The Washington Times

Allies shift strength to Saddam's home north of Baghdad

April 10, 2003
Section: NATION

Page: A10


With Baghdad overrun, U.S. military forces are now aiming at the northern city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's ancestral home and the last stronghold of his regime.

"We certainly are focused on Tikrit ... to prevent the regime from being able to use it as a place to command and control, to restore command and control, or to hide," Army Brig Gen. Vincent Brooks, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, said yesterday.

Heavy coalition bombing raids were carried out on Iraqi army positions near Tikrit, about 100 miles north of Baghdad. U.S. military officials said the bombing campaign over the past several days is preparing the way for future allied ground forces to drive north into the city.

Iraqi army and guerrilla forces are expected to put up resistance based on the city's tribal ties to Saddam and the prominent roles played by some residents of Tikrit in the Iraqi leader's crumbling regime.

Gen. Brooks told reporters in Qatar that Iraqi forces are deployed in and around Tikrit. He would not say when or how U.S. forces will take the city.

At the Pentagon, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more than 10 regular Iraqi army divisions are left north of Baghdad, as well as one brigade of a Republican Guard infantry division.

"They have been subjected to bombing by air power and will continue to be dealt with in that way for some time," Gen. Myers said.

Tikrit is a city of between 100,000 and 200,000 people and is the site of at least one of Saddam's numerous presidential palaces.

U.S. intelligence officials said they believe that Tikrit may be a storage area for some of Iraq's banned chemical and biological weapons, which could be stored in underground bunkers beneath the palaces.

Tikrit also was the birthplace of the Muslim warrior Saladin, who is credited with defeating the Christian Crusaders in the 12th century in the battle for Jerusalem.

Saddam in the past has compared himself to Saladin.

Saddam was born near Tikrit in the village of Awja on April 28, 1937, and the city has been the site of large, annual birthday celebrations for the Iraqi leader.

Saddam also has relied heavily on the loyalty of the residents of Tikrit, many of whom hold key positions in the Iraqi military and Ba'ath Party.

Residents of Tikrit also make up key elements of Saddam's internal security apparatus, including the Special Security Organization and Special Republican Guard troops. These forces are tasked with protecting Saddam and keeping him in power.

Gen. Myers said the command and control of Iraqi forces has been severely weakened by the collapse of the military in Baghdad.

"In the north, the forces there have essentially not moved," Gen. Myers said. "I mean, elements of the Republican Guard divisions did move south; that was some time ago now. But the rest of them are pretty much in static positions, falling back a little bit from the green line, if you will, but no movement. And their communications are diminished."

Allied aircraft are bombing the remnants of the Republican Guard Adnan division in Tikrit, U.S. military officials said.

Carrier-based airplanes struck a Republican Guard barracks and a garrison in Tikrit, according to Rear Adm. Barry Costello, commander of the USS Constellation.

U.S. Army Special Forces also are "actively engaging" Iraqi forces in Tikrit, said Lt. Mark Kitchens, a Central Command spokesman.

Allied ground troops also have blocked roads from Baghdad leading to Tikrit in an effort to stop and capture any Iraqi leaders fleeing from the capital.

Gen. Brooks said the remaining Iraqi forces near Tikrit have carried out some "repositionings" aimed at bolstering defenses. He said it is not clear how strong the Iraqis are in the city.

"We anticipate that any fighting that would occur there, if we happen to go to Tikrit, would be similar to what we've seen in other parts of the country," Gen. Brooks said.