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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 5
Intelligence and High-Value Target Operations


High-Value Target Operations

Directly linked to the Coalition’s intelligence operations were the operations focused on the capture or killing of the leadership of Saddam’s regime who had gone into hiding. These individuals soon became known as HVTs and attracted a great amount of resources and energy from Coalition forces. Removing these figures was critical to the Coalition campaign to assure the Iraqi population that the Baathist regime was destroyed and had no chance of returning to power. It was also important to winning the support of the Kurds and the Shias, both of whom had been repressed by the Sunni Arab dominated Baath Party.

The main force behind the campaign to eliminate these men was Task Force (TF) 20, an organization manned by American Special Operations Forces. That unit, however, was empowered in many cases by the intelligence collection and analysis of the Army’s divisions and brigades in Iraq. This section will briefly describe the HVT operations that quickly captured or killed several key members of the Saddam regime, including Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay. Then it will recount the major events that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, emphasizing the role of the 4th ID’s intelligence operations.

On 11 April 2003, as the Saddam regime was beginning to implode, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, CENTCOM’s Public Affairs Officer (PAO), introduced the first set of Iraqi personality identification playing cards that had been developed by the DIA. The cards were printed by the DOD and sent to personnel in Iraq to help Soldiers identify the most-wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s government. On the cards were the high-ranking Baath Party members or members of the Revolutionary Command Council.159 The cards combined elements of wanted posters, playing cards, and trading cards. They contained the photo of the wanted person, if available, their name and any aliases they used, and their job descriptions in Saddam’s regime.160 The highest-ranking cards, starting with aces and kings, were used for the people at the top of the most-wanted list. The ace of spades was Saddam Hussein, and the aces of clubs and hearts were his two sons, Uday and Qusay.161

One day after CENTCOM introduced the HVT playing cards, the first target surrendered. The seven of diamonds portrayed former Iraqi Lieutenant General Amir Hamudi Hasan al-Saadi; the Iraqi science advisor and special weapons chief gave up to Coalition forces in Baghdad on 12 April 2003 after learning he was on the list.162 The five of clubs, Barzan Ibrahim Hasan Al Tikriti, the former director of the Mukhabarat, Saddam’s notorious intelligence service, was the first to be taken by force. Special Operations troops captured Al Tikriti, a half-brother and advisor to Saddam Hussein, in Baghdad on 16 April 2003.163 The eight of spades, Tareq Aziz, Saddam’s deputy prime minister, surrendered to Coalition forces on 24 April 2003.

Others remained in hiding into the summer. US forces took the ten of diamonds, Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan, known as Saddam’s enforcer, into custody on 18 August 2003. He was accused of involvement in the occupation of Kuwait, taking part in the brutal repression of Shia Muslims in 1991, and the killing of thousands of Kurds in Halabja with poisonous gas in 1988. On 21 August 2003 Coalition forces also captured Ali Hassan Majid, known as “Chemical Ali,” for his alleged role in the use of poisonous gas against the Kurds also in 1988.164

Saddam’s sons were more difficult to locate. As Coalition forces approached Baghdad, the dictator and his sons fled to the countryside of Iraq. Staying in various hiding places, they settled in Ramadi on 11 April 2003.165 When the building next to their safe house was bombed, Saddam and his sons fled once again and finally decided to split up to increase their chances of survival. Uday and Qusay criss-crossed western Iraq, possibly making their way to Syria.166 On 20 July 2003, the two brothers, Qusay’s 14-year-old son Mustafa, and a bodyguard were on the move again. They ended up at a relative’s house in the city of Mosul.

Around 1000 on 21 July an Iraqi sheik walked into the 101st ABN’s Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC), located at the Mosul Airfield, and began giving information about Uday and Qusay’s presence in the house to an MI NCO serving on a THT.167 While there had been multiple tips about the location of the brothers in the past, the US Army National Guard Soldiers on the THT judged the sheik’s story as credible. Once the THT passed this information to the 101st ABN headquarters, Lieutenant Colonel D.J. Reyes, the G2, used the AO North JIATF to coordinate a meeting between the Iraqi informant and representatives from the CIA and TF 20. The Americans listened to the story, administered a polygraph test that the sheik failed, but ultimately assessed the Iraqi’s information as valid. By 2200 the 101st ABN had completed gathering information and created a concept for an operation that would capture the brothers.

