Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has ordered military uniforms "identical down to the last detail" to those worn by U.S. and British troops so Iraqi paramilitary soldiers can commit atrocities against their own people while disguised as coalition forces, a top U.S. military spokesman alleged Thursday.
Senior military officials said the uniforms are bound for the Fedayeen Saddam soldiers, a paramilitary force of more than 15,000 from the president's home region of Tikrit and other loyal areas. They described the force, founded by Hussein's son Uday in 1995, as one that deals with public unrest in emergencies and normally patrols and carries out anti-smuggling duties.
"This campaign of fear and misinformation would represent the latest chapter in Saddam Hussein's long history of brutal crimes against the innocent people of Iraq," said James Wilkinson, senior spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.
Human rights monitors said it was hard to evaluate the U.S. allegations without more detailed information.
The accusation follows a series of allegations of planned Iraqi tactics made privately to journalists in recent days by U.S. officials on condition of anonymity, apparently in anticipation of Iraqi charges of American acts of brutality against civilians should the U.S. attack.
Thursday's charges came one day after a senior defense official briefed reporters at the Pentagon on the U.S.-led coalition's rules and methods for targeting sites in Iraq. The official said the rules would minimize civilian casualties.
Fedayeen Saddam troops would wear the U.S. and British uniforms "when conducting reprisals against the Iraqi people so that they could pass the atrocities off as the work of the United States and the United Kingdom," Wilkinson said.
The force, which a human rights worker described as a private army, is separate from the Iraqi army and reports directly to Hussein's palace.
The officials did not say how they obtained the information or how many uniforms had been ordered, but they insisted they know "for a fact" that Hussein ordered the uniforms and intends to use them to discredit coalition forces.
Hania Mufti, a London-based Middle Eastern specialist with Human Rights Watch who served as an observer in Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said Hussein was not known to use such tactics then. She added that the killings of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds that followed the war occurred after the U.S.-led coalition left.
"This would be quite new," Mufti said. "It is conceivable that it could be a method that the Iraqis could resort to, but of course that is only speculation on my part. Because of the force of public opinion, I think the Iraqis would realize that this could be something that they could use to bolster the already very strong antiwar sentiments that exist in Europe and the United States and elsewhere."
It's hard to evaluate the Pentagon claims without knowing where the information came from, said Joe Stork, a Human Rights Watch Middle East specialist based in Washington.
Iraq's regime "is a government that's responsible for all manner of atrocities," he said. "That said, these allegations don't have any precedence. "