Arabic media are speculating that a "safqua" -- Arabic for a secret deal -- was arranged between the United States and Iraq's Baath regime to hand over Baghdad. Although nobody can pinpoint the exact terms, there are three clear outcomes. First, the lives of many American and British forces as well as most senior Baath officials were spared. Second, Baghdad itself did not turn into the blood bath widely anticipated by military experts. Third, the war was shortened dramatically, saving the region -- especially Saudi Arabia -- from catastrophic consequences.
The following clues, gleaned from Arabic and U.S. media, suggest why the fall of Baghdad was premeditated.
1. None of the seven rescued POWs was hurt. On the contrary, all seven were found in good condition. All were found dressed in pajamas rather than the standard uniforms for prisoners of war, indicating that they were being treated as guests rather than as POWs. Usually, Arabs give pajamas to guests who sleep over in their houses.
Arab reports point out that POW Jessica Lynch was similarly treated; she was kept in the cleanest room in an Iraqi hospital until she was rescued on April 2.
In both cases, American forces were tipped off about the location of the POWs by unknown Iraqi citizens. Kuwaiti prisoners, by contrast, who were captured during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait more than 12 years ago, are only now being discovered.
To date, none of the seven war prisoners has spoken directly to American TV reporters, unlike U.S. soldiers injured in the fighting, who became instant media sources. We are told the seven POWs were taken to Kuwait for medical treatment and intelligence debriefing.
2. American tanks rolled into Baghdad with very little resistance while Basra, nowhere near as heavily fortified as Baghdad, sustained almost three weeks of fierce resistance.
The fall of Baghdad was so sudden that it left many of the Arab and Muslim volunteers who went to Iraq to fight the coalition forces in total disarray. Initially given weapons and uniforms, thousands of these volunteers -- who came from Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere -- wound up having no one to tell them what to do. Al-Jazeera reports that some are now still fighting U.S. forces while others are actually attacking Iraqi civilians.
3. Baath forces refrained from destroying a single bridge in Baghdad, which could have blocked U.S. tanks access to the city, at least temporarily. Moreover, only a handful of Iraq's oil fields were set on fire, leaving the vast majority intact almost in accordance with Bush's demands.
4. None of the senior Baath officials has surrendered to date, with the exception of two high-level scientists. Instead, tens of thousands of Baath operatives managed to disappear without a sign of internal divisions. This strongly suggests that the departure of the Baath regime was ordered from the most senior levels and was highly organized. It also explains why most of the Iraqi forces, including the Republican Guards, were nowhere to be found when U.S. forces entered Baghdad.
5. Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Al-Douri, a high-level Baath functionary, was quoted in both American and Arabic media as saying, "The game is over," and that he had not been in contact with Saddam Husssein for weeks. When asked why he used the word "game," the ambassador replied, "The war is over." Meanwhile, al-Jazeera reported that Al-Douri has been allowed to travel to Syria and that he may be asked to represent the new Iraqi government at the United Nations.
While Arabs all over the Middle East now routinely talk of the deal that saved Baghdad, they also speculate that the same deal may have saved Saddam. Unlike the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, which preoccupied U.S. forces for months, the hunt for the dictator no longer appears to be the top priority for U.S. forces in the wake of Baghdad's fall.
Where could Saddam be if he is still alive? Some Arab media experts speculate he may have sought refuge in Mecca, the most sacred Islamic place in the world. No non-Muslims ever lived in and very few have even set foot in this holiest of Muslim cities.
If it turns out that Saddam is indeed in Mecca, it would be one further clue that the architect of the "safqua" or deal between the Baath and the United States was Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah -- a trusted intermediary of the Bush family and the only Arab leader invited to President Bush's Crawford ranch.
For the Saudis, as well as for many other Arab leaders, the deal offers the one hope of sparing the Middle East the consequences of a bloody and prolonged war of resistance in Iraq. For the Americans, the deal offers a chance of stabilizing postwar Iraq and its neighbors, leaving the door open for what Bush calls the road map to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
© 2003 Pacific News Service