the invasion of iraq
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Gen. Al-Hamdani was in charge of Iraq's Republican Guard south of Baghdad, down to Najaf. In this interview he explains how he knew with certainty that Iraqi forces did not have weapons of mass destruction to use in the war. He also talks about the strategic and tactical mistakes made by the Iraqi military, his own personal experiences in the war, and he describes the ferocity of the battle on April 2-3 in which his forces were slaughtered. "From the dawn of April 3 until sunset, the Air Force destroyed anything that moved. Then the Americans broke through. … Anything that moved was hit by tanks, armored vehicles, Apaches, and jet fighters, whether it was civilian or military." Not long after the war ended, Gen. Al-Hamdani turned himself in to American authorities and was later released. This interview was translated from Arabic.

interview: lt. gen. raad al-hamdani

... Give me an idea, if you can, about the military leadership, I mean from all aspects -- regular army, Republican Guard, Fedayeen. …How was it divided up, and how was it working?

… There was a separation between each military organization and the next, at all levels. Each acted as though it were the only one in the field. Perhaps I can talk about that now, as an analyst. It was an error.

We had, unfortunately, a low level of fighting and military spirit. The percentage of forces that really fought -  I can say [approximately] 15%.  In spite of that, we kept on fighting for three weeks.

An important aspect which was not resolved -- and which I personally put forward -- was that the defense of the towns and a large city like Baghdad had to be at a distance, i.e., away from the city, and not in Baghdad itself. Baghdad had to be an open city. Even if the enemy entered it, that would not mean anything. There should be no headquarters in it, and no major state administrative organization, so that the enemy would be compelled to look for his opponents in all directions. The war would become unclear, and the enemy would not be able to say that he had attained his objectives. This is because he had to attain his objectives on the scale of Iraq, which is a relatively large country, by Middle East standards.

As I said before, sadly this matter was not resolved. The theory was there; there were preparations on the ground. But these preparations were not put into practice, due to the effect of American air power, a massive high-technology air power. ...

Were there, in fact, any weapons of mass destruction?

To my knowledge, and according to what I heard myself directly from the Iraqi president, there weren't any weapons of mass destruction, and he was highly credible on this subject. A representative of the national control authority met with us, and assured us that they did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

If there were no weapons of mass destruction, then why did Saddam Hussein play this card? Why give the world the impression that he might have weapons of mass destruction?

I believe that President Saddam Hussein employed the device of deterrence by doubt. Deterrence is important at the strategic level when war is in the air. Deterrence means taking measures so that one's adversary is not at liberty to use force, for fear of the unknown. This unknown factor provided deterrence by doubt. For a long time, Israel did not declare that it owned nuclear weapons, but press leaks duly indicated that it owned 200 or more nuclear warheads. This was deterrence by doubt against the Arab leaderships in any conflict with Israel. I think this is the answer.

If there had been any weapons of mass destruction, were you in a position that would have allowed you to know about it?

It could have been known indirectly, because WMD has an effect on both rivals. So any side who wants to use WMD should inform his officials to be on certain distance from the battlefield. For instance, for chemical weapons, there are … unstable [factors] affected by the strength and direction of the wind. So the friendly divisions should be informed that there is a WMD that might affect them.

Also, the nuclear weapon needs a wide area. Wind and the climate of that day also affect biological weapons, so they should inform friendly divisions. As a leader of a Republican Guard army, it is highly likely that I would be informed. But this didn't happen. All official sources assured us that there would be no evidence of WMDs, because Iraq doesn't have any. ...

Let's get back to the beginning of the war. On the personal level, what were your feelings at that time?

... The fall of the first missile on Baghdad on March 20 wasn't a surprise, because one day earlier, the defense alert system informed us of spotting 30 air targets on the sides of Baghdad. So we were on highest degree of readiness. Next day, there was one missile, followed by many missiles. So the beginning wasn't a surprise.

Regarding the army and my responsibility, I issued a warning and declared highest degree of fighting readiness. We moved towards alternative locations, dug holes for our weapons, with a rate of 1,500 locations for each division of the three, then four divisions that I was responsible for.

Every weapon had three alternative locations. We used wide areas south of Baghdad, and exerted huge engineering effort. We changed places of weapons, ammunition -- that is, fighting ammunition which consists of weapons ammunition, food, fuel, and all other related matters.