At 1000 on 22 July 2003 the men of TF 20 and Soldiers from the 101st ABN surrounded the house in which Uday and Qusay were hiding. Brigadier General Frank Helmick, the 101st Assistant Division Commander for Operations (ADC-O), and Colonel Joseph Anderson, the 2d BCT commander, immediately moved to the site.168 As Helmick recalled:

Colonel Joe Anderson . . . and I were the senior guys on the ground during that operation. Actually, Major General Petraeus was out at the Syrian border at the time when this whole thing was going down. He approved the operation the night before. We, truthfully, didn’t know if those were the right guys or not. But we knew there were bad guys in there and so we had to get a lot of help from the SOF to come in and do that operation. It was a very tenuous situation.169

Helmick and Anderson strengthened the cordon around the area and had time to prepare for the operation. At 1000 Special Forces Soldiers knocked on the door and asked to enter the residence; they received no response. Ten minutes later, the troops entered the building and as they climbed the stairs were met by AK-47 fire. Three of the Special Forces Soldiers were wounded inside, and one of the 101st ABN Soldiers was wounded outside, so the troops withdrew and paused so the force could be substantially augmented.170 An intense firefight ensued as the brothers and the others inside the house used grenades and assault weapons, and the American troops responded with .50-caliber machineguns and fire from two Kiowa Warrior helicopters. Around noon Soldiers attempted to re-enter the house, but again were stopped by AK-47 fire. In the early afternoon, the US forces surrounding the target added 17 tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missiles to the fire they directed at the target.171 Helmick had a radio conversation with Petraeus as he flew back to Mosul, and they decided to “put TOW missiles right into the window” of the building.172

Around 1300 Soldiers again entered the residence. They found Uday, Qusay, and a bodyguard dead. But Qusay’s son, Mustafa, returned fire at the Americans while hiding under a bed. After pouring more rounds into the room where Mustafa hid, US troops secured the building. By this time a considerable crowd had gathered in the area, leading Petraeus to direct CA Soldiers and engineers into the area to assess the damage and raze the half-destroyed house.173 By 1500 Soldiers of the 101st ABN’s TF Neighborhood went through the area surrounding the target house to identify and fix broken windows or any other damage caused by the operation. Observers wondered why Uday and Qusay were not taken alive so they could be interrogated and put on trial, but American commanders and Iraqi leaders doubted the two brothers would have allowed themselves to be captured.

The killing of Saddam’s sons did not defuse the growing insurgency. In fact, organized violence against the Coalition grew in the late summer and fall of 2003. Dismayed by this trend, CENTCOM and Coalition leaders pinned their hopes on the capture of Saddam as the event that would put the final stake in an insurgent movement many of them still viewed as the dying gasp of the defeated Baathist regime. Locating Saddam as he moved in the Sunni-dominated area of north-central Iraq around his hometown of Tikrit had already become a frustrating endeavor. After separating from his sons in April 2003, Saddam had continued to run from Coalition forces.174 His whereabouts between April and December 2003 are still unknown, but numerous sightings of him occurred in a variety of areas. Almost all of the sightings, which increased exponentially after the United States posted a $25 million reward for his capture, were false alarms.

As TF 20 collected and analyzed these leads, MI Soldiers in the 4th ID, the unit responsible for the Sunni Triangle, conducted link analysis and constructed complex diagrams that displayed in graphic form the network of individuals related to Saddam by blood, tribe, or political association.175 According to Lieutenant Colonel Brian Reed, the Operations Officer (S3) for the 1st BCT, 4th ID, “We sort of fingered these guys through some old fashioned methods of looking at pictures and things like that. You look at all these pictures of people that appear with Saddam and you start putting names to them: ‘Okay I know that guy, I know that guy. Wait a minute, I don’t know this guy, but he’s part of this family.’ And you start putting this network together.”176 This analysis led forces to the lower-level, highly-trusted relatives, clan members, and associates who might be harboring Saddam or helping him move around the country. Using intelligence gathered from all over Iraq, two MI officers in the 1st BCT, First Lieutenant Angela Santana and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Gray, developed a database that held a core group of over 250 names, but linked over 9,000 names to that core group.177 From that database, the 1st BCT created a diagram based on link analysis methodologies used by police departments and counterterror organizations to uncover organizational structures of crime gangs or terrorist groups. Gray described the link diagram in the following way:

