They have newer equipment, are fed better and receive more than twice as much pay as other Iraqi soldiers. They are the Republican Guard, the elite troops comprised of approximately 60,000-70,000 soldiers, who are literally nearest to Saddam Hussein's heart and are the one's most willing to die defending their supreme armed-forces commander. And, at this point, they are practically all that is left between U.S. forces and the city of Baghdad.
The Republican Guard was created in the early 1980s, during the deadly Iran-Iraq war, when Saddam Hussein reorganized his military structure to create an intensely loyal group of soldiers whom he could trust to defend Baghdad, and, perhaps most importantly, himself. The group grew from a simple palace guard to a large force called the Republican Guard Forces Command, with up to six divisions that had three brigades each. The Guard fight alongside an estimated 300,000 regular army troops, as well as a smaller group of guerilla warriors called the Fedayeen (see "Who Are The Fedayeen?").
The all-volunteer Guard — under the control of Saddam's son, Qusay — quickly swelled in ranks due to its prestige and privileges such as furnished apartments, cars and bonuses, as well as the best training and most up-to-date military equipment.
Among the most daunting of the Republican Guard troops is the Medina Division, a 10,000 to 20,000-strong soldier division thought to be Hussein's best-trained and most seasoned fighters, who are expected to defend Baghdad from U.S. troops. The Medina Division is reported to be in place approximately 50 miles south of Baghdad, near Karbala. The Medina soldiers are equipped with the country's most powerful tanks (approximately 270 prior to the war) and air-defense systems, putting them on par with those of some U.S. troops.
A subdivision, the 15,000-member Special Republican Guard, formed around 1985, is charged with personally protecting Hussein, his family and presidential installations. Outfitted with its own heavy armored brigade and air-defense unit, the Special Republican Guard is also in place to put down any attempted coups or rebellions within the Iraqi president's ruling party, which is why it is the only army unit permitted near Baghdad's city center.
This elite paramilitary force is comprised of recruits from such traditionally pro-Hussein areas as Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, as well as Baiji and al-Sharqat. Qusay Hussein also commands its eight divisions.
"The reason the Republican Guard are hanging around Baghdad is because if the regular army was defending it, the war would be over by now," said Francois Boo, an associate analyst for the nonprofit defense and intelligence issues site GlobalSecurity.org. As well equipped as the Republican Guard is, though, Boo said they are still not as well trained as the elite Marine and Army forces of the United States.
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 — setting off the first Gulf War — the Republican Guard led the offensive. Just as in this Iraq war, the U.S. armed forces faced their greatest resistance in 1991 from Republican Guard units, specifically the Nebuchadnezzar, Tawakalna, Tawalzalaa and Adnan divisions. Other units include Nida, Al-Abed, Al-Faw, Hammurabi and Al-Abid.
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