Special Report

Origins of the Iraqi Insurgency

Newly released documents reveal how already by 1999 Saddam & Co were producing easy to use improvised explosive devices -- IEDs.

By and 4.28.06

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Among the Iraqi documents released to the public, at least five deal with the construction of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). One such document (CMPC-2003-005914) is a ten-page worksheet.* The first two pages are entitled, "Annual Plan for the Mechanical Workshop, Sheen-27 -- 1999"; the last eight are entitled "First Season Report of the Sheen-27 Work Plan for 1999." The report of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group explains that "Sheen-27" was a section of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) responsible for producing explosives. It had a Chemistry Department, which "developed the explosive materials for the device," an Electronics Department, "which prepared the timers and wiring of the IED," and a Mechanical Department, which "produced the igniters and designed the IED."

The Annual Plans of "Sheen 27" for Producing and Improving IEDs
In the period of this report (the "First Season" of 1999**), Sheen-27 produced twenty bombs, "varied in their type and their detonation devices," and it developed "innovative ways of arming them," among other tasks. These bombs went to Saddam's Fedayeen and to two other sections of Iraqi intelligence: M-40, the directorate dealing with the Iraqi opposition, including in Iraqi Kurdistan, and M-5, whose responsibility was counter-intelligence. It also trained representatives of those organizations on how to use these bombs (Sheen-27 had a training unit.)

Another Sheen-27 document (CMPC-2003-005935) from November 1999 details plans to improve bomb-making skills in 2000. A study is to be done on the epoxy used in making the IEDs to find an alternative that does not affect them and research is to be conducted on materials that increase the power of an explosion. This document also deals with training and calls for "preparing theoretical and practical lessons on popular [shaabi, literally, 'of the people'] bombs." Presumably, these IEDs were designed to be relatively easy to use. And it proposes "training Arab Fedayeen as part of the plan for 2000" ("Saddam's Fedayeen" are Iraqis; the "Arab Fedayeen" come from other countries.)

This document is consistent with Stephen Hayes' report that other documents (which have not yet been released) reveal that in 1998, Iraq began training 2,000 Arab Islamic terrorists a year and that this training continued through 2002. It is also consistent with what U.S. forces found at Salman Pak, a site used for such training, when they captured the area. As Centcom spokesman General Vincent Brooks stated on April 6, 2003:

There was a raid last night by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. What they raided was a training camp near Salman Pak....This raid occurred in response to information that had been gained by coalition forces from some foreign fighters we encountered from other countries, not Iraq. And we believe that this camp had been used to train these foreign fighters in terror tactics....

[T]hat's just one of a number of examples we've found where there is training activity happening inside of Iraq. It reinforces the likelihood of links between his regime and external terrorist organizations, clear links with common interests. Some of these fighters came from Sudan, some from Egypt, and some from other places, and we've killed a number of them and we've captured a number of them [emphasis added].


As a U.S. intelligence official explained to this author, the United States has interrogated the Iraqis who trained the foreign terrorists and has their accounts of that training, along with material like group pictures of the graduating classes.

Clarifying this key point -- the involvement of Saddam's regime with foreign terrorists-- is not simply a matter of justifying the Iraq war to the American public, vital as that task is. It is also a question of understanding the nature of the enemy we are still fighting. This includes the enemy outside Iraq: what happened to the 8,000 foreign terrorists trained by Iraq from 1998-2002; what have they done already; and what might they do in the future?

This also includes the enemy inside Iraq. What is the relationship between the expertise that the IIS developed in IEDs, their training of terrorists, and the present Iraqi insurgency? Indeed, a third document (CMPC-2003-005745) details plans for improving IEDs in 2003 and includes such points as triggering bombs at a distance and by light, as well as "studying the improvement of the explosive power of RDX." We can reasonably infer that such plans existed for 2001 and 2002 as well.

The Iraqi Insurgency
Until early 2005, U.S. authorities understood that the Iraqi insurgency consisted primarily of FRE's or Former Regime Elements. As then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the Atlantic Monthly, "[T]hey're allied with people who want to help them win, by which I mean the jihadis on the one side and the Syrian Baathists on the other."

In the spring of 2005, however, the U.S. understanding of the insurgency shifted. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi came to be seen as the most dangerous part of the violence, and he was understood to act independently of the Baathists. Yet the Baathists and Islamic radicals have been working together for a number of years -- at least since 1998, according to the documents cited here. Why should that cooperation have stopped in 2005?