There have been great preparations by different levels of command, and we concentrated on the individual needs of the soldier. It started three months prior to war. In the last month, the efforts were doubled, because of air surveillance from planes and satellites. So we changed all locations of the army. Almost 7,000 new weapons locations were made, and distributed -- fighting ammunition sufficient for more than six months. For some types of ammunition, it was enough for one year. This was based on anticipation that war will break out after Feb. 15, 2003. ...

How did you view the battle of Nasiriya on March 23, and the success of the Iraqis in that battle, and the U.S. prisoners who were taken? What was your analysis?

... The battle of Nasiriya, and the many [American] deaths and prisoners in the hands of militias -- The morale were very high; you can't imagine how high it was. There was an increasing positive attitude during the battles of Basra, Nasiriya, and Umm Qasr. I was tracing news through my own satellite receiver in my quarters, and I saw how the forces took the western side of Euphrates to avoid city battles. It's well known that when you have air cover, you can move freely and safely, beyond the reach of weapons situated in cities. Therefore, Nasiriya battle created a lot of optimism in our forces.

[But my personal view was] that we should take maximum precautions to face the enemy. Others took this lightly, saying "Why should we worry if this is the behavior of the attacking forces? They didn't show high competence." …

I was optimistic that the war will last for two months. If we passed those two months, the results would be reasonable for a simple army like ours against the biggest army in the world, attacking with these capabilities. So I was hoping that we could pass two months, and even if we lose, it would be an honorable stand.

Talk about the meeting about on April 2, when you were summoned to Baghdad.

In this meeting, I met with the supervisor of the Republican Guard [Qusay], the defense minister, army chief of staff, al-Quds army chief of staff, Republican Guard chief of staff, and the commander of the other Republican Guard army. The minister of defense conveyed a message from the high army commander that all what happened was a strategic deception by the enemy, and the attack on Baghdad will be from the north, coming from western front. …

I objected, because I was in contact with the enemy [in the south]. So I spoke with the defense minister. He said that no discussion is permitted, because it is a message from the president, and we should start moving the troops starting on 5 a.m. next day, which was April 3.

I requested permission to speak. I asked them to stand in front of the map. I briefed them, saying that American action stopped at the area of Karbala, which was the neck of the bottle. They intend to advance to Baghdad, moving towards Usfiyah, the airport, and then the presidential palaces.

Then there was a secondary effort on Tigris River, on the southeast corner, then moving on the highway from the southwest point to the southeast of Baghdad. Also, there is an action moving from the middle, from Diwaniya towards Hilla, and from Karbala towards Hilla, aiming to reach Baghdad through the highway south of the city.

This was not a personal speculation, but the exact words of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to President Bush, which I had read on the Internet about six weeks ago. He stated that the weak point of Baghdad was the southwest corner. I explained this view that the enemy intends to move … crossing al-Kaed River to Usfiyah, to the international airport and the presidential palaces. At this moment, the supervisor approached me, to my right. He was almost whispering, and said, "General Raad, are you sure of what you are saying?" I answered, "Yes, as I'm sure that I'm talking with you now."

I was positive [about my view]. But when he asked the audience, no one supported my opinion. … The Republican Guard chief of staff supported the view of the high command, that the attack will come from the north, said that [I] was mistaken, and we should work fast to implement the decision of the high command -- to move the troops and focus on the north of Baghdad, not on the south.

Afterwards … I asked the supervisor to be excused, because my army was fighting two battles, one on Euphrates, the other on Tigris Rivers. I had to go, but I said clearly to the supervisor [Qusay] and all the audience that if we don't defend fiercely in Karbala and send more than one division there this night, then the fate of Baghdad will be determined within the coming 48 hours.

I left the place feeling that Baghdad is about to fall. I reached my headquarters, informed my army's chief of staff and other officers about this decision, considering it a mistake and the information misleading. …

In your opinion, why were they thinking this way? From [a] strategic point of view, what was the explanation given to you in the meeting?

There was no explanation, only justification to the message. They didn't allow any discussions to analyze the message. … All there in the audience were competent, experienced, and patriotic officers. But maybe for the reasons of military discipline, or there has been some confusion in their strategic views, so there were no measures taken to rectify this vision.

But actually, the supervisor was truly convinced of my presentation, and I saw it on his face. When he told me to move the troops from my army to the army defending north of Baghdad, he was saying it not as an order from him, but as an order he is obliged to obey, and he might not be convinced. ...

When did you leave the meeting?

