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Patch of the Fedayeen Saddam
|Type||Light Infantry, Guerilla|
|Role||Internal security, Last line of Defence|
|Equipment||Small arms mostly Russian and Chinese|
|Engagements||Operation Iraqi Freedom|
|Last Commander||Qusay Hussein|
Fedayeen Saddam (فدائيي صدام) was a paramilitary organization loyal to the former Ba'athist government of Saddam Hussein. The name was chosen to mean "Saddam's Men of Sacrifice". At its height, the group had 30,000-40,000 members.
The Fedayeen Saddam was not part of Iraq's regular armed forces but rather operated as a paramilitary unit of irregular forces. As a result of this, the Fedayeen reported directly to the Presidential Palace, rather than through the military chain of command. Whilst paramilitary the Fedayeen were not an elite military force, often receiving just basic training and operating without heavy weapons. In this they were somewhat similar to the Basij of Iran or Shabbiha militia of Syria.
Much like other paramilitaries, the Fedayeen was volunteer based and the units were never given an official salary. As a result, most of the members resorted to extortion and theft of property from the general population, even though the members had access to sanction-evading trade and high quality services (i.e. new cars, hospitals reserved for officials, expensive electronics) and a general standard of living considerably higher than that of the average Iraqi of the time. However, they were ordered not to threaten or harm any government officials or anyone affiliated with the Sunni minority.
The Fedayeen among the most loyal organizations to the government of Saddam Hussein and were a politically reliable force against domestic opponents. The Fedayeen had the most powerful impact on the 2003 war, resisting the American invasion.
Uday Hussein formed the Fedayeen Saddam in 1995 with ten to fifteen thousand recruits, typically young Sunni men living in central Iraq, the regions most loyal to the Ba'ath Party. Uday used the Fedayeen for personal reasons such as smuggling and suppressing opponents. Command of the militia was handed to Qusay Hussein in 1996 when it was uncovered that Uday was diverting weapons to the militia from the Iraqi Republican Guard.
Before Saddam was removed from power, the force was placed back under Uday's control. In 1998 the Ashbal Saddam (Saddam's Lion Cubs) was created to recruit and train young children for membership in the Fedayeen. The Ashbal recruited boys aged 10 to 15 for training in small arms and infantry tactics as well as loyalty conditioning.
2003 invasion of Iraq
The Fedayeen Saddam did not rise to major international attention, however, until the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led coalition forces. Whereas the Iraqi army and the Republican Guard quickly collapsed, Fedayeen forces put up stiff and determined resistance to the coalition invasion. U.S. strategy was to bypass other cities and head straight to Baghdad. In response, Fedayeen fighters entrenched themselves in the cities and launched guerrilla-style strikes on rear supply convoys attempting to sustain the rapid advance. The Fedayeen also used intimidation to strengthen the resolve of the Iraqi army and keep civilians from rebelling. The multinational coalition was forced to turn its attention to the slow task of rooting out irregular forces from the southern cities, delaying the advance by two weeks.
During the invasion, Fedayeen fighters wielded AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, and truck-mounted artillery and mortars. They made extensive use of subterfuge in an attempt to blunt the overwhelming technological advantage used by the invading forces.
By the end of the first week of April, Coalition forces had mostly succeeded in rooting out Fedayeen forces from the southern cities. The Shiite population was very unsupportive of the fighters, although many were intimidated. This factor, coupled with overwhelming firepower, quickly gave U.S. forces in the area a decisive edge. This reduced the pressure on the stretched supply lines, enabling the advance to continue. On April 9, Baghdad fell to American forces with only sporadic resistance by Fedayeen irregulars, foreign volunteers, and remnants of the Special Republican Guard, effectively ending the government of Saddam Hussein. Tikrit, the last city to fall, was taken on April 15.
The fall of Baghdad effectively ended the existence of the Fedayeen Saddam as an organized paramilitary. Some of its members died during the war. A large number survived, however, and were willing to carry on the fight even after the fall of Saddam Hussein from power. Many former members joined guerrilla organizations, collectively known as the Iraqi insurgency that began to form to resist the U.S-led occupation. By June, an insurgency was clearly underway in central and northern Iraq, especially in the area known as the Sunni Triangle. Some units of the Fedayeen also continued to operate independently of other insurgent organizations in the Sunni areas of Iraq. On November 30, 2003, a U.S. convoy traveling through the town of Samarra in the Sunni Triangle was ambushed by over 100 Iraqi guerillas, reportedly wearing trademark Fedayeen Saddam uniforms. Exactly how much influence they had in the resistance, especially following Saddam Hussein's capture on December 13, 2003, was a source of controversy.
- Q&A: What is the Fedayeen Saddam?, New York Times
- Federation of American Scientists on the Fedayeen Saddam
- Saddam's Enforcers, Dan Rather, CBS's 60 Minutes
- Fedayeen Enforces Loyalty Among Iraq Army Washington Post, March 24, 2003