In a letter to Congress this week, CIA director George Tenet exposed the fissure forming at the top of the Bush administration over how to set about the military campaign against Iraq. Openly deviating from the policy laid out by president George W. Bush, Tenet warned that a US military strike could trigger a terrorist response. “For now,” said Tenet in a letter released Tuesday, October 8, “Iraq appears to be drawing the line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical or biological weapons.” But he warned that Saddam might use those weapons for terrorist purposes if provoked by an imminent US-led attack.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington note that while cloaking the spy agency’s war preparations against Iraq from Congressional scrutiny, the CIA Director was not averse to unsheathing his dagger against the White House. Those sources stress however that Tenet and the CIA do not object to the war per se, but they are critical of the Bush strategy and his plans for post-Saddam Iraq, in which they are backed up by most key State Department officials, led by secretary of state Colin Powell, as well as the deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley.
This group contends that the White House plan of action, built around the bones of a proposal put forward by the hawkish deputy defense minister, Paul Wolfowitz and adopted by president George W. Bush, vice president Richard Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is impracticable.
In essence, the plan calls for the creation of a post-war democratic federal government in Baghdad and the granting of limited autonomy to the Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Turkmen.
Powell, Tenet and Hadley regard the fundamental notion as a recipe for the swift dissolution of the new Iraqi state. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, their objections to the president’s plan of campaign boil down to seven primary counter-arguments:
Federation: Recipe for Disintegration
A. The enmity, mistrust and historical baggage burdening relations between Iraq’s diverse ethnic groups will quickly deteriorate into fierce civil warfare over which the United States will be unable to exercise control. The loose federal system will not hold up under the violence and the republic will disintegrate. Southern Iraq, home to some 16 million Shiites, who lack organization and leadership, is less prone to belligerence than the north – but more to terrorism.
B. Outsiders like Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel, will take a hand in the civil warfare to preserve their respective interests. American intervention will soon be mired in regional and local conflicts running contrary to its own regional and global interests – for instance an undesirable conflict with Iran.
C. Al Qaeda’s Gulf and Middle East branches could well jump into the turmoil to deepen its presence in Iraq. Accusing Washington of handing out self-rule to Kurds, Shiites and Turkmen, for the purpose of destroying Iraqi’s Sunni tribes could be a useful propaganda ploy for energizing the Islamic network’s drive to establish itself in war-torn Iraq. The Sunnis would be receptive to this charge. The new federal government in Baghdad would then find itself in the same predicament as the US-backed President Hamid Karzai in Kabul – in control of parts of the Iraqi capital and devoid of authority outside the city.
D. Internecine hostilities would shut down Iraq’s oil fields, whether by direct sabotage or strikes against transportation facilities – pipelines or land and sea shipping routes. This would defeat Washington’s plan for bringing Iraq’s oil production up to speed to take Saudi Arabia’s place as the lead player in the oil pricing trade.
E. Jettisoning the entire Saddam Hussein regime, lock, stock and barrel, would be counter-productive. The plan to replace the entire ruling system, including intelligence, security and the military, with new men with no ties to the old regime is a bridge too far. The old guard would have nothing to lose by staying loyal to Saddam and prolonging the war needlessly at a greater cost in US casualties.
F. The White House plan for Iraq is not only running into difficulties in Iraq but doubtful responses from Middle East governments. Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, who was visiting Syria this week to bid for Arab backing for Baghdad, nurtured the seeds of uncertainty with the cautionary advice he issued on Wednesday, October 9, when he spoke to reporters in Damascus. No Arab country would escape the fallout of a U.S. strike against Iraq, he said – even if it played along with Washington’s assault on Baghdad.
“Don't think that (they are safe) if they make nice statements and offer bases to the Americans. When the crime ends, they will be made to submit to America and Zionism.”
This warning fell on fertile ground in Cairo, Riyadh and Damascus, where Bush’s agenda is already suspect. These suspicions will impair America’s combat capabilities and its ability to turn war’s end into a process for restructuring the Middle East.
G. At least 50,000 to 70,000 US troops will need to stay on in Iraq for five to 10 years after the war is over to safeguard the installment of a top to bottom new regime. Their tasks will be to safeguard Iraqi oil fields and transportation routes, defend the new government in Baghdad and deter any ethnic group, such as the Kurds or Turkmen, from attempting to seize the oil fields and moving in on each other’s territories.
The long-term deployment will be extremely costly and reduce America’s military freedom of action in other parts of the world where crises may occur.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s experts and sources, the main burden of the dissenters’ case is yes to the removal of Saddam, his family, and some of his close cronies – but on no account to dismantle all of Iraq’s instruments of government, especially the military and intelligence agencies. Their retention is crucial to saving Iraq from falling apart.
