CIA activities in Iraq
Although the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was not directly involved in the 1963 coup that ousted Abd al-Karim Qasim, it had been plotting to remove Qasim from mid-1962 until his overthrow. After the 1968 Ba'athist coup appeared to draw Iraq into the Soviet sphere of influence, the CIA colluded with the government of Iran to destabilize Iraq by arming Kurdish rebels. There are U.S. court records indicating the CIA militarily and monetarily assisted Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War. The CIA was also involved in the failed 1996 coup against Saddam Hussein.
Intelligence played an important and generally effective role in the 1990–1991 Gulf War, but was much more controversial with respect to justifying and planning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. See the appropriate chronological entries below.
- 1 Iraq 1960
- 2 Iraq 1961
- 3 Iraq 1962
- 4 Iraq 1963
- 5 Iraq 1973-75
- 6 Iraq 1980
- 7 Iraq 1991
- 8 Iraq 1992
- 9 Iraq 1993
- 10 Iraq 1994
- 11 Iraq 1996
- 12 Iraq 2002
- 13 Iraq 2003
- 14 Iraq 2004
- 15 Iraq 2006
- 16 Iraq 2007
- 17 See also
- 18 References
- 19 Bibliography
According to the Church Committee report:
In February 1960, CIA's Near East Division sought the endorsement of what the Division Chief called the "Health Alteration Committee" for its proposal for a "special operation" to "incapacitate" an Iraqi Colonel believed to be "promoting Soviet bloc political interests in Iraq." The Division sought the Committee's advice on a technique, "which while not likely to result in total disablement would be certain to prevent the target from pursuing his usual activities for a minimum of three months," adding: "We do not consciously seek subject's permanent removal from the scene; we also do not object should this complication develop." ... In April, the [Health Alteration] Committee unanimously recommended to the DDP [Deputy Director for Plans, Richard M. Bissell Jr.] that a "disabling operation" be undertaken, noting that the Chief of Operations advised that it would be "highly desirable." Bissell's deputy, Tracy Barnes, approved on behalf of Bissell ... The approved operation was to mail a monogrammed handkerchief containing an incapacitating agent to the colonel from an Asian country. [James] Scheider [Science Advisor to Bissell] testified that, while he did not now recall the name of the recipient, he did remember mailing from the Asian country, during the period in question, a handkerchief "treated with some kind of material for the purpose of harassing that person who received it." During the course of this Committee's investigation, the CIA stated that the handkerchief was "in fact never received (if, indeed, sent)." It added that the colonel: "Suffered a terminal illness before a firing squad in Baghdad (an event we had nothing to do with) after our handkerchief proposal was considered."
Although many sources depict this operation as an assassination attempt on Iraqi Prime Minster Abd al-Karim Qasim, the notion that the CIA sought the target's assassination is refuted by the plain meaning of the text itself. In addition, it is unlikely that Qasim was the intended recipient of the handkerchief, as CIA officials would likely have remembered an attack on the Iraqi head of state. While Qasim was not a colonel but a brigadier general and did not openly promote Soviet interests in Iraq, the pro-Soviet head of Iraq's "People's Court", Colonel Fahdil al-Mahdawi, fits the above description perfectly.
In mid-1962, alarmed by Qasim's threats to invade Kuwait and his government's expropriation of 99.5% of the British- and American-owned Iraq Petroleum Company's concessionary holdings, President John F. Kennedy ordered the CIA to make preparations for a military coup that would remove him from power. Archie Roosevelt, Jr. was tasked with leading the operation. Around the same time, the CIA penetrated a top-secret Iraqi-Soviet surface-to-air missile project, which yielded intelligence on the Soviet Union's ballistic missile program.
On February 7, 1963 State Department executive secretary William Brubeck wrote that Iraq had become "one of the more useful spots for acquiring technical information on Soviet military and industrial equipment and on Soviet methods of operation in nonaligned areas." U.S. officials were instructed not to respond to Qasim's false claims that the U.S. was supporting Kurdish rebels out of a desire to avoid antagonizing him, thus endangering the U.S. presence in Iraq and jeopardizing this "intelligence bonanza".
