Who Are The Fedayeen?

Paramilitary militia group is fiercely loyal to Saddam Hussein.

You might have heard that the Republican Guard are Saddam Hussein's most loyal and fiercest troops. But, believe it or not, there are factions of the Iraqi president's troops who are even more intense and focused than the Republican Guard: the Fedayeen Saddam.

The 30,000-40,000 paramilitary troops, whose name translates to "Saddam's Men of Sacrifice," are mostly young Iraqis (16 and older) who dress in civilian clothes, are known to launch guerilla attacks and are often used to brutally put down any potential revolts within the Iraqi army.

They lack the sophisticated weaponry lavished on the Republican Guard, but armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and pickup truck-mounted artillery, these forces pose one of the biggest threats to coalition forces in southern Iraq because they are often indistinguishable from Iraqi civilians.

Coalition troops have faced light resistance from Saddam's approximately 300,000-strong regular army and have not yet fully engaged the approximately 70,000 Republican Guard troops, but their experience so far with the Fedayeen has been frustrating, according to the Council on Foreign Affairs. The council reported that the U.S. administration was aware of the Fedayeen before the war began, but did not expect them to be such a potent fighting force.

In addition to launching guerilla attacks, the Fedayeen act as a kind of internal police force for Saddam's regular army units, often threatening to kill soldiers who attempt to surrender. Not accountable to the regular Iraqi army, the Fedayeen answer to Saddam's eldest son, Uday, 38, who founded the unit in 1995 with 10,000 men drawn from regions loyal to the Baath regime. The unit reports directly to the presidential palace rather than the army


Uday Hussein was reported to have used the Fedayeen to attack, torture and murder opponents of his father's regime, as well as to thwart smuggling along Iraq's borders. Uday briefly lost control of the Fedayeen in 1996 after he was reported to have ordered sophisticated weapons transferred from the Republican Guard to the Fedayeen without Saddam's knowledge; his brother, Qusay, took over briefly, but Uday was back in control a short time later.

The Fedayeen's commander is believed to be a staunch Saddam loyalist, General Iyad Futiyeh Rawi, who was awarded 27 medals during the Iran-Iraq war.

In addition to operating masked death squads — often executing people in their homes — the Fedayeen allegedly beheaded more than 200 women as part of an anti-prostitution campaign in 2000-2001, forcing the victims' families to display the heads outside their homes, according to the U.S. State Department. The group is also in charge of enforcing night curfews as well as controlling major intersections within Baghdad.

"The Fedayeen watch over everyone," said Francois Boo, an associate analyst for the nonprofit defense and intelligence issues site GlobalSecurity.org. "They are like the brown shirts of Nazi Germany. They're creating headaches for the coalition because they are basically bullies and they are prone to sniping and unconventional warfare. They are also putting intense pressure on his troops not to surrender. Given their loyalty to the regime, [what we've seen so far] is just a preview of what the coalition will face once they

enter Baghdad."

The Fedayeen are not the only popular militias working within Iraq outside the jurisdiction of the army and security apparatus. There are two youth-oriented factions, the Ashbal Saddam ("Saddam's Lion Cubs" or "Lions of Saddam"), a military organization for children aged 10 to 16 and the Youth Civil Defense Force, for children 12-17 years old, as well as the Al Quds ("Jerusalem Brigades"), which contain both female and male units. These volunteer forces are often showcased at propaganda events and are rumored to number in the millions of members, though the State Department questions their membership numbers.

The phrase "Fedayeen" came into usage in the 1950s to describe Arab raiders who crossed the border into Israel to launch terrorist attacks, killing more than 1,300 Israelis between 1949 and 1956. These attacks prompted revenge raids by Israeli forces into Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where the Fedayeen were based.

— Gil Kaufman

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