CIA Plots in Iraq

Revolutionary Worker #945, February 22, 1998

Since the end of the 1991 Gulf War, the official spokesmen of the U.S. ruling class--from Presidents to Washington politicians to think tank "experts"--have openly talked of their desire to "get rid" of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. And they have actively pursued this goal.

The U.S. government has pushed for the punishing economic sanctions against Iraq--under the cold-blooded logic that causing intense suffering among the Iraqi people would turn public opinion against the regime in Baghdad. The American military has carried out periodic "drive-by" bombings of Iraq, hoping to turn the Iraqi military against Saddam Hussein.

And the CIA has conducted muti-million dollar covert operations inside Iraq aimed at overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

The story of the CIA plots in Iraq is part of the ugly record of U.S. covert wars, assassination schemes and interference in the internal affairs of countries around the world. And it is also a shameful tale of repeated back-stabbing of the oppressed Kurdish people by the U.S.

The U.S. Betrayal After the Gulf War

The Kurdish people, numbering about 23 million, live in the mountain areas of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. They have a proud history of struggle for an independent Kurdistan--and also bitter experience of oppression and betrayal at the hands of various imperialists and reactionaries.

During the Gulf War, U.S. President Bush made a public call for Kurds in Iraq to rise up against Saddam Hussein and promised them backing. But when the Kurdish forces in northern Iraq--along with Shia forces in the south--did rise up at the end of the war, the U.S. refused to come to their aid. The U.S. ruling class wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein--but they were also afraid that mass uprisings would lead to the breakup of Iraq and would hurt long-term U.S. interests. For example, they feared that Iran would take advantage of the situation and grab some territory, or that the unrest among Kurds would spread to Turkey, a member of the NATO war alliance.

So the U.S. did nothing as the Iraqi military used helicopter gunships to attack the Kurdish forces in the north and the Shia forces in the south. The Iraqi offensive caused heavy casualties and drove over a million Kurds from their homes. At the same time, Turkish troops closed the border with northern Iraq--preventing the Kurdish people from fleeing into Turkish territory.

This turn of events should have been a bitter lesson for the Kurdish people in Iraq: Don't ever trust the U.S.!

Unfortunately, this was a lesson not learned. The leaders of Iraqi Kurdish organizations and others were soon drawn into the CIA plots against Saddam Hussein.

The CIA's PR Campaign and "Opposition Group"

In May 1991, Bush signed a document known as a presidential finding, directing the CIA to "create the conditions for the removal" of Saddam Hussein. On the ABC News Saturday Night program that aired on February 7, Peter Jennings asked Brent Scowcroft--Bush's national security advisor--about this finding: "Is it fair to say from a layman's point of view that it's the nearest thing you can do to try to kill a foreign leader without saying you're going to set out to kill a foreign leader?" Scowcroft answered, "That's right, yes."

The CIA began by hiring a public relations firm to conduct an anti-Saddam propaganda campaign. The firm was headed by John Rendon, a high-level figure in the Democratic Party. Rendon's PR outfit spent almost $24 million in the first year of its CIA contract alone. It produced anti-Saddam photo exhibits, videos, radio spots and even a comic book.

Meanwhile, the CIA backed the formation of an anti-Hussein "opposition group," which included armed Kurdish forces. Some of these groups were quite hostile to each other, but they banded into an alliance under U.S. direction. Rendon, the CIA's PR man, came up with the name of the group--the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

The INC was based in northern Iraq. The U.S. had basically ripped this region out from the control of Iraqi central government--by imposing a "no fly" zone and threatening to shoot down any Iraqi aircraft that flew over the area.

In July 1992, INC officials were invited to Washington to meet with Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. This was a public display of official U.S. support.

But some U.S. officials apparently did not put much stock in the INC. Scowcroft himself was asked on the ABC Saturday Night program what role he thought INC would play in the U.S.-led effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Scowcroft answered, "Not much."

Still, the CIA began to fund INC to the tune of about $4 million a year. The INC built radio and TV stations in northern Iraq--to broadcast the anti-Saddam propaganda created by the CIA's PR firm.

CIA Spies on its Own Creation

INC officials thought they had firm U.S. backing. But in reality the CIA was putting more emphasis on another scheme--a coup against Saddam Hussein from within the Iraqi military. The man picked by the CIA as the frontman for this plot was Adnan Nuri, a former general in the Iraqi Army in the 1980s.

Nuri was one of the exiled Iraqi military officers based in Amman, Jordan. Calling themselves the Iraqi National Accord, their goal was to foment a military coup against Saddam Hussein. The Accord was originally created by the British intelligence agency M16 after the Gulf War. The CIA then adopted them, seeing these former military officers as the best way to "eliminate" Hussein while avoiding the risk of popular uprisings.