The Iraqi Ba'ath Party overthrew and executed Qasim in a violent coup on February 8, 1963. While there have been persistent rumors that the CIA orchestrated the coup, declassified documents and the testimony of former CIA officers indicate there was no direct American involvement, although the CIA was actively seeking to find a suitable replacement for Qasim within the Iraqi military and had been informed of an earlier Ba'athist coup plot by a high-ranking informant within the Party. It is also widely believed that the CIA provided the new government with lists of communists and other leftists, who were then arrested or killed by the Ba'ath Party's militia—the National Guard. This claim originated in a September 27, 1963 Al-Ahram interview with King Hussein of Jordan, who—seeking to dispel reports that he was on the CIA's payroll—declared:
You tell me that American Intelligence was behind the 1957 events in Jordan. Permit me to tell you that I know for a certainty that what happened in Iraq on 8 February had the support of American Intelligence. Some of those who now rule in Baghdad do not know of this thing but I am aware of the truth. Numerous meetings were held between the Ba'ath party and American Intelligence, the more important in Kuwait. Do you know that ... on 8 February a secret radio beamed to Iraq was supplying the men who pulled the coup with the names and addresses of the Communists there so that they could be arrested and executed?
According to historian Hanna Batatu, however, "the Ba'athists had ample opportunity to gather such particulars in 1958-1959, when the Communists came wholly into the open, and earlier, during the Front of National Unity Years—1957-1958—when they had frequent dealings with them on all levels." In addition, "the lists in question proved to be in part out of date", which could be taken as evidence they were compiled well before 1963. Batatu's explanation is supported by declassified U.S. intelligence reports stating that "[Communist] party members [are being] rounded up on the basis of lists prepared by the now-dominant Ba'th Party" and that the Iraqi communist party had "exposed virtually all its assets" whom the Ba'ath had "carefully spotted and listed."
According to historian Charles R. H. Tripp, the Ba'athist coup of 1968 upset "the US-sponsored security system established as part of the Cold War in the Middle East. It appeared that any enemy of the Baghdad regime was a potential ally of the United States." After Hussein's 1972 trip to Moscow, the CIA colluded with the Shah of Iran to finance and arm Kurdish rebels in the Second Kurdish-Iraqi War. When Iran and Iraq signed the Algiers Agreement in 1975, the support ceased. The Shah denied the Kurds refuge in Iran, even as many were slaughtered. The U.S. decided not to press the issue with the Shah. "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work", declared Sec. of State Henry Kissinger.
The American betrayal of the Kurds was investigated by the Pike Committee, which described it as cynical and self-serving. It has been argued that it tarnished America's image with one of the most pro-Western groups in the Middle East.
The CIA militarily and monetarily assisted Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War. This was the province of the South Asia Operations Group headed by Gust Avrakotos. Author George Crile, in his book Charlie Wilson's War, writes:
There was little the Agency could do directly against Khomeini. But indirectly it was doing tremendous damage by providing covert assistance to Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis for their bloody war with Iran. As explained by Ed Juchniewicz – Avrakotos's patron and the number two man in the Operations Division at that time – they were just leveling the playing field: "We didn't want either side to have the advantage. We just wanted them to kick the shit out of each other".
Mohammed Abdullah Shawani's "saga illustrates a little-understood part of the Iraq story—the CIA's attempt to mobilize Iraqi officers [against Hussein's regime]. At the center was Shahwani, a Sunni from Mosul and a charismatic commander who made his reputation in 1984 with a helicopter assault on Iranian troops atop a mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan. His popularity made him dangerous to Saddam Hussein, and he was arrested and interrogated in 1989. He fled the country in May 1990, just before Iraq invaded Kuwait." In 1991, Shahwani began efforts to organize a military coup utilizing former members of the special forces, which Hussein had disbanded.
After the Gulf War, CIA took steps to correct the shortcomings identified during the Gulf War and improve its support to the US military, beginning improved communications with major US military commands. In 1992, CIA created the Office of Military Affairs (OMA) to enhance cooperation and increase information flow between the CIA and the military. OMA is subordinate to the Associate Director of Central Intelligence for Military Support and is jointly staffed by CIA officers from all directorates and military personnel from all the services.
According to former U.S. intelligence officials interviewed by The New York Times, the CIA indirectly supported a bomb and sabotage campaign between 1992 and 1995 in Iraq conducted by the Iraqi National Accord insurgents, led by Iyad Allawi. The campaign had no apparent effect in toppling Saddam Hussein's rule.
According to former CIA officer Robert Baer, various rebel groups were attempting to oust Hussein at the time. No public records of the CIA campaign are known to exist, and former U.S. officials said their recollections were in many cases sketchy, and in some cases contradictory. "But whether the bombings actually killed any civilians could not be confirmed because, as a former CIA official said, the United States had no significant intelligence sources in Iraq then." In 1996, Amneh al-Khadami, who described himself as the chief bomb maker for the Iraqi National Accord, recorded a videotape in which he talked of the bombing campaign and complained that he was being shortchanged money and supplies. Two former intelligence officers confirmed the existence of the videotape. Mr. Khadami said that "we blew up a car, and we were supposed to get $2,000" but got only $1,000, as reported in 1997 by the British newspaper The Independent, which had obtained a copy of the videotape. The campaign was directed by CIA asset Dr. Iyad Allawi, later installed as interim prime minister by the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003.
