Who Are Saddam’s Fidayin?

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Ibrahim Al-Marashi
March 26, 2003

Saddam’s Fidayin have received attention during the current crisis with Iraq, as having played a prominent role in attacking American forces in the south of Iraq, as well as for apprehending captured Americans. Saddam referred to this “heroic” unit in his televised address on February 20. It is important at this juncture to understand the nature of this Iraqi fighting unit.

Saddam’s Fidayin (also seen as Fedayeen) can be roughly translated “as those who sacrifice themselves for Saddam.” It is a paramilitary militia with the strength of about 30,000 to 40,000 men. It was established in 1995 by Saddam’s oldest son Uday to maintain internal security in Iraq. By no means is it a professional fighting force, nor are its member recruited for suicide missions. The members are induced to join with higher salaries than regular Iraqi soldiers. Many members are youths in their early teens or young twenties. They are recruited solely on their loyalty to Saddam, (not Uday) and have had no prior combat experience. It has been erroneously referred to as an “elite” fighting force, when in reality it is known for its brute forces, rather than fighting prowess.

The Fidayin fighters tend to come from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit or are recruited from his al-Bu Nasir tribe. They are usually paraded in the Iraqi press as masked men with white uniforms. The Fidayin fighters are independent of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and report directly to Uday. Nevertheless, the deputy commander of the unit is a General Midhahim Sa’ab Al-Tikriti, also from Saddam’s hometown.

Prior to this conflict, the Fidayin carried out patrols and anti-corruption campaigns against drug smuggling and prostitution. The Fidayin operate above the law and have the jurisdiction to perform executions, sometimes in front of the victims’ homes. It was notorious for conducting a campaign of beheading women during night time raids on the accusation that they were practicing prostitution. In reality, these women belonged to families hostile to the regime.

During a potential conflict in Baghdad, these forces along with the Special Republican Guard will most likely defend the city in earnest. Based on their past operations, they will offer stiff resistance during the battle for Baghdad.

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