For the U.S. imperialist rulers, the best case scenario was--and still remains--to overthrow Saddam Hussein while keeping the core of the oppressive Iraqi military and state in command and working for U.S. imperialist interests. This is a plan for getting rid of Hussein without giving an opening for the masses of people to rise up in a fight for their own anti-imperialist interests.

In June 1992, the CIA flew Nuri to the U.S. for a secret meeting. Nuri said on ABC's Saturday Night, "They said you work separate from INC, but don't resign from INC--be in the INC, but work separately."

In other words, INC itself became a target of CIA covert operations! Nuri acted as a CIA spy within one of CIA's own creations. The CIA wanted to make sure INC was acting on behalf of U.S. imperialist interests.

In November 1992, Clinton replaced Bush as president. Picking up where Bush had left off, Clinton re-signed the secret presidential finding targeting Saddam Hussein.

The INC Offensive

The INC, operating on the assumption of full U.S. backing, began organizing a military offensive against the Iraqi regime. In November 1993, Ahmed Chalabi, the head of INC, flew to Washington to notify top Clinton administration officials about their plans.

In October 1994, the CIA set up a permanent station in the city of Salahuddin in northern Iraq and assigned three teams of officers to work directly with the INC. The INC officials took this as strong encouragement of their plans for a military offensive. They set March 1995 as the date of the offensive.

Ahmed Chalabi, accompanied by a CIA officer, met with Massoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), to make sure he would be part of the offensive. Barzani has a long history of working with the CIA. And the KDP was working with the U.S to maintain "order" among the Kurds in northern Iraq--and also helping the Turkish government by going after Kurdish guerrillas from Turkey. Barzani wanted assurance that U.S. would provide military support for the offensive. The CIA officer promised that there would be such support.

But on the morning that the offensive started, the CIA officer delivered an urgent cable message to the INC. The officer said the message came directly from Anthony Lake, Clinton's national security advisor. According to ABC's Saturday Night, the message said, "You are on your own... The United States will not support this operation militarily or in any other way."

The INC went ahead with the military offensive, but the operation collapsed within four weeks.

Coup Plots

Peter Jennings reported on ABC's Saturday Night, "In January 1996, the CIA cut off all covert funding for the Iraqi National Congress. But the CIA was still trying very hard to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Now, however, it focused exclusively on a military coup." The CIA's attention turned to the former Iraqi generals of the Accord, based in Amman, Jordan. The CIA funded the Accord with millions of dollars. The agency smuggled special communications equipment into Baghdad, so that the Accord's contacts within the Iraqi military could stay in touch with the CIA.

But the spy equipment was captured by the Iraqi intelligence. According to Jennings, "To add insult to injury, Iraqi intelligence agents made contact with the CIA using the captured communications equipment. `Gotcha,' they said."

CIA Abandons Its Paid Network

After the failed INC offensive in early 1996, Barzani's KDP lost control of the city of Erbil to a rival group, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (which reportedly had backing from Iran). In order to take back control of this important city, Barzani called on Saddam Hussein for help.

The Iraqi regime responded by sending in a large number of troops to take control of Erbil. Many Patriotic Union activists and supporters reportedly were killed in the attack.

The U.S. government now cites this attack on Erbil as one of the "atrocities" committed by Saddam Hussein. But in fact, the Iraqi military had moved into Erbil at the request of a group with deep ties to the U.S. government and intelligence agencies!

And what about the CIA officers who were stationed in northern Iraq? They split--just days before the Iraqi military moved in. Many of the paid networks they left behind were rounded up by the Iraqi secret police. The Iraqi military reportedly seized computer records of the CIA operation, getting information on the whole structure of the INC.

Several days later, the U.S. used the takeover of Erbil as justification to launch cruise missiles against targets in southern Iraq. These missiles did nothing positive for the situation of the Kurds and other people in Iraq--because the U.S. had no intention of helping the Kurds in the first place. The U.S. had taken the opportunity to go after its real objective: pounding Iraq with a new round of cruise missiles, in the hope of softening up the Iraqi military for future U.S. plots, intrigues and assaults. U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry said the U.S. had bombed Iraq to protect "[Iraq's] neighbors, the security and stability of the region and the flow of oil to the world."

The story of the CIA plots in Iraq proves once again that people who want genuine liberation must never, never rely on the U.S. Anybody who puts any trust in these international gangsters will only end up with a knife or a bullet in the back.

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