi missile. Oil pipelines, for example, are long and vulnerable. They can be blown up with a pack of explosives, or even a few well-placed bullets.
Allied military forces can mount patrols to catch saboteurs and train Iraqi guards to help protect crucial sites. But to reduce the sabotage the Americans will almost certainly need to convince Iraqis that the attacks undermine local interests as much as or more than America's strategic designs, and thus develop intelligence on who, precisely, is behind the attacks.
Sabotage was not the only strategy advocated by the Iraqi Intelligence Service plan. The intelligence document also suggested recruiting exiled Iraqis who return from abroad; infiltrating new political parties and Islamic groups, particularly in Najaf, a Shiite religious center; buying stolen weapons; and assassinating Shiite anti-Baathist leaders.