U.S. and Iraqi sources provided an account of the unsuccessful strategy of deposing Saddam by a coup d'état during the 1990s, an effort reportedly known within CIA by the cryptonym "DBACHILLES" . The failed coup efforts carry some important lessons. They show that Iraqi intelligence penetrated the Iraqi exile-based operations. And they illustrate the damage caused by a long-running feud between Iraqi exile groups and their patrons in Washington.
According to the Washington Post, the CIA appointed a new head of its Near East Division, Stephen Richter, who assumed that large parts of the Iraqi army might support a coup. A team met with Gen. Mohammed Abdullah Shawani, a former commander of Iraqi Special Forces, and a Turkmen from Mosul. As the CIA was drafting its plans, the British encouraged the agency to contact an experienced Iraqi exile named Ayad Alawi, who headed a network of current and former Iraqi military officers and Ba'ath Party operatives known as wifaq, the Arabic word for "trust."
The CIA was involved in the failed 1996 coup against Saddam Hussein.
Chalabi was convinced that the military-coup plan had been compromised and traveled to Washington in March 1996 to see the new CIA director, John Deutch, and his deputy, George Tenet. He told them the Iraqis had captured an Egyptian courier who was carrying an Inmarsat satellite phone to Shawani's sons in Baghdad. When the CIA officials seemed unconvinced, Chalabi then went to his friend Richard Perle. Perle is said to have called Tenet and urged that an outside committee review the Iraq situation.
But the coup planning went ahead. DBACHILLES succeeded in reaching a number of senior Iraqi military officers, but was compromised and collapsed in June 1996. The Iraqis began arresting the coup plotters on June 26. At least 200 officers were seized and more than 80 were executed, including Shawani's sons. Top CIA officials reportedly blamed Chalabi for exposing the plot, and the recrimination has persisted ever since.
As a follow-on to the coup plotting, in the run-up to, and during the invasion, both Alawi and Shawani played important roles in the US/UK effort to encourage Iraqi officers to surrender or defect. It did not quite work out that way. The Iraqi military did not defect or surrender, they just went home.
CIA Special Activities Division paramilitary teams were the first teams in Iraq arriving in July 2002. Once on the ground they prepared the battle space for the subsequent arrival of US military forces. SAD teams then combined with US Army Special Forces (on a team called the Northern Iraq Liaison Element or NILE). This team organized the Kurdish Peshmerga for the subsequent US-led invasion. They combined to defeat Ansar al-Islam, an ally of Al-Qaeda. If this battle had not been as successful as it was, there would have been a considerable hostile force behind the US/Kurdish force in the subsequent assault on Saddam's Army. The US side was carried out by Paramilitary Operations Officers from SAD/SOG and the Army's 10th Special Forces Group.
SAD teams also conducted high risk special reconnaissance missions behind Iraqi lines to identify senior leadership targets. These missions led to the initial strikes against Saddam Hussein and his key generals. Although the initial strike against Hussein was unsuccessful in killing the dictator, it was successful in effectively ending his ability to command and control his forces. Other strikes against key generals were successful and significantly degraded the command's ability to react to and maneuver against the US-led invasion force.
NATO member Turkey refused to allow its territory to be used by the US Army's 4th Infantry Division for the invasion. As a result, the SAD, US Army Special Forces joint teams and the Kurdish Peshmerga were the entire northern force against Saddam's Army during the invasion. Their efforts kept the 1st and 5th Corps of the Iraqi Army in place to defend against the Kurds rather than their moving to contest the coalition force coming from the south. This combined US Special Operations and Kurdish force soundly defeated Saddam's Army, a major military success, similar to the victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan. Four members of the SAD/SOG team received the CIA's rare Intelligence Star for their "heroic actions".
U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction(WMD) had been the focus of intense scrutiny in the U.S. See CIA activities in the Near East, North Africa, South and Southwest Asia#Iraq 2004 for after-the-fact analysis of this threat. Successive chronological entries deal with the resistance in Iraq.
