Saddam's Jerusalem 'Liberation' Army Begins Training

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Training has begun for thousands of Iraqis who have volunteered to serve in Saddam Hussein's special army, raised to assist the Palestinians to "liberate" Jerusalem from Israel.

However, according to one Iraqi expert, the "greatest danger" from Saddam is not this army, but his drive to keep the intifada (Palestinian uprising) alive and to prevent Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat from reaching a compromise deal with Israel.

Iraqi national television has shown thousands of men and women celebrating as volunteers boarded buses for camps over the weekend, where they will reportedly be trained for the special task.

"We shall not give up two [things]...Palestine and Saddam Hussein," the volunteers chanted.

At the beginning of the Palestinian uprising late last year, Saddam called for volunteers to fight against Israel to "liberate" Jerusalem. Official Iraqi sources claim that some seven million Iraqis - nearly one-third of the 22 million population - have offered their lives for the battle.

However, Amatzia Baram, professor of Middle East History at the University of Haifa said that number needs to be kept in proper perspective.

It is "very feasible" that millions have volunteered, but they were ordered to do so, he said. In some cases, "volunteers" may include men and women with large numbers of children, who will never actually be trained to fight.

According to Baram, the "greatest danger" from Saddam is not his army - whatever its size - but his efforts to fuel the intifada and to prevent Arafat from compromising on his goal to rule over all of "Palestine," including all of Israel.

"[Saddam] is the most popular leader in Palestine," Baram said, noting that the Iraqi leader has given $1 billion in food and medicine to the Palestinians. He also gives a $10,000 check to the family of every victim killed in the violence, he added.

Recently, media reports suggested that Arafat had a plan to stoke the violence in the PA-controlled areas and when the situation became too bad, he would flee to Baghdad. But Baram said that while spreading such a rumor was a sign of "astute statesmanship," there was very little chance of it happening.

Although, Saddam has a large following among Palestinians, he is an embarrassment to the PA leadership because of his seeming generosity and support for their cause, he said. Arafat also does not trust him.

Arafat's support for Saddam when he invaded Kuwait in 1990 lost the Palestinian leader a lot of support in the Arab world and wider international community.

Arafat would have to be desperate to flee to Iraq, where he would have no freedom of speech or movement, he added.

According to Baram, Saddam has an interest in keeping Israeli-Palestinian conflict burning, because without it there is no chance to ignite the Arab world against Israel. Doing so is his one chance to redeem himself, end the oil embargo against his country and emerge a hero.

Saddam has asked that one of the four countries bordering Israel - Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Lebanon - provide him with territory from which he can launch attacks against Israel. As far as is known no country has agreed.

There is only "one chance in a thousand," Baram said, that the Iraqi dictator would launch an attack against Israel alone.

If Saddam launched a solo attack against Israel, Iraq would be "singled out for Israeli punishment." He would also be exposed as a liar internationally for using medium range missiles, which he said he has destroyed.

He is not suicidal, Baram said.

In a weekend newsmagazine interview, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not mention Saddam's "Jerusalem Army" as a threat, but he did highlight Iraq's "tremendous efforts" to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Sharon said he supported the new U.S. administration's moves in the region.