Latest News

Documents found in carrier offer glimpse of Iraqi soldiers' training

NEAR BASRA, Iraq—His name is Saddon Muhsen Elwan, and he's one of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards. The 31-year-old father of one was apparently a spy sent to Basra, Iraq's second largest city, to gather intelligence.

His job description, according to an Iraqi military promotion letter, was "to find information and bring it back to us." But somehow, he ended up on the outskirts of Basra facing an advance of U.S. and British forces. What happened to him is unknown.

His Soviet-made armored personnel carrier rusts away on a dusty highway by the Zubayr Bridge like a lone sentinel in a war that has passed it by. In a compartment, Western journalists found a folder containing Elwan's life history: identification card, high school transcript, promotion letters, military training coursework, an Iraqi military constitution and other documents.

It provides a brief, rare insight into the training of one of Saddam's elite fighters.

Elwan was born on April 14, 1971, in the town of Babel. In high school, he studied economics, geography, history, Arabic and English. His grades were less than stellar, averaging 60 percent, which would make him a D student in the United States.

Elwan trained in military warfare at the School of Marines Artillery. He studied how to shoot guns and use artillery. He scored 64 percent in a course on rocket-propelled grenades.

In a performance evaluation, he got positive marks for his ability to take responsibility and for his negotiating skills. He received average marks for patience and drive. On whether he could become a military instructor, Elwan's teacher wrote "with some training."

In an indication of the paranoia of Saddam's regime, Elwan also was evaluated on his honesty. He passed.

After 10 years in the military, his loyalty was rewarded. He was promoted from assistant Republican Guard to a full member on Nov. 20, 2000. On his identification card, signed by Saddam's son Odai, Elwan sported a moustache in his picture.

It looked a lot like Saddam's.

Most of the Republican Guards are protecting Saddam's palaces and the capital, Baghdad, but some were sent to oversee the defense of Basra against coalition forces. This would include intelligence-gathering, said British soldiers on the edge of Basra.

"There might be a few here to coordinate their defense," said Lt. William Hawley, 25, of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards regiment, which controls a checkpoint near Zubayr Bridge. "It's unlikely they'd want to ship them out here when the Americans are applying pressure in the north."

Elwan could be back in Baghdad. He appears to have escaped disguised as a civilian. Inside the armored personnel carrier was a mound of dusty, olive-colored uniforms and water canteens.

What was left behind also raised questions about equipment and training.

Slippers, instead of military boots, were in the armored personnel carrier. And nearby was a training manual: It was a crash course in how to drive a tank—or an armored personnel carrier.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.