Richard Kerr, a 32-year CIA veteran who served three years as deputy director for intelligence, was commissioned to lead a review of agency analysis of Iraqi WMD claims, and produced a series of reports, one of which is unclassified. Kerr told journalist Robert Dreyfuss that CIA analysts felt intimidated by the Bush administration, saying, "A lot of analysts believed that they were being pressured to come to certain conclusions … . I talked to a lot of people who said, 'There was a lot of repetitive questioning. We were being asked to justify what we were saying again and again.' There were certainly people who felt they were being pushed beyond the evidence they had." In a January 26, 2006 interview, Kerr acknowledged this had resulted in open antagonism between some in the CIA and the Bush White House, saying, "There have been more leaks and discussions outside what I would consider to be the appropriate level than I've ever seen before. And I think that lack of discipline is a real problem. I don't think an intelligence organization can kind of take up arms against politics, or a policy-maker. I think that will not work, and it won't stand."
Evidence against Iraq having a WMD program included information from CIA officer Valerie Plame, who, in a July 14, 2003 The Washington Post newspaper column by Robert Novak, was identified publicly as "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." Plame's husband, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV had been sent by CIA to the African nation of Niger to investigate claims that Iraq intended to purchase uranium yellowcake from that country, which was incorporated in President George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address to support waging a preventive war against Iraq. See Iraq 2007 investigations for the aftermath of this claims and disclosures about them.
"... dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership.... They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information," Pollack said.
Some of the information used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq came from a discredited informant codenamed "Curveball" by CIA, who falsely claimed that he had worked as a chemical engineer at a plant that manufactured mobile biological weapon laboratories as part of an Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program. Despite warnings to CIA from the German Federal Intelligence Service regarding the authenticity of his claims, they were incorporated into President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address and Colin Powell's subsequent presentation to the UN Security Council.
Capture of Saddam Hussein
The mission that captured Saddam Hussein was called "Operation Red Dawn". It was planned and carried out by the JSOC's Delta Force and SAD/SOG teams (together called Task Force 121). The operation eventually included around 600 soldiers from the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division. Special operations troops probably numbered around 40. Much of the publicity and credit for the capture went to the 4th Infantry Division soldiers, but CIA and JSOC were the driving force. "Task Force 121 were actually the ones who pulled Saddam out of the hole" said Robert Andrews, former deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. "They can't be denied a role anymore."
In 2004, the lack of finding WMD, the continuing armed resistance against the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, and the widely perceived need for a systematic review of the respective roles of the CIA, the FBI, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
On July 9, 2004, the Senate Report of Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq of the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that the CIA exaggerated the danger presented by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, largely unsupported by the available intelligence.
New Iraqi intelligence forms
In February 2004, the new Iraqi National Intelligence Service, or INIS, was established in February 2004 "as a nonsectarian force that would recruit its officers and agents from all of Iraq's religious communities. Its chief, Gen. Mohammed Shahwani, is a Sunni from Mosul. He is married to a Shiite and his deputy is a Kurd. Shahwani, a commander of Iraqi special forces during the Iran–Iraq War, has worked closely with the CIA for more than a decade – first in trying to topple Saddam Hussein, then in trying to build an effective intelligence organization."
There is a competing intelligence service "called the Ministry of Security, was created last year under the direction of Sheerwan al-Waeli. He is a former colonel in the Iraqi army who served in Nasiriyah under the old regime. He is said to have received training in Iran and to be maintaining regular liaison with Iranian and Syrian intelligence officers in Baghdad. His service, like Shahwani's organization, has about 5,000 officers."
The CIA had hoped that Shahwani's INIS could be an effective national force and a deterrent to Iranian meddling. To mount effective operations against the Iranians, Shahwani recruited the chief of the Iran branch of the Saddam Hussein-era Mukhabarat. That made the Iranians and their Shiite allies nervous.
Shahwani's operatives discovered in 2004 that the Iranians had a hit list, drawn from an old Defense Ministry payroll document that identified the names and home addresses of senior officers who served under the former regime. Shahwani himself was among those targeted for assassination by the Iranians. To date, about 140 officers in the INIS have been killed.
Though many in Maliki's government regard Shahwani with suspicion, his supporters say he has tried to remain independent of the sectarian battles in Iraq. He has provided intelligence that has led to the capture of several senior al-Qaeda operatives, according to U.S. sources, as well as regular intelligence about the Sunni insurgency. Several months ago, Shahwani informed Maliki of an assassination plot by a bodyguard who secretly worked for Shiite militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr. Shahwani's service uncovered a similar plot to assassinate Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, a Kurd.
"Shahwani's coup plans suffered a setback in June 1996, when the Mukhabarat killed 85 of his operatives, including three of his sons. But he continued plotting over the next seven years, and on the eve of the American invasion in March 2003, Shahwani and his CIA supporters were still hoping to organize an uprising among the Iraqi military. Shahwani's secret Iraqi network was known as "77 Alpha," and later as "the Scorpions."
