CAIRO, Egypt March 31 —
Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard was beaten by the U.S. military
in the 1991 Gulf War, bruised by sanctions ever since and battered
by U.S. and British strikes in recent days.
But Saddam's best-equipped, best-trained and most trusted force
was still expected to fiercely defend Baghdad whether motivated by
pride, fear or loyalty to the Iraqi leader.
Divisions of the Republican Guard, which is commanded by Saddam's
son Qusai, have been redeployed around Baghdad from camps in
northern and southern Iraq to await a major ground offensive by
American troops, analysts and Iraqi Kurdish opposition leaders said
Although much of the U.S.-led troops' attention thus far has
focused on the Baath Party militia and Saddam's Fedayeen, irregular
fighters who have clashed with coalition troops in ambushes and fake
surrenders, the Western allies could soon confront the Republican
Guard head-on. Most dangerous and most likely to fight to the death,
are the Special Republican Guard the guard's most loyal and
The Republican Guard's membership was once estimated as high as
80,000, but some experts believe the number has dropped dramatically
since the 1991 Gulf War. Nearly 100,000 U.S. fighters are in Iraq,
supported by about 200,000 others in the region.
Retired Egyptian Gen. Hossam Sweilim said the guard was not
expected to play an important role until fighting for Baghdad
begins. The southern front line is about 50 miles from Baghdad, and
the U.S.-led invasion force has already engaged the guard in
"He (Saddam) will not move his precious assets of loyal men to be
slaughtered by A-10 bombers and Apache helicopters," Sweilim told
The Associated Press in an interview. "He is keeping them until
Adel Murad, a leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said
Saddam has pulled almost all Republican Guard units from northern
Iraq, where the U.S. military is believed to be preparing a northern
front in its onslaught against Baghdad.
"It seems that he needs them in Baghdad more than in Kirkuk and
Mosul," Murad said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in
The guard has six divisions: Medina, Baghdad and Adnan, usually
arrayed to the north of the capital, and Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar
and Nida, stationed to the south.
On Monday, U.S. troops said they captured several dozen
Nebuchadnezzar division soldiers. A military source, who insisted on
anonymity, said other guard divisions also were south of the capital
the Medina division near Karbala, the Baghdad division around Kut
and Hammurabi troops were headed south as reinforcements.
The Republican Guard, founded in 1980 to protect Saddam's regime,
has no trouble finding volunteers a recruit's monthly salary is
about $40, compared to $5 for a newly appointed Iraqi civil servant
with a college degree. Benefits include gifts of land and extra
food, along with free health care and education for their
"They were chosen on the basis of their loyalty to Saddam," said
Ephraim Kam of Israel's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, who has
written extensively about the Iraqi army. "As long as there is no
guarantee that Saddam will collapse, they are afraid that he will
stay in power and punish them."
Kam noted that while some even in the Republican Guard may want
to depose Saddam, it would be humiliating to trade him for a foreign
Coalition planes have targeted guard positions in and around
Baghdad in preparation for the war's likely decisive battle. The
intention was to force the guard out of their holes and bunkers,
creating easier targets for the U.S. warplanes and generally
softening up their units.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff,
said airstrikes have reduced some Republican Guard units to less
than half their prewar capacity.
That capacity was already greatly diminished, said Ian Kemp, news
editor of Jane's Defense Weekly published in England.
The guard's eight divisions were cut to six after the Gulf War.
Kemp said each of the divisions once boasted about 11,000 troops,
but that number stood at about 8,000 at the start of the U.S.
bombing in March.
Most of the guard's equipment, such as T-72 tanks, was bought
from the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. Sanctions imposed
after Iraq invaded Kuwait have made it difficult for Iraq to upgrade
its arsenal, but the guard gets the best of what Saddam has.
The Republican Guard is thought to have 400 main battle tanks,
about a third of what it had at the time it led Iraq's 1990 invasion
of Kuwait. Other equipment had been similarly devastated, Kemp
An example of how the guard sank to that state: When Medina
fought the American 1st Armored Division near Basra during the 1991
Gulf War, it lost 61 tanks and 34 armored personnel carriers in less
than an hour.
|A U.S. Army soldier is loaded
into an armored ambulance, right, after being injured in the
leg as American forces seized a bridge over the Euphrates
River in Al Hindiyah, Iraq Monday, March 31, 2003. The Army's
Task Force 4-64, part of the 3rd Infantry Division, took the
bridge as part of it's campaign to move north towards Baghdad.
(AP Photo/John Moore)|
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