IRAQ: The Most Wanted

February 16, 2005

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What is the status of the high-ranking Baathist leaders on the coalition’s most-wanted list?

The majority of the 55 individuals pictured on a deck of cards distributed to coalition troops at the start of the war have been captured or killed. The 12 individuals still at large, most experts say, support the violent insurgency against coalition forces and the Iraqi Interim Government, but their control over the insurgents has waned.

How many on the list have been captured?

Forty-one, including three who surrendered. Saddam Hussein, the No. 1 target on the list, was taken into custody December 13, 2003, at his hiding place at Al Dawr, about nine miles from his hometown of Tikrit. Two fugitives on the list--Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay--were killed while attempting to evade capture. Other U.S. attempts to kill leaders on the most-wanted list failed, according to a Human Rights Watch report entitled "Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq," released in December 2003.

Who remains at large?

Following is a list of the 12. Amatzia Baram, senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and an expert on Iraqi tribes, helped provide biographical information about some of them.

  • No. 6: Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, former vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Second in command to Saddam Hussein in the RCC, Iraq’s top decision-making body, Ibrahim was considered an important force behind the insurgency in its early stages and continues to have influence now, some experts say. Analysts say he was one of the targets of the failed air strikes against top Iraqi leaders early in the war. Ibrahim’s "not a great genius, but he’s very dedicated to bringing the Baath Party back to power and glory," Baram says. He suspects Ibrahim is involved in some of the attacks that have taken place in northern Iraq, including explosions targeting the northern oil pipeline and suicide bombings in Mosul. Baram says Ibrahim, who is rumored to have leukemia, is likely in hiding somewhere between Mosul and the Turkish border, paying people to carry out insurgency operations.
  • No. 7: Hani abd al-Latif al-Tilfah al-Tikriti, director of the Special Security Organization and responsible for security and investigations. He was an assistant to Qusay Hussein and is Saddam Hussein’s nephew on his mother’s side. Al-Latif has a long history as an intelligence operative--he rose through the ranks of the Muhabarat, Iraq’s secret police--and was known as an expert in torture.
  • No. 14: Sayf al-Din Fulayyih Hasan Taha al-Rawi, chief of the Republican Guard. He is a professional Army officer from the city of Rawa on the Euphrates River. He is not connected to Saddam Hussein’s family or tribe, but advanced through the ranks on his own, Baram says, based on merit and loyalty. Some experts say he is likely involved with the insurgency.
  • No. 15: Rafi abd al-Latif al-Tilfah al-Tikriti, head of the Directorate of General Security. He was also one of the targets of the air strikes and is now thought to be playing a part in the insurgency. He is related to Saddam Hussein’s mother’s family and is a "classic internal security guy," Baram says: a loyal, professional, intelligence apparatchik.
  • No. 16: Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service and another member of Saddam Hussein’s extended family.
  • No. 21: Rukan Razuki abd al-Ghafar Sulayman al-Nasiri, one of Saddam Hussein’s senior bodyguards, a member of his inner circle, and head of Tribal Affairs in his government. Razuki is related to Saddam Hussein on his mother’s side and was his trusted bodyguard for nearly 30 years. He was one of the dictator’s three "foremost companions" who accompanied him everywhere, and led his personal safety battalion of 40 other "companions." Razuki is thought to be active in the insurgency.
  • No. 24: Taha Muhyi al-Din Maruf, an Iraqi vice president and member of the RCC. A Kurd, he abhorred serving Saddam Hussein but was forced to act as his nominal vice president, Baram says. "I would suggest that the Americans stop looking for him," he says. "It’s a waste of their time. He never killed a mouse." Captain Bruce Frame, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), says al-Din was a member of Saddam Hussein’s government and so a legitimate target. "We went in there to get rid of the Saddam regime and provide the means to a free Iraq, and these people were leaders in the brutal former regime," he says.
  • No. 36: Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, presidential adviser and half-brother of Saddam Hussein.
  • No. 40: Abd al-Baqi abd al-Karim al-Abdallah al-Sadun, regional chairman of the Baath Party in the Diyala region.
  • No. 44: Yahya Abdullah al-Ubaydi, regional chairman of the Baath Party in the Basra region.
  • No. 45: Nayif Shindakh Thamir Ghalib, regional chairman of the Baath Party in the Najaf region.
  • No. 49: Rashid Taan Kazim, regional chairman of the Baath Party in the Anbar region.