I left the meeting at 3:30 p.m. … The scene of Baghdad as I was leaving was as if I am seeing it for the last time; I visualized the destruction. When I reached my deployment headquarters … I met with my army's chief of staff and his colleagues, who were competent officers. I told them that Baghdad is about to fall within two days, and we should wait for the worst. And it really happened.

What did you do in the rest of the day?

This time, on April 2, we made an assessment of the situation on the basis of the forces we have left. … We discussed how to reinforce the situation in Karbala and al-Azizya sector that faces Al-Suwairah, east to Tigris River. The action taken was simple. I pushed a special forces regiment to al-Azizya. I gathered all my defenses there to a hidden area, which was Al-Hafriyah, an area close to the river. It has wide palm trees, in order to obstruct the enemy in its advancement to the southeast corner of Baghdad.

Al-Swairah Bridge was demolished by American planes, but there was an edge of the pavement which was usable. So a special forces regiment crossed, along with antitank weapons and artillery batteries. In the same time, I pushed troops to Karbala, although the orders were to withdraw from Karbala. So we tried to stay in a partial way, in Musaib, because of the orders to withdraw from Karbala. These measures, and the withdrawal and changing of troops locations were measures to salvage whatever possible.

On this night, the enemy broke through fiercely, crossing al-Kaed Bridge on Euphrates River. This bridge is as important as al-Kifl bridge. It can carry more than 150 tons, and its width was enough for armored troops to cross fast and in large numbers. I had demanded that this bridge should be blown up 10 days ago, because it might cause a big threat if any American forces were able to advance through north of Karbala. …

I gave the commander of the sabotage force, Maj. Rawkan Al-Ajeeley, clear written and verbal orders that, whenever you feel that the enemy is close to the bridge, you should blow it up. We prepared this bridge for blowing with enough explosives to make it useless for the enemy, and force them to depend on building their own bridges, which will cost them time. But the approval on destroying the bridge was not issued in time.

… It didn't cross my mind that the enemy would be able to cross the bridge. … In the afternoon, we had news that the Americans crossed the bridge with about 150 tanks and armored vehicles, under heavy air bombardment, and the force was not able to sabotage the bridge. The enemy had a big leap to the eastern side of the Euphrates River, and getting close to the important area of Usfiyah.

The night of that day was very hard for my army, and me. My personal tragedy started that night. A significant enemy force had crossed to the east. Our forces were shaken. I got orders from the Republican Guard chief of staff to launch an offensive immediately, on the entrance of the bridge. My own opinion was not to attack the force on the entrance of the bridge, but to surround it, contain it, then launch an offensive with special forces. I had about one brigade.

But the high command insisted on immediate offensive, which we were not ready for. I was counting to defend along Usfiyah River. From the northeast to southeast, it was the area of industrial establishments, and the area of Qasr. But the orders were conclusive to launch the attack without waiting to take these measures.

After they had crossed the river?

Yes, we should launch an attack.

On April 3?

The night of April 2-3.

You were in your headquarters?

Yes, I was in my headquarters. But the enemy had moved ahead strongly, on contrast to the expectations of the general command.

You got from Baghdad to your headquarters…?

In Usfiyah area. I convened a meeting of the leading officers in the army, along with the army's chief of staff. We reassessed the situation on the new facts that we have only two divisions, and the enemy is advancing on three axes. But the Republican Guard chief of staff conveyed orders from high command to launch an attack immediately, with available force. We carried out this order. Units from the Medina Al-Monawara Division launched an attack, the 10th Armored Brigade and special forces, and the 22nd Armored Brigade from Nabukhath Nassar Division. I tried also to deploy all artillery units available.

It was a terrible night, because the crossing of the Americans on the Euphrates were speeding up the advancement of the enemy to its strategic goal, which is Baghdad.

The advancement of our troops -- and this is my sixth war during my service -- was truly remarkable. They had high spirits and a strong will to fight, in spite of all dangers ahead. I used to tell them that the honor of Iraq and the fate of Baghdad depended on this battle.

I joined the front lines in battle. … I was advancing along with the commander of the Medina Al-Monawara Division, with special forces 3rd Brigade on three axes. On two axes, armored troops were advancing based on the 10th Armored Brigade. On the other axis, special forces were advancing, and I was in the middle.

A fierce battle took place. The enemy used enormous firepower. It looked like napalm. Rocket launchers would fire groups of rockets, about 12 rockets each, that would explode in the air, burning whatever it faces on its way with its flames. The battle continued during April 3 and April 4. The enemy was advancing on two axes. One axis was on the area of Qasr through the bridge heading to Usfiyah, the other one from the bridge heading to Radwaniyah. Another action was from the bridge to the south, heading to the military industrial area.