Iraqi officials understand the insurgency quite differently from U.S. officials. In late 2005, the Iraqi Defense Minister instructed the embassy in Washington to tell the Americans that the Baathists were the enemy. His warning, which followed a mortar attack targeting General George Casey and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, evidently fell on deaf ears.

Similarly, another senior Iraqi politician told a small group of Americans last fall that Zarqawi was "nothing." Zarqawi's operation is essentially run by the Syrian mukhabarrat, this Iraqi figure explained. Jihadis are recruited through the mosques to Syria, where they are trained by individuals from Afghanistan. They then cross into Iraq, all the time under the watchful eyes of Syrian authorities, without realizing that they are, in fact, part of a major Syrian intelligence operation.

Most recently, Jawad al-Maliki, Iraq's new Prime Minister -- in his first television interview after assuming that post -- warned neighboring states that Iraq would not tolerate "security interference" or involvement with "certain movements inside Iraq."

"[I]f you don't see who the enemy is and why they're fighting, you can't win," Wolfowitz told the Atlantic Monthly. Indeed, "know the enemy" is ancient and axiomatic. A critical link is missing in the current U.S. understanding of the violence in the Middle East, namely how the intelligence agencies of terrorist states interact with the jihadi networks. We consistently see the jihadis, indeed, they are front and center, but we are blind to the intelligence agencies that use them, support them, and hide behind them.
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* In addition to the three documents cited here, the two others dealing with IEDs are CMPC-2003-005934, which was posted earlier, but now has apparently been taken down, and CMPC-2003-011038.

** It is not clear how long a "season" is, but it refers to some number of months of the year.
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Below is additional commentary from Ayad Rahim, translator of the documents analyzed above by Ms. Mylroie:

This small sample of documents on bomb-making in Saddam's Iraq is a reminder of what the regime did while in power -- specifically, that the business of Saddam's Iraq was killing and destruction. I won't delineate, here, its acts of aggression, genocide, terrorism, environmental destruction and daily degradations -- I'll leave that, for another time and place. In sum, though, Saddam's reign of terror is responsible for killing two to five million people (trailing only Stalin, Hitler and Mao), including an average of hundreds of prisoners executed a day.

Iraqis are in no doubt that Saddam's people are behind the major deeds of destruction of the past three years -- that they, alone, know in detail the terrain and where the sensitive points are. Indeed, maps of electrical and water grids have turned up among insurgent caches, marked with the choke-points most likely to cripple Baghdad.

Thirty-plus years of controlling nearly every inch of the country -- with the concomitant true-believers, spies and complicit criminals -- did not evaporate, overnight. Last October, Saddam's deputy, Izzat al-Duri, took pride in the "enormous accomplishment" made "in less than two and a half years," and exhorted "mujahideen" of the "holy jihad." A year ago, a Baathist statement took responsibility for assassinating politician Mithal Alusi's two sons, and vowed they wouldn't miss him, next time.

For kidnappings, only regime insiders know which people to target, where they live and work and where their children go to school. Plus, the regime possesses a ready-made network of neighborhood spotters. The February bombing of the shrine in Samarra required detailed knowledge of the site. Regime elements know where policemen breakfast. Thirty-five years of being in control of the populace's lives, with files on all, assured such knowledge and resources.

Before I left Iraq one year ago, a television program showed a video clip of Saddam's Fedayeen cutting out the tongues and chopping of the heads of three men in Nasiriyah in 1998. Saddam made an art of terrorizing and intimidating Iraqis, knowing which buttons to push.

After his downfall, Saddam created Jaysh [the Army of] Muhammad, and instructed supporters who wanted "to fight the jihad for the sake of God" to join the Army. Other known Baathist groups include the Army of the Mujahideen, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, the Islamic Army, the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the National Islamic Resistance. Former regime clerics Ahmed al-Kubaysi, Harith al-Dhari, and Mehdi il-Sumayda'i lead the Association of Muslim Scholars.

Muhammad Abu Nasr, a prominent regime propagandist, issues a daily newsletter of resistance activities called Mafkarat [Diary of] al-Islam, reporting on "explosive-laden cars" and "Iraqi resistance fida'i fighters" by Mecca time. They are joined by Quds [Jerusalem] Press, Islam Memo, al-Moharer (the Liberator), Free Arab Voice, albasrah.net and uruknet.info. Americans may perceive many of these entities as "Islamic," but they are all essentially Baathist.

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About the Author

Laurie Mylroie is an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein''s War Against America (AEI Press, 2001).