LONDON (Mar. 21)
Plans by Saddam Hussein to assemble a group of 60 suicide pilots to attack U.S. and British military targets are being hampered by the Iraqi leader’s inability to trust the volunteers to carry out their missions, according to reports from Western intelligence sources in London.
Saddam has appealed for volunteers from the Iraqi armed forces to form a suicide air attack force that would be intended both to lure American and British warplanes into Iraq’s air defense traps and also to launch direct attacks on Western targets in the Gulf region, the reports say.
In effect, Saddam wants the pilots to offer themselves as bait, tempting U.S. and British aircraft patroling the no-fly zones to give chase.
The Iraqi planes have little chance of evading the superior Western aircraft, but their purpose is to entice their pursuers into the air-defense traps, several of which have been set up inside Iraq with the assistance of Russian experts.
Although it has not achieved much success so far, the Iraqi air-defense capability is regarded as substantial, having a battery of some 150 Russian- made surface-to-air missiles.
The only problem with what would otherwise be a perfectly workable operation – - and one that could pose a serious threat to U.S. and British aircraft — is Saddam’s innate distrust of his own officers, even those who say they are willing to sacrifice their lives to the Iraqi cause.
Apparently suspecting that many of the volunteers would — given full fuel tanks — defect with their aircraft to neighboring Saudi Arabia or lran, as happened during the 1991 Gulf War Saddam has also ordered that the suicide air crews’ fuel be strictly rationed, ensuring that their operations are conducted inside Iraqi air space.
Saddam’s attempts to set up the suicide squadrons comes at a time when he is looking for new ways to defy the West and further destabilize the Gulf region.
He recently appointed himself commander in chief of the Iraqi air force, and he is said to be desperate to achieve a military success in his current confrontation with the U.S. and Britain.
Since the current wave of air strikes started after last December’s Operation Desert Fox, U.S. and British warplanes have flown hundreds of missions against Iraqi targets without suffering any casualties.
Saddam has offered a reward — still unclaimed — of $15,000 to any pilot or air-defense unit that succeeds in capturing a Western air crew.