What we learned from Seymour Hersh 5.

In the days after 9/11 some intelligence and military people suspected that so complex an operation could only have been mounted by—or at least with the support of—a foreign intelligence agency. (p. 75.) On 14 October 2001, Sabah Khodada, an Iraqi army captain who had defected, told reporters for the NYT and the PBS program “Frontline” that the 9/11 attacks were “conducted by people who were trained by Saddam.” (Quoted, p. 216.) Another defector, apparently a former lieutenant general in Iraqi intelligence, said he had observed Arab students being taught how to hijack planes in a security facility at Salman Pak. (p. 216.)

In Fall 2001, Italy’s intelligence service sent a report to CIA of a February 1999 visit by the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican[1] to Niger and three other African countries. The Italians—apparently—suggested that the ambassador had been seeking to arrange the purchase of “yellow cake” uranium from Niger. This report alarmed some officials in the American government because it suggested that the Iraqis were trying to re-establish a nuclear weapons program soon after the IAEA had declared that they no longer had a nuclear program. (p. 226.)   Intelligence analysts derided the report, but someone “stovepiped” it to Vice President Cheney. (p. 227.) So, in Fall 2001, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) launched a review of Iraq’s WMD programs. (p. 225.)

In late 2001, an unanticipated division arose within the ranks of the conservatives who had signed the 1998 letter to President Clinton. There were two issues. The first question was whether to extend the war on terror from Afghanistan to Iraq. On the one hand, according to Hersh, “Perle and Woolsey inspired a surge of articles and columns calling for the extension of the Afghan war into Iraq.” (p. 169.) On the other hand, Richard Armitage, now at the State Department, concluded that the extension of the war to Iraq would be a bad idea. (p. 169.) Armitage has adopted the long-standing position voiced by Anthony Zinni. A “former high-level intelligence official” who supported Armitage’s position in the debate told Hersh that “We have no idea what could go wrong in Iraq if the crazies took over that country. Better the devil we know than the one we don’t.” (p. 170.) Secretary of State Colin Powell failed to support for Armitage in the debate, apparently believing that his deputy would be able to hold up the momentum for war while he played the disinterested adjudicator.[2]

The second question was whether to use Ahmad Chalabi and the INC in any effort to topple Hussein or to find someone else. (p. 179.) [It looks to me like the opponents of war with Iraq used the Chalabi-is-death argument as a fall-back position. This then required them to find an alternative to Chalabi in the form of other dissident groups.] For the State Department, the “someone else” turned out to be the two factions of the Kurds, the Shi’ite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, and a group headed by Iyad Allawi.[3] (pp. 179-180.) For the CIA the “someone else” was Nizar Khasraji[4], a former Iraqi general who had bolted in the mid-1990s. (p. 181.) These candidates had various defects. Allawi appears to have been one of Hussein’s original supporters, a former senior intelligence officer, and a “thug.” In the mid-Seventies, Allawi parted ways with Saddam and then survived several assassination attempts. Khasraji was very Westernized, so he might not play well with the majority of Iraqis, who were not, and he had been involved in the use of poison gas against the Kurds in 1988.

[1] Who knew?

[2] To my mind, Powell was a soldier-turned-administrator, rather than someone with finely-honed political skills.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayad_Allawi

[4] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/not_in_website/syndication/monitoring/media_reports/2286537.stm

What we learned from Seymour Hersh 2.

In 1986 the CIA established the Counter Terrorism Center. The founding director of the Center was Duane (“Dewey”) Clarridge.[1] Clarridge quickly recruited Robert Baer, an Arabic-speaking case officer with a lot of experience in the Middle East.[2] (p. 78.)

In 1993 or 1994 Baer got out of the CTC and was posted to Dushanbe, Tajikistan. (p. 79.) (I haven’t yet figured out if he was there at the same time as Colonel Tom Wilhelm.[3])

In November 1993 Ahmad Chalabi,[4] the leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), sent its plan for the over-throw of Saddam Hussein to the Clinton administration.   Between November 1993 and October 1994, Chalabi’s plan wound its way through the Clinton administration and received approval for American support. In October 1994, a CIA outpost in Kurdish-held northern Iraq began operating in support of Chalabi’s plan. Robert Baer took charge of the local operations.

Between October 1994 and March 1995, Chalabi’s people tried to suborn treason on the part of a lot of Iraqis—purportedly. In March 1995, Chalabi attempted a coup against Saddam Hussein. It proved a complete failure. In April 1995, Chalabi and INC moved their base to London. From here they began trolling for new support among American conservatives. Chalabi developed close ties with the American Enterprise Institute. In 1996, the CIA cut off payments to Chalabi and the INC.

