November 24th, 2006
by Scott Shane
As the world worried about Saddam Hussein’s quest for nuclear and biological weapons, he took time out to discuss with his top advisers the merits of a decidedly more primitive arsenal: slingshots, Molotov cocktails and crossbows.
In a previously undisclosed video, apparently shot in the months before the American-led invasion in 2003, Mr. Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, beams as military officers display and demonstrate low-tech weapons spread on a table in a ceremonial room. Whether the episode shows genuine preparation for an insurgency or was merely a bizarre propaganda exercise is unclear.
In the video, Mr. Hussein, wearing a double-breasted gray suit, aims a slingshot, shoots an arrow at a door using a crossbow (as aides scamper out of the way) and swings a mock gasoline bomb over his head with a rope. He urges his aides to get such weapons into the hands of Iraqis.
”Let’s use all the methods we can,” he tells his generals. ”These methods can be made at home.”
Later he says, ”Let’s talk to the minister of industry to see if we can mass produce this.” Tariq Aziz, Mr. Hussein’s close adviser and deputy prime minister, pipes in, ”This can be shown to our group of people, who can introduce it to the others.”
Phebe Marr, a historian of Iraq, says that what is most striking about the video is the archaic and impotent nature of the weapons Mr. Hussein appears to be taking seriously. ”This stuff is medieval,” she said. ”The interesting question is whether this was preparation for the resistance we’ve seen since.”
The 20-minute video, part of a vast collection of videotapes seized by American forces in Iraq, was obtained from a military source by Peter W. Klein, a television producer who has included an excerpt in a documentary, ”Beyond Top Secret,” to be shown Friday night and Saturday morning on The History Channel.
The video is undated. But it appears to have been made in late 2002 or early 2003, based on the contents and the physical appearance of Mr. Hussein and Mr. Aziz, said specialists on Iraq who reviewed it for The New York Times and The History Channel.
”I’d say it was one or two months before the invasion,” said Louay Bahry, an Iraqi scholar who taught political science at the University of Baghdad in the 1960s and 1970s and now lives in Washington. ”They were trying to inflame the people with propaganda.”
Mr. Bahry, who reviewed the video with Ms. Marr, his wife, says that Mr. Hussein and his aides use the Arabic word ”muqawama,” which means ”resistance,” and discuss enlisting civilians in a future insurgency against an occupying army.
But the staged nature of their show-and-tell suggests a political purpose: to show that the ruler is planning for the coming conflict and expecting all citizens to help. Whether the video was ever shown on television is not known.
”The message is that the coalition is coming after all the Iraqi people and not just the regime,” said Paul R. Pillar, a top Middle East analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency from 2000 to 2005 and now a professor at Georgetown University. ”My guess is that the propaganda value was at least as important as any true military preparation.”
Marc E. Garlasco, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who specialized in the Iraqi leadership and who was in Iraq early in the war, said Mr. Hussein was ”quite delusional” at times about the military threat he faced. Still, Mr. Garlasco said, the tape’s main purpose was probably ”to send a message: ‘We’re all in this together, and there’s a part for everyone to play.’ ”
A Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman, Cmdr. Terry Sutherland, reviewed the video but said the agency had no comment.
Mr. Hussein, 69, was sentenced to death on Nov. 5 after being convicted of crimes against humanity for the persecution of residents of Dujail, Iraq, in response to what was said to be an assassination attempt against him there in 1982.
Military analysts have debated what he and his aides did before the invasion, to prepare for a guerrilla campaign. Some studies have suggested that he doubted that American troops would come to Baghdad and that he was more worried that any attack could set off a rebellion by the country’s Shiite majority, as occurred after the Persian Gulf war in 1991, or an invasion by Iran.
Whatever the thinking, enormous quantities of small weapons and explosives were hidden around the country before the invasion. ”We found caches everywhere with thousands of weapons,” said Mr. Garlasco, now a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch.
Those supplies have fueled the three-year-old insurgency, which has relied mainly on firearms, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers. Attacks using slingshots to shoot ball bearings have occasionally been reported, but there is no evidence that Mr. Hussein’s videotaped exhortation led to action.
In most of the video, the lead role in demonstrating the low-tech weapons is played by a man experts identified as Abd al-Tawab Mullah Huwaish, chief of the military industrialization commission, which once oversaw attempts to build unconventional weapons.
In the video, however, Mr. Huwaish, who was captured by allied forces not long after the invasion, shows off martial arts weapons, including a sharp-pointed throwing star, a slingshot designed to be stretched between the feet and fired sitting down, and metal spikes designed to destroy the tires of passing vehicles.
”There are more than 100 ideas, but I chose these,” Mr. Huwaish says. Pointing out Molotov cocktail devices using soda bottles, he says, ”Pepsi, Coke — things that are in the house.”
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