WASHINGTON – Iraq is acquiring military uniforms "identical down to the last detail" to those worn by American and British forces and plans to use them to shift blame for atrocities, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.
Jim Wilkinson, director of strategic communication at Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said Saddam Hussein had ordered procurement of the uniforms, but he would not say how this was known.
"Saddam intends to issue these uniforms to Fedayeen Saddam troops who would wear them 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 Fedayeen Saddam is a paramilitary force of more than 15,000 founded by Saddam's son Odai in 1994, Wilkinson said. The unit's members are recruited from areas noted for loyalty to Saddam.
The Fedayeen Saddam carries out patrols and anti-smuggling duties and is separate from the regular Iraqi Army command, Wilkinson said. He said its members are paid a salary and, while not an elite fighting force, they deal with unrest during domestic emergencies and report directly to Saddam.
"Saddam Hussein is clearly getting ready to wage a campaign of fear and disinformation against those who seek to disarm him," Wilkinson said, referring to the U.S. and British forces who would spearhead an invasion.
Efforts to blame U.S. and British invading forces for atrocities committed by Iraqi troops is among the ploys Bush administration officials have predicted for weeks. Wilkinson's statement is the first public mention of a plan by Saddam to outfit his troops in fake uniforms.
This is among many acts of deception and desperation that Pentagon officials say they fear Saddam will carry out in an attempt to turn international opinion against the United States and Britain.
Other acts suggested by U.S. officials include setting Iraqi oil fields ablaze and using chemical or biological weapons against the Iraqi people.
The Pentagon issued a statement Thursday detailing its contentions that Iraq plans to commit acts of "eco-terrorism."
"A variety of sources lead the department to believe that the regime has both the capability and the intent to damage or destroy Iraq's oilfields, potentially causing a crisis for both Iraq's people and its neighbors," the statement said.
"Reliable reports indicate that these activities have been planned, and in some cases may already have begun. Recent information revealed that Iraq has received 24 railroad boxcars full of pentolite explosives," it added. The explosives would be used to blow up oil wells, it said.
The Pentagon statement did not explain the sources of the information. A defense official said it came from U.S. intelligence agencies.
The Pentagon also said it has developed plans to extinguish any oil well fires and assess damage to oil facilities that might occur in Iraq during a war.
White House officials said Bush has not yet decided whether to go to war against Iraq, but there are a growing number of signs that the U.S. military is nearly ready to launch any attack he may order.
The Navy, for example, said the hospital ship USNS Comfort has moved from the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to Bahrain. And the last of the ship's 800 additional medical staff members were flying there Thursday. The last time it was deployed to the Gulf was the 1991 Gulf War.