Iraqi Intelligence as Useful American Tool?
Tenet, Powell and Hadley believe that the democratic changes sought by Bush must come from within. Why go through the agonies of creating new institutions of government when the democratic reforms they are designed to enact are likely to be rejected as dictated by Washington?
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources find that the CIA is most concerned that it would be bad mistake to disband and rebuild Iraqi’s undercover agencies from scratch. This very process would throw America’s own intelligence infrastructure in the Persian Gulf and Middle East into long-term havoc.
Recovery from the damage would take years. The time needed for assembling and training new Iraqi intelligence services would leave a wide open field for the enemies of the new regime to move back.
Tenet and his men point out that the United States and the CIA once maintained long-standing working relations with many members of the Iraqi intelligence services and military command – until Saddam put an end to the relationship ahead of his 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Some of those senior operatives are still there and would no doubt be willing to resume their old ties of collaboration with Washington. The Iraqi undercover services, it is argued, are professionals who are well up on areas of supreme strategic importance to the United States in the Far East, Australia, South America and the Gulf. They are tuned in to the activities of terrorist groups in many parts of the world and possess inside knowledge of the workings of key Islamic terror groups, such as al Qaeda and the Lebanese Hizballah. If America turns them away, these professional Iraqi undercover agents may go over to the opposition and hire out to the terrorists.
In any case, in the view of Tenet and other CIA spokesmen, the chances are good of an anti-Saddam coup before the war gets started. In this case, generals, intelligences and other conspirators would evict the Iraqi ruler and family, communicating with Washington in the course of their putsch. Tenet and his men urge the White House to treat this scenario with due seriousness.
No Half-Measures for Bush
In his address to the nation in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Monday, October 7, Bush focused on persuading skeptics that Saddam Hussein poses a real and present danger to the United States. Without referring to the discord in his administration, he made telling replies to the counter-arguments from inside his team.
Those replies, together with the arguments confronting Bush, reveal the far-reaching nature of the plans Bush and his strategists have laid for the post-Saddam era. They go much farther than has been admitted by the White House or even their opponents. Their central theme is that there can be no half-measures in Iraq’s change of regime and the reforms of its national, economic and political structure – and that reform must be imposed from outside.
The Bush rationale is that overthrowing the Saddam clan and leaving his institutions in place will set back for years the US war against terrorism. Those institutions, like others across the region, have been compromised by elements that brought the 9/11 tragedy down on the United States. There is no way, the Bush administration says, for the United States to work with them ever again.
The president’s policy partisans find the willingness of Tenet and the CIA to let bygones be bygones and resume cooperation inexplicable, in view of at least one devastating experience in the past.
In 1996, George Tenet set up an extensive operation, one of the Agency’s most ambitious ever, to subvert the Saddam regime. His CIA joined with Kurdish opposition forces to set up in northern Iraq a network of special operations bases, operational communications centers, electronic surveillance stations and guerrilla training bases for dissident Kurdish tribesmen. Iraqi intelligence meanwhile moved in to riddle holes in the CIA project by exploiting the Kurdish Talaban-Barzani feud to buy men from both tribes and stir up trouble between them that spread to the pro-American Kurdish camp. In September 1996, when Iraqi intelligence was ready to throw the switch on Tenet’s enterprise, Iraq units, including pro-government Kurdish guerrillas swooped on the CIA-Kurdish bases, capturing them intact with all their secret equipment in a single night. The Americans and the Kurdish dissidents fled for their lives across the border into Turkey. The Kurds taken captive were summarily executed.
In the light of that and other experiences with Iraqi intelligence – including its solid partnership with Moscow in the Cold War – Bush has no intention of heeding Tenet’s advice to try working with Iraqi intelligence. There is no guarantee that as partners today they won’t turn coat tomorrow. If the Iraqi agents working with the US are secretly taken over by Osama bin Laden, they will be in perfect position to undermine everything America is doing in Iraq.
Iraq as Launch Pad for Democracy
The differences in the Bush team are also conceptual. Tenet, Powell and Hadley take the diplomatic approach to the Middle East, respecting existing regimes as parties that Washington must work with and make the best of. The Bush side says: We’ve tried that and been betrayed. Look at the Palestinian issue; so-called moderate Arab regimes promised their cooperation and we found they told us one thing and did the opposite. Behind our backs, they worked both sides, nurturing the most egregious terrorists in the field – Palestinian and al Qaeda. In any case, those Arab regimes are foundering, imperiled by their own double-dealing and weighed down by economic troubles and corruption. Instead of trying to cooperate with the established Middle East regimes, America must, when opportunities present themselves, engineer radical change at the top. Such an opportunity is at hand in Baghdad. Iraq can be a model for the Arab world and the Middle East. Offering its peoples democratic reform, education, health, economic well-being and solid protection is the best way to win them over and wean them away from terrorist influences.
