On May 5, 1989, Iraqi defense minister General Adnan Khairallah Tulfa, 49, died in an “accidental” helicopter crash that Saddam Hussein’s secret services engineered. Being the Iraqi ruler’s first cousin and married to his sister did not save the general. In the bloody Iraq-Iran War that decimated a generation between 1980 and 1987, Tulfa had grown into an authentic popular hero, credited alone of Iraq’s leaders with repulsing the hordes of Iranian suicide fighters beating against Iraq’s borders.
Increasingly irked by his burgeoning popularity, Saddam and his cronies, especially Izzat Ibrahim Douri and Taha Yassin Ramadan, decided to do away with the national idol before he posed a challenge to their rule.
Within hours of his murder, secret service agents raided the homes of General Tulfa’s relations and friends, dragged them out and butchered them in cold blood. Their purpose was to root out any future sources of opposition that might rise in his memory. But one member of his circle did survive, his most trusted aide, Maj.-Gen Mohammad Abdullah Mohammad al-Shehwani, who was born in Mosul in 1947. He was saved very simply by being away from the country on a mission for Tulfa in Paris.
Upon hearing of his boss’s death, Al-Shehwani made three quick decisions.
First, to avoid his own country like the plague as long as Saddam was in charge. Second, to refrain from using his access to Tulfa’s secret bank accounts to draw funds so as not to lead Iraqi undercover trackers to his location. For the same reason, he shunned the proliferating opposition groups in exile, knowing they were riddled with Saddam’s informers. Third, to find a protector.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal that, thanks to his first two actions, Al-Shehwani was able to leave his Paris hotel, move to London and drop out of sight – and eventually from memory. Friends who tried to find him found no clues to tell them if he was alive or dead. As the years went by, his name was forgotten. He even failed to surface when Saddam had three of his sons murdered.
The effectiveness of his vanishing act tied in closely with his third decision. The US Central Intelligence Agency secreted him to the United States and kept him under its protection for fifteen years, allowing him to live in total anonymity.
On March 24, 2004, eight days before the latest round of fighting erupted in Iraq, Al-Shehwani name was briefly mentioned by US administrator Paul Bremer as Director-General of Iraq’s new National Intelligence Service. It was only then that Iraqis discovered he was alive.
According to our sources, the CIA did a lot more than provide the Iraqi exile with a safe haven. While out in the open, the Pentagon and State Department were busy preparing rival exiled leaders like Ahmed Chalabi and Adnan Pachachi for high office in post-Saddam Baghdad, the CIA’s best instructors and mentors secretly coached the former major general for eventual accession to the top post in Baghdad.
During the 1990s, the secret exile quietly influenced some of Washington’s most important decisions on Iraq. It was on his behind-the-scenes advice that President Bill Clinton spurned the deal offered in 1995 by Saddam’s defecting son-in-law Lt.-Gen Hussein Kemal al Majid, to reveal where Iraq was secretly manufacturing forbidden weapons of mass destruction in return for US backing for a coup to bring him to power. Majid, having lost hope, allowed himself to be lured back to Iraq by an offer of immunity, only to be murdered on February 26, 1996, presumably by Uday Hussein.
Even after the American invasion of Iraq last March, Al-Shehwani was kept under tight wraps. Unlike well-known opposition leaders, he was never invited to Gen. Tommy Franks’ war headquarters; neither was he seen in Baghdad after its fall last April. The decision to bring the secret CIA candidate out into the open was reached in Washington about a month before US-led coalition forces were caught up in the current round of two-front warfare against the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and pro-Baath, Arab fighters and al Qaeda. It was then that the Bush administration came to the conclusion that Bremer’s Iraqi strategy was stuck in the sand. The CIA director George Tenet – not for the first time – asked President George W. Bush to approve Al-Shehwani’s transfer to Baghdad.
By taking control of Iraqi intelligence, the CIA protege becomes in effect strongman of Iraq, barring the Kurdish regions (a point developed in next article).
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources reveal that President Bush has allocated the coming man operating funds separate from regular US appropriations for Iraq.
The current flare-up of hostilities in Iraq finally convinced the White House and CIA that the former officer of Saddam’s army, Iraq’s former weight-lifting champion, would be the best man to carry Iraq’s heavy woes at this time.