The Seattle Times March 27, 2003
Most loyal soldiers in Iraq belong to Fedayeen Saddam
By Seattle Times news services
WASHINGTON Until the war began, few Americans had heard of the Fedayeen Saddam, the paramilitary extremists loyal to Saddam Hussein who have led much of Iraq's defenses in the first week of the war.
But the Fedayeen have been cited as much of the backbone of Iraqi resistance in southern Iraq. Coalition forces say Fedayeen have engaged in fake surrender ambushes and have shot civilians or regular-army soldiers who wanted to leave Basra or surrender.
The name means "Saddam's men of sacrifice," according to Anthony Cordesman, a military scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled the Fedayeen a "terrorist-type threat" and lumped them in the group he calls "dead enders" those most loyal to Saddam who would fight to the death.
The paramilitary organization is loyal to the Baath party, which took control in Iraq in 1968, and has evolved into the totalitarian political tool of Saddam, experts said. Party cadres keep extensive files on Iraq's 25 million citizens and reward loyalists with valued bureaucratic jobs.
Baath means "resurrection" or "renaissance" in Arabic. The party began with a pan-Arab, nationalist ideology. Formally known as the Baath Arab Socialist Party, it is a Stalinist-style organization with cells, sections, branches and national bureaus.
The Fedayeen guerrillas were formed to quash internal dissent and disturbances after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, especially in the oppressed Shiite Muslim areas in central and southern Iraq. The first recruits included criminals who were pardoned in exchange for serving in the units.
Prewar U.S. intelligence estimates put the Fedayeen's strength at between 20,000 and 25,000 fighters. Other analysts estimate the force could number 40,000, broken into brigades of 3,000 each.
Training includes urban warfare and suicide missions. One of their endurance drills is to survive on snakes and dog meat.
They dress in black uniforms and cover their faces with black scarves to instill fear, although they also have been known to operate in civilian clothes.
Ali Abdel Amir, an Iraqi journalist operating in neighboring Jordan, said Saddam trusts the force even more than his elite Republican Guard.
Fedayeen members receive up to $100 a month, compared with the $3 government employees are paid each month. They receive plots of land and other privileges, such as extra food rations and free medical care.
Earlier this month, U.S. officials claimed Fedayeen members were acquiring military uniforms "identical down to the last detail" to those worn by American and British forces and planned to use them to shift blame for atrocities.
Compiled from Reuters, The Associated Press, Gannett News Service and Knight Ridder Newspapers.
Founded in 1995 by Saddam's elder son Odai, who commands the Fedayeen, recruited from regions loyal to Saddam.
Size: 18,000-20,000 fighters out of Iraqi paramilitary forces of 42,000-44,000, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack says it may now number as many as 100,000 after recent upgrades.
Chain of command: The militia reports directly to the presidential palace, rather than via the armed forces, and is responsible for patrolling and cracking down on smuggling. Command passed in 1996 for a while to Saddam's younger son Qusai, perhaps after an incident in which sophisticated weapons were transferred to the Fedayeen from the Republican Guard without Saddam's knowledge, the GlobalSecurity.org think tank said.
Mission: "They are supposed to help protect the president and Odai and carry out much of the police's dirty work," the think tank said.
Copyright © 2003, The Seattle Times Company