Saddam the Phoenix | The Nation


Saddam the Phoenix

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It is this (very probable) scenario that has time and again led US policy-makers to gravitate toward the "military" option: Overthrow the Iraqi dictator through a military coup and replace him with a strongman committed to building bridges with Washington. This is not as neat as assassinating Saddam--the silver-bullet option--but neat enough, and certainly far more controllable than popular insurrections. The trouble with uprisings is that you never know which way they will go and which group will emerge at the top. That was the key reason President Bush did not aid the popular insurrections that erupted in southern Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War, not to mention the fears of Saudi Arabia--a Sunni state and the crucial regional partner of the United States--of a multiparty democracy in Iraq putting the Shiite majority in power.

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Dilip Hiro
Dilip Hiro is the author of Sharing the Promised Land: A Tale of Israelis and Palestinians (Interlink), Between Marx...

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Its ‘generosity’ toward Cairo notwithstanding, Washington has been reduced to the role of a helpless bystander.

That explains, too, the consistent bias of American decision-makers toward the Iraqi National Accord (INA), which has focused all along on staging a coup. The following account of the recent Iraqi oppositionist history, teased out of a couple of chapters of the Cockburns' book, illustrates the highly convoluted nature of Iraqi politics and explains as well why the United States wants to stay out of the imbroglio:

Formed in 1990 by two high-level Iraqi Baath Party defectors, the INA was bankrolled by Saudi Arabia. It admitted only defecting Iraqi military and security officers and Baath Party functionaries. But the situation changed in June 1991, when, as the authors tell us, Bush signed a "finding" that authorized the CIA to initiate covert operations to "create" the conditions for the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. A year later, thanks to the CIA's largesse, Ahmed Chalabi, an exiled Shiite Iraqi, convened an impressive assembly of Iraqi oppositionists in Vienna [see Ken Silverstein, "Crazy About Hussein," May 10]. Chalabi was suitable for this role for several reasons, not least because as a former banker in Amman, Jordan, whose bank had collapsed in 1989 under mysterious circumstances, he was thought by the invitees to be funding the event out of his pocket.

The result was the formation of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an umbrella body that won the affiliation of more than thirty groups. These included not only the long-established Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), with their respective militias, but also the INA. The plan was that the INC would base itself in Iraqi Kurdistan and build a liberation army composed of exiled and defecting Iraqis. The end purpose was to set up a democratic regime in post-Saddam Iraq, which chimed perfectly with Washington's undying commitment to democracy and human rights, whatever the odds. But democracy was the last thing Saudi Arabia--an oil-rich authoritarian monarchy--or its protégé, the INA, had in mind for Iraq.

The onerous task of conciliating the competing strategies of a war of liberation and a military putsch fell to Frank Andersen, head of the CIA's Near East division. He drew on the CIA's rich heritage--in subterfuge. While professing to be dealing solely with the INC as the representative of Iraqi oppositionists, the CIA maintained clandestine contacts with the INA, nominally just one of the many INC affiliates.

Once the INC (under the eagle eyes of CIA officials on the spot) based itself in Salahudin, a town in Iraqi Kurdistan, a cat-and-mouse game ensued, with the INC and INA spying on each other, fueled by Chalabi's pathological suspicion of anybody with a Baathist background; and the INC and the INA being in turn spied on by the KDP and the PUK. These Kurdish parties were themselves at odds with each other, the KDP being strong in the northwest, where Kurds speak the Kermanci dialect, and the PUK in the southeast, where the inhabitants speak the Surani dialect. On top sit the tribal differences. Little wonder that the KDP and the PUK, sharing power equally in Iraqi Kurdistan, kept a wary eye on each other. By 1994 the INC employed several thousand Kurds and Iraqi Arabs, so there was much to watch and hear on the various sides of this intricate CIA-funded conglomerate.

With the defection of Wafiq al Samarrai, the Iraqi military intelligence chief, in December 1994, pressure built from high up in Washington to move against Saddam and replace him with a committee of five generals, including Samarrai. The plan involved an attack by INC troops on the nearby oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk as a diversionary move while the military plotters in Baghdad stormed the barracks where Saddam had a residence. A five-member CIA team was dispatched from its Langley, Virginia, headquarters to Salahudin. The D-day was March 4, 1995. But at the last minute, listening to the plea by an INA leader who flew to Washington, the White House withdrew its support. Nonetheless, Chalabi made his move along the front lines in Kurdistan. But nothing of substance happened.

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