Command and Control of Iraq’s Chemical Weapons Arsenal

Back to the > Iraq Collection

Ibrahim Al-Marashi
March 26, 2003

As US forces approach the outskirts of Baghdad, the Pentagon has asserted that Republican Guard Units, such as the al-Madina unit have the authority to deploy chemical weapons. If these American forces were to cross an imaginary redline drawn around Baghdad, the Pentagon asserts that chemical weapons could be deployed. It is crucial now to have a full understanding of the command and control structure of Iraq’s chemical weapons arsenal.

The key unit in the deployment of such weapons is Al-Amn al-Khas (Special Security Organization, referred to as the SSO), which was created during the Iran-Iraq War to serve as a super-secret organization and emerged as the most powerful agency in the security apparatus. It emerged from within al-Amn al-‘Amm in 1982 to provide bodyguards to the President after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam.[1] There are an estimated 5,000 members[2] in this organization mostly from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit.[3]

While its primary duty is protecting the President, it also manages the actions of the Republican Guards.[4] According to one source, “It is the eyes and ears of the President, as well as the hand to implement, directly or indirectly, the President’s security directives. This body was in charge of collecting information about the activities of all high ranking officials and even information about members of the President’s immediate family.”[5]

Al-Amn al-Khas (Special Security) is responsible for command and control oversight of the concealment operations of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The responsibilities of al-Amn al-Khas for Iraq’s WMD program include purchasing foreign arms and technology, securing Iraq’s most critical military industries, and directing efforts to conceal Iraq’s WMD programs. It manages the concealment of Iraq’s non-conventional weapons as well as the relevant scientific documentation of these programs.[6]

One of the reasons Saddam entrusted the SSO, a security/intelligence agency, to deploy these weapons as opposed to a regular military unit was out fear of a coup that could be launched from within the military.[7] Two analysts have written of the SSO, “In other words, these people, who will be the ones to initiate nuclear, biological, chemical and/or radiological weapons use, are the closest to what would be seen as an extension of Saddam’s self.”[8]

The current director of the SSO is Saddam’s son, Qusay Hussein, who also controls the Special Republican Guard. This agency controls units of Iraq’s Chemical Corps, which is responsible for deploying Iraq’s chemical weapons arsenal.[9] During the 1991 Gulf War, SSO controlled and concealed the SCUD missile arsenal.[10] An article recounts a statement by Hussein Kamil, “Saddam declared that if contact with him was severed (SSO units possessing non-conventional warheads were based deep in the deserts of western Iraq), and if SSO officers believed that communications had been broken off because of a nuclear attack on Baghdad, they should mate the chemical and biological warheads in their custody with missiles in the possession of the regular missile force and launch them against Israel.”[11] The Chemical Corps, in addition to deploying chemical munitions, also played a role in salvaging Iraq’s chemical warfare capability after the 1991 Gulf War.[12]

During an inspection, UNSCOM discovered that the SSO not only had a role in deploying chemical agents, but it was also involved in the development of biological weapons, proven by confiscated SSO documents detailing the testing of agents such as anthrax and botulinim toxin.[13] Another UNSCOM inspection discovered that Staff 7 of the SSO developed gas gangrene bacteria.[14] Apparently, an SSO intelligence assessment of Israel’s WMD capability in 1988 encouraged the Iraqi regime to further develop biological weapons as a strategic deterrent.[15]

Given that Saddam’s trusted youngest son, Qusay manages the SSO, it seems likely that this organization will give the command to deploy a chemical weapons attack against US forces.


[1] Dilip Hiro, Neighbors, Not Friends, Iraq and Iran After the Gulf Wars (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 55.
[2] Hiro, p. 56. This figure is also claimed by Federation of American Scientists, see “Iraq’s Intelligence Agencies” <>.
[3] Anthony Cordesman, Iraq and the War on Sanctions (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999), p. 152.
[4] Unattributed article, “The Secret War Between the CIA and Iraqi Intelligence,” in al-Hawadith (London, in Arabic), February 2, 2001, p. 21. Translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).
[5] Mustafa Alani, “Saddam’s Support Structure” in Sean McKnight, Neil Patrick, and Francis Toase (eds.), Gulf Security: Opportunities and Challenges for the New Generation (London: The Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, 2000), p. 43.
[6] Amazia Baram, “Saddam’s Power Structure: the Tikritis Before, During and After the War,” in Toby Dodge and Steven Simon, eds., Iraq at the Crossroads: State and Society in the Shadow of Regime Change, Adelphi Paper 354 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 100.
[7] Timothy V. McCarthy and Jonathan B. Tucker, “Saddam’s Toxic Arsenal”, in Peter R. Lavoy, Scott D. Sagan, and James J. Wirtz, Planning the Unthinkable: How New Powers Will Use Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000). p. 48.
[8] Jerrold Post and Amazia Baram, “Saddam is Iraq: Iraq is Saddam,” Counterproliferation Papers No. 17 (Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: USAF Counterproliferation Center, 2002), p. 55.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ritter, p. 102.
[11] Amazia Baram, “An Analysis of Iraqi WMD Strategy,” The Nonproliferation Review 8 (Summer 2001).
[12] Stephen Hughes, The Iraqi Threat and Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (Victoria, Canada: Trafford, 2002), p. 98.
[13] Richard Butler, The Greatest Threat: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Crisis of Global Security (New York: Public Affairs, 2000), p.86.
[14] McCarthy and Tucker, p. 75.
[15] Ibid. p. 66.

Comments Are Closed