What is the fugitives’ impact on the insurgency?

Many experts say the Baathists leaders initially led and funded the insurgency. Kenneth Katzman, senior Iraq analyst at the Congressional Research Service, says some $1 billion in Central Bank funds were taken by Baathists as Baghdad fell. Some $600 million has been recovered, he says, but the rest is being used by leaders to buy weapons and pay for operations such as suicide bombings and assassinations. Private funding for the insurgency also comes from Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, Baram says.

Do the fugitives control the insurgency now?

No. Many experts say that, as the insurgency has expanded, the older Saddam Hussein-era leaders have been supplanted by younger Islamist radicals. "The younger faction has largely taken the lead," Katzman says. "[The Baathists] lit the spark, but at this point it’s being run by young men." Baram says. "None of the [Baathists] is in charge of the whole thing, no way." In fact, Baram says, "so far there’s no evidence" that any single group or entity is directing all the attacks. The insurgents are organized into regional hubs based in certain areas--Baquba and Mosul, for example, or Falluja and Ramadi--and coordinate and carry out operations in their own areas, Baram says. Given the level of coalition surveillance and pressure on insurgents, "it’s too difficult to conduct country-wide operations," he says.

Why have the Baathists surrendered leadership of the insurgency?

They’ve done it unwillingly, some experts say, as international terror groups increase their influence on the current fighters. "The resistance is very Islamicized and internationalized," Katzman says. "The insurgents have more in common with [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, [Osama] bin Laden, Hamas, or Hezbollah than Izzat Ibrahim or members of Saddam Hussein’s old regime." But other experts disagree. "Foreign fighters haven’t assumed any public leadership role," says Jeffrey White, an expert on Iraq’s military and security at the Washington Institute for Near East Peace. "I don’t think they’re actually running the insurgency."

Are coalition forces pursuing the leaders on the most-wanted list?

"They’re supposedly still chasing them, although probably a little less aggressively after Saddam was caught," Katzman says. Pursuing insurgents across Iraq is a tough job, according to experts. "This is ’Battle of Algiers’ stuff," White says. "The Sunni resistance [led by former high-level Baath leaders] has a measure of public support and seems to be very broadly embedded across the Sunni community. It’s hard to find real allies [there] willing to prosecute a war against the resistance." David Gompert, an adviser on Iraqi national security to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), said in an interview with Agence France Press June 14, "If you take away the head, which is what happened as the deck of cards was collected, what’s left is a distributed collection of killers and executioners and the like who by virtue of becoming more autonomous and self-sufficient are more difficult to locate."

Who will be in charge of pursuing the fugitives after the June 30 handover?

Experts say not much will change after June 30: the U.S.-led coalition will lead the hunt for the fugitives, with Iraqi forces contributing as they are able. U.N. Resolution 1546 states that "the multinational force shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq ... including by preventing and deterring terrorism." It also gives the coalition the right to take prisoners and confiscate weapons in the course of security operations. "Iraqis can contribute to the hunt, but [the United States] would still retain the right to do it after the handover," Katzman says. "The resolution gives us that authority." Frame says that the coalition and the Iraqi security forces, working as partners, will continue to pursue insurgents, but after June 30 Iraqis will be in charge of the prisons where fugitives are held. "When we capture people, we’ll turn them over to Iraqis. It’s their country," he says.

Is the most-wanted list still relevant?

Some experts say no. "I hope we’re not spending much time on" pursuing the last members of the most-wanted list, says Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The list is not directly connected to the insurgency campaign." Katzman agrees: "It’s an old list at this point. They’ve largely been taken over by events. Even if all 12 were captured today, I don’t think the resistance would end." The insurgency is now creating its own leaders, experts say. "We’ve killed or captured most of the first wave, but those guys have been replaced," White says. "New members are stepping up."

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