War Diary : Hussein’s Legacy to Iraq: ‘A Land Without a People’

<i> From Times staff writers in the Middle East</i>


Saddam Hussein’s former deputy chief of general staff, Maj. Gen. Hasan Naqib, now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia. He says Hussein dreams an illusion that Iraq was nothing until he came to power in 1979 and that no one can defeat him.

Naqib believes Hussein would be willing to risk the destruction of Iraq and its people if he sensed he was about to be overthrown or killed. The general says that, in 1986, Hussein told him: “Whoever comes after me to take up the reins of power will have to take up a land without a people.”

Waves of Blackhawk, Chinook and Huey helicopters have carried infantrymen from the 101st Airborne Division by the thousands deep into Iraq to cut Hussein’s supply lines and drive to the Euphrates River.

Officers say the invasion evokes memories of the D-Day landings in France in June, 1944. Even the flying time--less than an hour--was about the same, and the mission of the 101st was similar. “The only difference,” says Maj. Robin Sellers, “is there’s no water, and we’re moving in helicopters, not gliders.”


At 1:35 a.m. local time, as rescue workers sift through the ruins of a housing complex hit hours earlier by an Iraqi Scud that killed 28 Americans, Hussein announces he has started a withdrawal from Kuwait. “Our forces,” Radio Baghdad announces, “which have proved their fighting and steadfastness ability . . . will fight with force and courage to make their withdrawal organized and honorable.”

The announcement causes hardly a stir in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which has been through too many emotional roller-coaster rides in the past six months. Whatever happens, though, there is hardly a voice of disagreement over one fact: Iraq is in the process of absorbing the most total military defeat in modern Arab history.


Members of the 5th MASH unit’s advance field hospital, in southern Iraq, have their own desert storm to contend with, as torrential rains and winds up to 70 m.p.h. tear through the unit’s makeshift compound.

Inside the surgery tent of the mobile army surgical hospital, the howling winds obscure the noise of an incoming med-evac helicopter. One of the first patients is not an allied soldier but an injured Iraqi prisoner of war. “Saddam finished,” he says, sliding a finger across his neck.

Another Iraqi POW looks relieved that, for him at least, the war is over. He pulls up his shirt to reveal a nine-inch-long, crescent-shaped scar across his stomach. “Iran-Iraq,” he says.

Then he pats the thick bandages on his right leg. “Iraq-America,” he adds, shaking his head. “Iraq, no good.”

From the first hours of the allied ground invasion, frightened Iraqi troops have been pouring out of their bunkers and vehicles, willingly surrendering to any outsider--even journalists covering the assault.

But the most unusual surrender attempt comes when a number of Iraqis try to give up to a pilotless allied drone. The spy plane ignores them.

One soldier who isn’t complaining about being stationed in Saudi Arabia, where alcohol is prohibited, is Col. Vollney Corn, commander of the 1st Armored Division.

“This is the first war that we have ever fought on this scale that has been alcohol-free,” he says. “We have been struck by how low the accident rate has been. It’s not only just the problems we have had before--of guys getting drunk in bars. It’s also the ones with hangovers--they get careless.”


Among the Iraqi soldiers who surrender is a frightened 14-year-old boy. He tells Maj. Robert Leonard of the Army’s 3rd Armored Division that he had been dragged from his home just two weeks earlier and ordered to fight.

One of the more sobering rituals among soldiers just before entering combat is to burn any family pictures in their possession so that the mementos cannot be exploited by the enemy if the soldiers are captured.

But not everyone has the heart to do it. “Yeah, they told me to burn them,” admits Pfc. Stoney Johnson, 20, of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. “But I couldn’t. . . . I need them, look at ‘em every day. I need to.” Johnson has a wife and a year-old daughter waiting for him in Macon, Ga.

“When the war’s over . . . we’ll live happily ever after,” he says.


Pfc. Albert Taylor, 21, admits a certain letdown as the cease-fire takes hold.

As operator of a Stinger shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile, Taylor is trained to shoot down enemy airplanes. “Yeah, I’m kind of disappointed,” he says. “We trained hard for this. But if they don’t want to put any aircraft up, I can’t do anything.”

Specialist Michael Landolfi surely has one of the more unusual jobs in all of Operation Desert Storm. His main weapon isn’t an M-16; it’s a megaphone.

Landolfi, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, uses his weapon to coax Iraqis into surrendering. “Wherever these guys go, I go,” said the 20-year-old from Santa Rosa, Calif.

Landolfi says he dispenses with the flowery phrases often favored by some Arabic speakers, such as Saddam Hussein.

“I just tell them they have American firepower breathing down their necks,” he said. “That gets their attention.”