The battle that took place didn't look even like action movies, because events were so fast. I didn't have a single tank intact; it was either damaged or destroyed. I didn't have a single vehicle left. The battle reached a point where the army commander was fighting with a machine gun. The groups of command and communications were completely destroyed. The soldiers and officers were fighting as a personal effort. The spirit of sacrifice and martyrdom was an honor to our army and all Iraqis and Arabs.

From the dawn of April 3 until sunset, the Air Force destroyed anything that moved. Then the Americans broke through fiercely, as if it was programmed. Anything that moved was hit by tanks, armored vehicles, Apaches, and jet fighters, whether it was civilian or military, Republican Guard or not.

I tried to get back to my headquarters to gather troops, because even my mobile phone was out of order, because our communication group was hit, and all of its members were martyred. There were no leading figures; everybody was fighting. I asked the security personnel of the Medina division to bring me a vehicle, and they did -- a vehicle driven by a major. [I] got in. He was a poor driver, so I left the vehicle, and returned to my headquarters, going along with the American convoy advancing to Usfiyah.

The amount of fire and destruction was beyond description. The tragedy witnessed by civilians was horrible. Women, children, civilian cars were burned. It was chaos. I entered with American front lines, and my vehicle was hit every moment. There was no windows left in it, and the tires were hit. Lieutenant Hadir, that hero, was martyred in it. At one point, we were driving on the metal wheels. I saw one of the crew bringing me another vehicle. I changed cars, and went to my headquarters.

We had a quick meeting. There were three officers, along with the party official of the army, and the security group. At this moment, I issued many orders to move the units, to withdraw the 2nd Armored breakthrough to Baghdad that had happened.

It was only minutes before the American tanks and vehicles were storming into the headquarters. An engagement was on inside the headquarters. Half of security forces were martyred. An Abrams tank was under my room window. I noticed it from the look on the faces of the officers, pointing to the tank. So the party official said, "Sir, there is no room here for bravery or manhood. We should leave this place." I replied, "I'm already dead. The enemy tanks breached us. They are on their way to Baghdad, and there is no meaning left for life."

The enemy stormed into the headquarters. The fighting was on from room to room, street to street. We were almost surrounded. We were fighting with machine guns, towards the houses of this small area, which was countryside. At this place and in this moment, I felt I was making a wrong decision of killing the rest of those officers. So I permitted them to rescue themselves in any way and any direction. As for me, I felt as the captain of this ship, I should sink with it. They all left the place.

You told your officers to leave, and you stayed?

Yes, I felt at this moment that it was wrong to let the three remaining leading officers and political instruction officer be captured. Along with seven security [forces], a squadron of tanks and [Bradley] armored vehicles surrounded soldiers and us. I gave them the permission to go, and rescue themselves from being prisoners. But my own decision was as I told you -- that since the ship is sinking, and I am the leader, I should sink with it.

I tried to push the seven security soldiers to far places. I preferred to stay; either I would fight and become a martyr, or I would have a chance to gather some troops again and fight. But I won't surrender as war prisoner, since I am the commander of this army. It is not wise to give them a media opportunity at this time of the war, and let them capture an army commander. ...

The night of April 4, I tried to sneak to Usfiyah, to try to salvage what's left of the Medina Al-Monawarah Division. After a long and hard walk, crossing a lot of small rivers, water channels, and crop fields, I found personnel, but there was no solid force left. I gathered some of them, left them in a place to try to form a nuclei of a solid force, and go search for others.

I would get back and see that they have disappeared. I think it was because of the delay. I was not able to move fast through tens of kilometers. Then I tried on the other night, to go south to Mahmoodiyah. I gathered some troops and information. But as soon as we started moving, a big column stormed through Mahmudiyah, and my force was scattered, due to fierce air bombardment by Apaches. ...

The night of April 8 and April 9, when I came back, the owner of the house [I had been at] told me that everything was over, and that American troops were inside Baghdad. "So why won't you surrender to Americans?" I replied that my military honor won't permit me to give myself as a prisoner.

I was trying to get to my main headquarters, 50 km south of Baghdad. I took a partner who knew the road, who was one of the crew who lived in this area. I reached the place, and was surprised to see the Americans occupying it. It was total chaos. No officer could gather forces or do anything.

