In the early hours of D+16 the Soviet departure from Iraq was accelerating. At the embassy in Baghdad, thick streams of black smoke went up into the sky as embassy personnel and diplomats continued to incinerate classified documents practically by the bushel. The Aeroflot airliners that had arrived in Baghdad on the previous day were now joined by a transport aircraft adorned in Aeroflot markings. This plane would move certain pieces of sophisticated equipment back to the Soviet Union. An official communique from the Soviet government to the Iraqi foreign ministry estimated the remaining timetable for the Soviet exodus to be twelve hours. This was acceptable to the Iraqis.
At Al-Taqaddum Airbase west of Baghdad, what remained of the Soviet military contingent in Iraq was making the final preparations to leave the country. The 104th Guards Airborne Division has departed Iraq almost entirely, minus one battalion that remained at Al-Taqaddum as a reaction force should the diplomats in Baghdad encounter trouble. Once the last of the embassy personnel were in the air, the paratroopers would follow close behind. And of course, the paratroopers who were now prisoners of the Americans in Saudi Arabia. By noon, the bulk of the division was back on Soviet soil.
The Iraqi military’s level of activity was high through much of the day. Geopolitical intrigue aside, the main threat to Iraq was neither the United States of the Soviet Union. It was Iran, the neighboring state that Iraq had suspended a bloody seven-year conflict with as the clouds of global war grew thick earlier in July. Now Iranian forces were gathering opposite southeastern Iraq, namely the Basra area. Four heavy Iranian divisions were presently in place and there were signs of at least three more moving in that direction. Iraq’s response was instinctive. The Republican Guards divisions presently in Kuwait were now either in place at the border or en route. Other Republican Guard formations, as well as a number of other Iraqi divisions were moving towards the border from all over Iraq. Meanwhile, a smaller number of brigades were approaching the Kuwait border to take the place of the departing Republican Guard divisions. The plight of the Iraqi soldiers now in the custody of US Marines was temporarily placed on the back burner. Their safety was guaranteed, owing to the quiet agreements reached in the previous days between Iraqi and US diplomats. Inside of Iraq, no mention of the engagements that occurred in northern Saudi Arabia, or the results, was made by the government or media.
Saddam Hussein was inconspicuous for the entire day. He remained out of site and released no statements. Government spokesmen informed the international media that Iraq’s leader was in Baghdad coordinating the deployment of Iraq’s armed forces from Kuwait to the border with Iran. The second part of the statement was true. As for the first part, Saddam was situated in a military command center outside of Tikrit, north of Baghdad. He understood that the capital would soon be a target for the Soviets, and perhaps even the Iranians and Americans. More to the point, the Iraqi leader was aware that he was a target himself. In Baghdad, despite multiple layers of thick security, he was fair game for the KGB, CIA or even Islamic fundamentalists. A determined foe could reach him.
In Tikrit, his hometown and power base, assassinating him was going to be next to impossible. Many senior members of the government and Iraqi military had been drawn from Saddam’s own Al-Bu Nasir tribe, centered in Tikrit. The Iraqi leader had learned the hard way that he could only trust and rely upon relatives and allies of his family. Now, he was placing his life, and the fate of Iraq firmly in the hands of these people.