Ten years after the fall of Baghdad at the hands of US forces, rumors of a breach in the Iraqi military command that facilitated the invasion continue to swirl.
Some analysts trace the problem back to 1979 when professional military men in the upper ranks were replaced by Baath Party cadre with little experience. Some were promoted simply for being related to President Saddam Hussein, like his son-in-law Hussein Kamel, who became a top commander.
On the eve of the invasion in 2003, Iraq’s traditional army was of modest strength, having been exhausted by two wars and years of debilitating sanctions. Alongside it stood the well-trained and heavily armed Republican Guard, headed by the president’s son Qusay and a number of other close relatives.
One of the more controversial members of the top command was Maher Sufian al-Tikriti, a cousin of the president, who later became the target of a series of accusations that he made a deal with the invading Americans to take Baghdad.
After the invasion, many stories emerged of betrayals occurring in the military command. One officer explains that such acts did not take the traditional form of changing sides or ordering soldiers to stand down.
“There were a lot of opportunistic officers around the president who hid many things from him, in order to gain his favor,” he told Quds Press.
Others confirm that there were “some betrayals, but they were not restricted to the military. They included political and party leaders.”
More than anyone else, it was Tikriti who was under the most suspicion for having struck a deal with the Americans.There were many rumors during the war of treason by, for example, then-minister of defense Sultan Hashem was wrongly reported by a Saudi newspaper to have been executed.
More than anyone else, it was Tikriti who was under the most suspicion for having struck a deal with the Americans to make sure that the nearly 100,000-strong Republican Guard under his command will not stand in the way of the invading forces, according to reports in the French press and a recent book on the fall of Baghdad.
However, the story may not be completely accurate, as another account has emerged in which Tikriti made a decision, along with one of his colleagues, to spare their soldiers more death by negotiating with the Americans. And in fact, he did order his forces stationed between Tikrit and Baghdad to pull out and refrain from engaging the enemy.
The pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi confirmed reports that Tikriti had made a deal with the CIA in which he would pull out his forces in return for protecting him and several other officers and their families, in addition to sparing a number of bridges in Baghdad.
Tikriti, for his part, denies accusations of treason, with reports emerging from a Baathist website, al-Basra Net, that the man fought to the very end, citing the testimony of another officer in the Lebanese daily an-Nahar, who claimed that he was arrested by the occupation forces in the summer of 2004 for supporting the armed resistance.
As for Wafiq Samarai, who was head of military intelligence under Saddam and later became an advisor to President Jalal Talabani, he is skeptical of any major breaches in the Republican Guard command.
The fall of Baghdad, he explains, “was not due to a deal between Tikriti and the Americans. The real reason was poor strategic planning, in addition to the weakness of the military command and the interference of civilians in military affairs, not to mention the technical superiority of the American forces.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.