The situation was so tragic, I wished I was martyred a day or two days ago, so I wouldn't see this situation, because Baghdad has fallen, and we, the army commanders, did nothing to stop this historic fall. On April 19, I was hiding in palm trees in this area. Lots of my army soldiers were living there and provided protection for me, as a personal gesture.

I started another phase in looking for my family. I started sending soldiers who knew where I lived. They came back one day later, saying that my family is not there. I learned later that my family moved to the northeast of Baghdad. My elder son … took a force trying to break the siege on the place he heard I was hiding in, and he was missing for five days. The situation was so hard, between the loss of war and looking for my family.

A few days later, I was able to contact my family, and get back to Baghdad, which was in total chaos. It became a ghost city -- looting everywhere by the degraded people of this society. They don't represent this society, but they are the lowest level of society that is present in every country. They are the lowest degree of society, who disrupted the life of people. [They] gave an unrealistic image of the Baghdadian society, which is a cultured society, that distinguished between politics and war, between a command leaving power and another assuming power. But the country is there, and it is the most important.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of how to surrender myself to the Americans. In a short period of time, I gathered my family and rehabilitated my house, which was damaged in the war. I felt one day I was surrounded, and there was a call for surrender. I surrendered myself. I am still under questioning, but I truly found respect from officials in that place which I surrendered in. I think that my role as a citizen and a soldier ended on April 9. I'm living today without any spirit, just to end what's left of my life as destined by God.

Could you give me an idea about the strategic mistakes made throughout the war?

I can summarize Iraqi strategic mistakes on specific points.

One, from military strategic point of view, dividing the country into four separate commands -- although there are supporters to this idea -- was a strategic mistake.

Two, each level of command was planning for itself. There was no harmony, only artificial coordination; but in fact there were no joint battles. Each level was fighting with his own plans, in a separate way, but within the general view of the command. The regular army, Republican Guard, Quds army, and Ba'ath Party militias were all fighting in a separate pattern, as if there are no unified armed forces.

Three, there were mistakes due to Iraqi commanders' lack of strategic vision. Our commanders are patriotic officers, brave, and have wide military experience on all levels of command. But unfortunately, they used it in a limited way, so it didn't give the expected results.

Four, another side was psychological. The exaggeration in military discipline deprived the officers from ability to discuss. There was no decision making process, but only carrying out orders, even for high levels. High-ranking officers didn't have enough authority. The political situation of Iraq, regionally and internationally, made security establishment in full control. Actually there were dangers that gave the political leadership the right to do so, but not to the extent that we reached.

The control of security establishment, and depriving all levels of commanding officers from freedom to move, disabled them from working as expected in crucial moments. Everybody was just waiting for orders. This was a weak point since the 1948 war, when we were called a "no orders" army. I have addressed this issue in many seminars and researches, stating that we have a true problem in Iraqi command.

Five, we had unfortunately a low level of fighting and military spirit. Also commitment to Iraqi military honor was weakened, due to economic sanctions. Administrative corruption was widely spread. One day the supervisor asked me about the behavior of our armed forces. I replied that there was high level of bureaucracy; it was like a tumor. …

The percentage of forces that really fought was simple. I don't have exact numbers, but I can say almost 15 percent. In spite of that, it kept on fighting for three weeks -- so what if everybody was fighting? We might have fought for longer time, and we could have delayed the enemy and forced him to pay heavy price, so as to have justice for the Iraqi people and armed forces from historic point of view.

What were your personal mistakes?

We all make mistakes, and the best of us are penitents. I had a mistaken idea that our forces will fight with high spirit, and for long time. I expected that we will go on fighting for three months. The war will not have a conclusive end; this will last for six months, and turn Iraq into another Vietnam.

I thought that American forces were unable to breach and fight face-to-face, and that we had capabilities to affect the enemy higher than what we actually saw, in spite of the spirit I witnessed. One of my personal mistakes was that I didn't imagine we will lose the will to fight after only 21 days.

Another mistake was that I wasn't successful in convincing other levels of command to have common ground in understanding and fighting. There were some sensitivity between the commanders -- for instance, between me and the Republican Guard chief of staff. I might be partially to blame here. Also, there might have been some mistakes in my way of presentation.

Let me say one thing with belief and honesty: that we all were remiss, on all levels, starting from the higher command of armed forces, and going down to the lowest levels of command. I should say that we all failed in our duty, because history will have no mercy on us, and it has a filthy tongue. The defeated party never gets the chance to write his own war details correctly and honestly.

So I ask forgiveness from our people if there was any deliberate shortcoming. ...


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posted february 26, 2004

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