We had this huge chart, probably three foot by three foot, and we probably had about 100 to 150 people on it. We had Saddam Hussein right in the center of it and we just went from there like a tree. This was his brother, this was his cousin, this is this guy’s wife, she talks to so and so, and she gave money to him. It just was a big tree, but we knew if we worked from the outside in, we could finally catch Number One.178

According to Colonel James Hickey, commander of the 1st BCT, 4 ID, “We built this [link diagram] together as a team effort. We maintained it in the brigade headquarters. That template got refined and developed from week to week and month to month, but it never changed in its truthfulness, and it led directly to our understanding of who had to be captured and who would lead us to Saddam.”179 Patterns started to emerge on the link diagram and US intelligence officials were able to detain and question more and more people with intelligence related to Saddam’s whereabouts. American Special Operations Soldiers captured a key figure on the diagram, Muhammad Ibrahim Omar al-Musslit, on 12 December 2003 in Baghdad.180 After a transfer to Tikrit the next day and a subsequent interrogation, al-Musslit broke down and, according to Hickey, “blurted Saddam’s location.”181 According to al-Musslit, Saddam was hiding on a farm compound in one of two farmhouses near Ad Dawr, south of Tikrit.

Once the 1st BCT intelligence section identified the farm’s location using satellite imagery, US forces planned and launched Operation RED DAWN to capture the dictator. Just before 2000 on 13 December, a convoy of more than 30 vehicles and close to 600 troops from the 1st BCT, along with members of TF 20, surrounded the Ad Dawr area. According to Reed, the 1st BCT’s Operations Officer who planned RED DAWN:

We just weren’t going to have a repeat of what happened up in Mosul [when Uday and Qusay were killed]. If there was any resistance, we were going to level the place. Saddam Hussein, he had a pistol with him, that’s pretty well known. And if he had done anything, if he had brandished that pistol in the face of the assault team, if there had been any gunfire on the objective, we wouldn’t be dealing with a trial or anything like that. It would have been over.182

Prepared for the worst, the Soldiers established an inner cordon to enable SOF to kill or capture Saddam.183 The 1st BCT also established an outer cordon to prevent any enemy reinforcement and to make sure Saddam did not escape. A screen was also established on the far side of the Tigris River to prevent the possible escape of Saddam outside of the cordon.184 The Soldiers of TF 20, using explosive charges to enter the compound, immediately secured the two objectives—Wolverine 1 and Wolverine 2—which were the two farmhouses inside the inner cordon. The SOF Soldiers then began searching the houses. Initially, they captured the owner of the farm and his brother, but could not find Saddam. Alerted that the area contained tunnels, TF 20 had begun a thorough search of the area around the houses when one SOF Soldier noticed a carpet on the ground that looked out of place. Pulling that up, the Soldier discovered a block of Styrofoam and then the vertical crawlspace below which led to the space in which Saddam was hiding. The Soldier was ready to toss a grenade into the hole when a disheveled head appeared.

According to most sources, the man raised both hands and declared in English, “I am Saddam Hussein, I am the president of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate.”185 Colonel Hickey remembers that although armed with a pistol, “Saddam was completely surprised when we found him and he gave up like a coward. He couldn’t give up fast enough, and he should thank his lucky stars that the Soldiers that captured him were disciplined, honorable men. We could have killed him on the spot, but they were disciplined.”186 Saddam was then covered with a hood and showed no resistance when he was put on a helicopter for transport. Hickey described the operation to capture Saddam as an “effort of American Army Soldiers from various parts of our Army working together as a team.”187

After his capture, US forces hurried Saddam off to Camp Cropper, the high-value detention center at the Baghdad Airport for examination and interrogation. Finally, on 14 December 2003, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer announced the capture of Saddam to Iraq and the world. The apprehension of the former dictator represented a major Coalition triumph as well as a victory for the efforts of the Soldiers in TF 20 and CJTF-7 that had begun aggressively conducting intelligence operations in the summer of 2003. Saddam’s capture did not end the insurgency, but it did serve as a milestone that the Iraqis and the Coalition could use to mark the true end of the Baathist regime.


Chapter 5. Intelligence and High-Value Target Operations

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