NB: The Cold War was closely bound with the history of refugee movements. Many refugees settle into some kind of life in their new homes. However, there are always some refugees who continue to involve themselves in the politics of their homeland. In sum, the Central Intelligence Agency has long experience at dealing with refugees as problematic sources.

In 1994, Dr. Khidhir Hamza[5], formerly a member of Iraq’s WMD program, defected to the West. Eventually he settled in the United States and was given a job by the Institute for Science and International Security, a pro-disarmament think tank in Washington, DC.

In August 1995, Hussein Kamel[6], the head of Iraqi weapons programs, and his brother, Saddam Kamel, defected to the West. They brought with them many documents that revealed the exact nature of Iraq’s WMD program. These programs turned out to have been largely invisible to the UN weapons inspectors. However, the Kamel brothers also claimed that large quantities of weapons had been destroyed to prevent their discovery by the UN weapons inspectors in place after the First Gulf War. (pp. 212-213.)

In October 1997, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared Iraq to be disarmed of nuclear weapons. (p. 225.) That still left poison gas, chiefly a battlefield weapon.

In February 1998, forty prominent Americans (including Frank Carlucci, Caspar Weinberger, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Armitage) signed an open letter to President Clinton. They argued that Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of WMD posed a threat to the United States. The letter urged recognition of the INC as Iraq’s provisional government. This began a conservative campaign for action against Saddam Hussein.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duane_Clarridge

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Baer

[3] On Wilhelm, see: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2004/03/the-man-who-would-be-khan/302899/

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmed_Chalabi

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khidir_Hamza

[6] See his blood-curdling story in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hussein_Kamel_al-Majid

Flip-flops on the ground in Iraq.

Iraq’s war with Iran (1980-1988) proved longer and costlier than Saddam Hussein had ever imagined.[1] At the end of the war Saddam Hussein found himself ruling a country that had exhausted its once huge oil reserves, that had become loaded with debt, and that badly needing to reconstruct. Iraq’s debt belonged to the Sunni Arab Gulf states. To finance the war he had presented himself to the other Gulf states as their shield against radical Shi’a Iran and has asked for money. Apparently Kuwait, the Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia had seen it in the same light, because they loaned Iraq $40 billion.

The post-war negotiations with Iraq’s creditors were mismanaged on both sides. Iraq asked for too much: forgiveness of the $40 billion debt, plus $30 billion in new money to pay for reconstruction. Since the Iranian danger had been blunted over the course of the Eighties, Iraq’s creditors were not much inclined to give the country easy terms or, for that matter, anything at all. Both Saddam Hussein’s request for loan cancellation and for an additional $30 billion loan (which was just as unlikely to be repaid as the original $40 billion in loans) fell on deaf ears. If Iraq could not get loan cancellation and additional loans, then it would have to pay its own way through oil sales. The falling price for oil put a severe crimp in what Iraq could earn.   In these negotiations the Emir of Kuwait took a particularly strong stand for the sanctity of international economic agreements by insisting upon repayment of the existing debt at the same moment that he was violating his oil quota.

In July 1990 Saddam Hussein sent Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to put his case to the Arab League. The Iraqis made the same argument to the Arab League that the French and British once had made to the Americans after the First World War: We spent blood in the common cause while you gave only money, so you should cancel the money debt in exchange for us cancelling the “blood debt.” The Americans had not bought that line in 1919 and the Gulf states didn’t buy it in 1989.

On 17 July 1990 Saddam Hussein gave a belligerent speech that seemed to threaten action. That same day he sent the Kuwaiti government a letter in which he demanded a halt to the slide in oil prices, cancellation of Iraq’s debt to Kuwait, and an Arab package of aid to Iraq. Failing this, said Saddam Hussein, “we will have no choice but to resort to effective action to get things right and ensure the restitution of our rights.”[2]

To give meaning to this communication, Saddam Hussein ordered 30,000 troops massed close to the Iraq-Kuwait border. This threat, which Kuwait shared with Saudi Arabia and—undoubtedly–with the Americans, led the Saudi government to attempt to mediate. On 25 July 1990 Saddam Hussein had an interview with the American ambassador, April Glaspie, in which he gave her an ambiguous threat and she gave him an ambiguous warning. A week later, on 2 August 1990, the Iraqi army rolled into Kuwait.

The role of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf State clients in the coming of the First Iraq War is not much discussed these days in the American media. This role included financing Iraq in its long, predatory war against revolutionary Iran. It included pursuing a foolishly selfish policy on Iraq’s war-debts. It should surprise no one that, if it will take “boots on the ground” to defeat the Sunni fanatics of ISIS in their war against the pro-Iranian governments in Baghdad and Damascus, there will not be Saudi feet in them. Nor, probably, American feet. That just leaves the Iranians. Or the partition of Iraq.

[1] John Keegan, The Iraq War (2005).

[2] Quoted in Keegan, The Iraq War, p. 75.