Wednesday, March 26
The Republican Guard: outgunned and outnumbered, but they never surrender
As US and British troops meet with fierce resistance, an expert on the Iraqi army profiles Saddam Hussein's elite security forces and warns they have the potential to be formidable opponents
Amatzia Baram, The Guardian, March 25, 2003
The Republican Guard consists of three armoured, one mechanised and two infantry divisions, with between 65,000 and 70,000 soldiers. Almost all of Iraq's top-of-the-line Soviet made and also Iraqi-assembled T-72 main battle tanks, some 600-700 of them, are to be found in the guard divisions. The regular army has to settle for the relatively antiquated T-55 and T-62 tanks.[...]
Special Republican Guard
The SRG is divided into four brigades and 14 battalions, and numbers around 20,000-25,000. It is a commando force armed mostly with light and medium weapons but it also has two tank battalions (70-90 T-72 tanks), three artillery batteries and three air defence batteries. Its main task is to maintain calm in the capital and put down any revolt or coup attempt. It also has security duties in four presidential palaces in Tikrit.
It is equipped with a large number of anti-tank weapons. The SRG command falls under the office of the special security organization, President Saddam's personal protection unit.
Most officers and soldiers in the SRG hail from President Saddam's clan and from his hometown of Tikrit, as well as some neighbouring and friendly clans and towns, like Dur and Beiji. Most officers know President Saddam personally; in their bar racks, posted by their beds, they have photographs of themselves and their families standing proudly beside the president. [...]
Jihaz Al-Amn al-Khass (Special Security Organisation)
The SSO was created in the late 80s as a small (a few hundred strong) force of mostly officers. Their main task was to coordinate all security bodies and the army for the protection of the president and his family. They were brought in from all army units and the Republican Guard, but most of them were natives of Tikrit or hailed from President Saddam's clan.
The SSO also helped with the procurement and protection of weapons of mass destruction and the technology necessary to produce them.
After the 1991 Gulf war this force was enlarged and is now about 2,000 strong. The SSO is the most feared body of all the Iraqi security forces. It is under the direct command of President Saddam's younger son, Qusay, and General Abed al-Hamid Mahmud, the president's personal secretary and clansman.
Himaya al-Ra'is (Presidential Protection)
The Himaya al-Ra'is protects the president and his family and his closest associates, including the ruling party's luminaries. It consists of a few thousand young men mostly from President Saddam's clan and region.
The Himaya, between 3,000 and 5,000 in total, are recruited straight from Uja, Tikrit, Beiji, Dur and their environs. At the age of 15 or 16, they are brought to the republican palace in Baghdad and trained for three years in the use of weapons, in survival and other skills before becoming bodyguards.
At the heart of the Himaya are 40 security men who belong to a little known unit named al-Murafiqin (the companions). These are the people who accompany the president carrying loaded weapons. They are the inner ring protecting President Saddam,[...]
This unit was established around 1995 by President Saddam's elder son Uday and trained by General Muzahim Sa'b Hasan, the ex-air force commander and a member of President Saddam's clan. Today it numbers around 20,000 but they are lightly armed and badly trained. They serve as an internal security body, mainly arresting and executing people suspected of opposition to the regime.[...]
Amatzia Baram is professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Haifa and fellow at the Saban Centre of the Brookings Institution in Washington.