One of Saddam Hussein’s top generals was not included in the U.S. card deck of 55 most-wanted Iraqis. Now stories are circulating in European, Middle Eastern and other foreign press that he was paid off to ensure the quick fall of Baghdad.
On May 25, the French paper Le Journal du Dimanche, citing an unnamed Iraqi source, claimed that Gen. Maher Sufian al-Tikriti, Saddam’s cousin and a Republican Guard commander, made a deal with U.S. troops before leaving Iraq on a U.S. military aircraft. Allegedly the deal had been secured in advance by the CIA, but by prearrangement was implemented only after U.S. troops reached Baghdad’s airport on April 4. Sufian was said to have left Iraq, along with a 20-man entourage, on April 8—the day before U.S. forces captured Baghdad without resistance.
An Arab diplomat told Le Journal that the CIA had hatched the plot more than a year before. “Many suitcases filled with dollars were floating around,” the diplomat said.
This story has been picked up by newspapers around the world, including the London Times and the Sydney Morning Herald. But the only recent reference to General Sufian in the U.S. press was in early May, when it was reported that his home was now a base where survivors searched for records on the fate of missing loved ones.
Other Arab sources have added details. Reportedly Sufian ordered the Republican Guard out of the city to fight in the countryside, where they were easily picked off. General Sufian may also have betrayed the location of the house where Saddam Hussein met with his family on April 7, and where Saddam may or may not have been killed. A further report from Agence France Presse alleges that Saddam was betrayed by not one but three of his cousins, as well as other senior military officers, and a former Cabinet minister.
The Egyptian weekly Al-Usbua claimed that General Sufian had betrayed his cousin in exchange for $25 million, the guarantee to move to the United States and the promise of a future high position in Iraq. (One hopes that this last claim is not true, as Sufian was notorious as Saddam’s partner in terroristic oppression.)
The Lebanese newspaper Sawt al-Urouba has alleged that some of the “human shields” who had traveled to Baghdad before the war in the name of protecting civilian targets were in fact U.S. agents who bribed Iraqi generals while in the city.
In a May 19 article in the Defense News, the retiring Chief of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks, is quoted as telling a Defense News reporter on May 10 that, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, U.S. Special Forces had gone in and bribed Iraqi generals not to fight. Franks told the reporter, “I had letters from Iraqi generals saying, ‘I now work for you.’”
If so, the U.S. plans for occupying Iraq followed the model of the invasion of Afghanistan. There, too, key warlords were bought off by liberal dispensations of CIA dollars, making military operations far easier than many had anticipated. The downside of these deals was to restore parts of Afghanistan to warlords whose traditional source of income has been the drug traffic.
Whatever the details, it would appear that refinements in military strategy and high-tech materiel were not, as the Pentagon has suggested, the key to quick U.S. victory in Iraq.
On April 24, the U.S.-based online news site World Tribune.com noted that General Sufian, the commander of several Republican Guard units defending Baghdad, did not appear on the U.S. list of 55 most wanted Iraqis. It cited Arab diplomatic sources as saying that Sufian was believed to have ordered his units to abandon their weapons and return home. But U.S. officials, it reported, had denied any deal with Sufian.
On April 8, at the time of the alleged deal, U.S. Marines announced that General Sufian had been shot at a roadblock outside Baghdad. On April 9, Knight Ridder newspapers carried a report from Marine headquarters on how Sufian met his death in a white Toyota sedan, uniformed and alone except for his chauffeur.
The fate of Gen. Maher Sufian al-Takriti is key to a central mystery surrounding this poorly reported war: Why did Baghdad fall without a fight?