"The Pentagon was wary of the Iraqi uprising plan, so it was shelved, but Shahwani encouraged his network in the Iraqi military not to fight—in the expectation that the soldiers would be well treated after the American victory. Then came the disastrous decision in May 2003 by L. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority to disband the Iraqi military and cut off its pay. The rest, as they say, is history.
"Instead of the one good intelligence service it needs, Iraq today has two—one pro-Iranian, the other anti-Iranian. That's a measure of where the country is: caught between feuding sects and feuding neighbors, with a superpower ally that can't seem to help its friends or stop its enemies.
Also in 2004, reports of Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse surfaced. In the subsequent investigation by MG Antonio Taguba, he stated "I find that contrary to the provision of AR 190-8, and the findings found in MG Ryder's Report, Military Intelligence (MI) interrogators and Other US Government Agency's (OGA) interrogators actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses." OGA is a common euphemism for the CIA. Further, "The various detention facilities operated by the 800th MP Brigade have routinely held persons brought to them by Other Government Agencies (OGAs) without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention. The Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center (JIDC) at Abu Ghraib called these detainees "ghost detainees." On at least one occasion, the 320th MP Battalion at Abu Ghraib held a handful of "ghost detainees" (6–8) for OGAs that they moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey team. This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine, and in violation of international law."
Tyler Drumheller, a 26-year CIA veteran and former head of covert operations in Europe, told CBS News 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley in an April 23, 2006 interview that there was widespread disbelief within the agency about the Bush administration's public claims regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. According to Drumheller, the CIA had penetrated Saddam Hussein's inner circle in the fall of 2002, and this high-level source told CIA "they had no active weapons of mass destruction program." Asked by Bradley about the apparent contradiction with Bush administration statements regarding Iraqi WMDs at that time, Drumheller said, "The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."
As of June 2007, "Shahwani is now in the United States. Unless he receives assurances of support from Maliki's government, he is likely to resign, which would plunge the INIS into turmoil and could bring about its collapse.
Iraq 2007 investigations
The disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's then-still-classified covert CIA identity as "Valerie Plame" led to a grand jury investigation and the subsequent indictment and conviction of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal investigators.
CIA paramilitary units continued to team up with the JSOC in Iraq and in 2007 the combination created a lethal force many credit with having a major impact in the success of "the Surge". They did this by killing or capturing many of the key al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq. In a CBS 60 Minutes interview, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward described a new special operations capability that allowed for this success. This capability was developed by the joint teams of CIA and JSOC. Several senior U.S. officials stated that the "joint efforts of JSOC and CIA paramilitary units was the most significant contributor to the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq".
On October 26, 2008, SAD/SOG and JSOC conducted an operation in Syria targeting the "foreign fighter logistics network" bringing al-Qaeda operatives into Iraq (See 2008 Abu Kamal raid). A U.S. source told CBS News that "the leader of the foreign fighters, an al-Qaeda officer, was the target of Sunday's cross-border raid." He said the attack was successful, but did not say whether or not the al-Qaeda officer was killed. Fox News later reported that Abu Ghadiya, "al-Qa'ida's senior coordinator operating in Syria", was killed in the attack. The New York Times reported that during the raid U.S. forces killed several armed males who "posed a threat".
- Statement by former NSC official Howard Teicher to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida. Plain text version
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- Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (1975-11-20). "Alleged Assassination Plots involving Foreign Leaders". p. 181. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
- See, e.g. Wise, David (1991-04-14). "A People Betrayed: Twice before, Washington let Kurds die to promote foreign-policy designs. Now it's the Bush Administration doing the deed.". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
- Gibson 2015, pp. 17-18.
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- "The Record on CURVEBALL: Declassified Documents and Key Participants Show the Importance of Phony Intelligence in the Origins of the Iraq War". National Security Archive, The George Washington University. 2007-11-07. Retrieved 2008-04-17.
- Drogin, Bob (Spring 2008). "Determining the Reliability of a Key CIA Source". Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Archived from the original on 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
- 'Black ops' shine in Iraq War, VFW Magazine, Feb, 2004, Tim Dyhouse.
- "Saddam 'caught like a rat' in a hole". CNN. December 15, 2003. http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/12/14/sprj.irq.saddam.operation/index.html?iref=newssearch.
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- Gibson, Bryan R. (2015). Sold Out? US Foreign Policy, Iraq, the Kurds, and the Cold War. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-137-48711-7.