Paul Wolfowitz laid out the case adopted by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in an interview with The New York Times’s Bill Keller on September 22, 2002:
“I think the more we are committed to influencing the outcome, the more chance there could be that it would be something quite significant for Iraq. And I think if it’s significant for Iraq, it’s going to cast a very large shadow, starting with Syria and Iran, but across the whole Arab world, I think.”
Keller adds: “The idea of Iraq as a launch pad of Arab democracy and a counterweight to Islamist extremism has gained some credence in Washington. As unromantic an expert as Dennis B. Ross who ran the Middle East account for President Clinton, thinks Wolfowitz is right, that liberating Iraq would not only chasten despots and encourage democrats but that it could also unleash a joy in Iraq that would help alleviate the wider Arab anger against America. So does Henry Kissinger, whose cold realism has not often meshed with Wolfowitz’s sense of the world.
A democratic Iraq, however, is sure to be unnerving to some of America’s less than democratic allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia. He does not sound so sure than rocking the stability of tyrannies in the Arab world, even West-leading tyrannies, is a bad thing.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly has learned from a senior Washington source au fait with the debate that the White House’s overall planning for post-war Iraq also entails a makeover of its place in the oil scene and the Arab world. If national unity depends on economic prosperity, after years of dire want, then America must help develop Iraq’s oil riches. To this end, Washington may take Iraq out of OPEC, and initiate a profit-sharing regime for the country’s oil resources, in which each autonomous entity is awarded the money it needs to spur economic growth and raise its people’s standard of living.
The same senior source said he would not be surprised if post-Saddam Iraq also gave up its seat in the Arab League. The new federal republic of Iraq will be steered towards emphasizing its Iraq identity, rather than its Arab or Moslem affinity, as a means of cultivating a sense nationhood and unity instead of accentuating divisive diversity.
Washington Debate Slows Military Action
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report the up-in-the-air debate in the Bush team has had an untoward effect on some US military and political theaters of operation.
Last weekend, Iran’s defense minister, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, said Iran would not shoot at US planes straying into its air space on their way to Iraq. Military observers in the Gulf took this as the tacit promise of a blind eye to US and British over-flights maneuvering for a better angle of attack against southern Iraqi army installations and air force command centers – especially in Basra, and along the Shaat al Arab, Iraq’s only sea lane into the Gulf. Some of these targets are located right up against the Iraqi-Iranian border.
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources offer a different explanation, as we report here exclusively: Shamkhani was referring to the permission Tehran was to have secretly granted the US air force for its bombers to take off for missions against Iraq from the giant air base the United States is building near Herat in Afghanistan. This would have enabled US plans to over-fly Iranian air space and launch raids against military installations in eastern Iraq, close to the Iranian frontier. That permission would have closed the last open section to the east of the US aerial siege sealing Iraq, completing the ring formed by US air bases to the south in Qatar, Kuwait and Amman, Saudi and Jordanian facilities in the southwest, Turkish installations in the north.
But, only hours after Shamkhani’s much-quoted remark, Tehran about-faced.
Washington was told to discount the remark as emanating from a misunderstanding and lack of coordination within the Iranian military. Technical arrangements had to be completed in Iran’s air control systems before final permission could be granted.
Meanwhile, fighting earlier this month around the H-3 air bases in western Iraq – reported in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 79 — has ended in stalemate. Our military sources report that the US special forces that attacked the main roads leading to the base complex have retreated. The roads have been reopened to Iraqi military traffic and all the American commandos can do is stand aside from Iraqi bases while making sure no mobile missiles get through.
According to our military and counter-terrorism sources, Tenet’s assertion to Congress, that Saddam would draw a line short of conducting terrorist strikes if he was not attacked, should be taken with a grain of salt. He omitted to take into account the possibility of al-Qaeda cells, aided by Iraqi military intelligence operatives, launching terror operations against US targets in the Middle East
(See HOT POINTS below on the explosive attack on the French oil tanker Limburg off the Yemeni coast). While the Yemeni authorities tried hard to demonstrate the explosion and fire aboard the giant tanker was caused by accident, by Thursday, October 10, they were forced to come round to an admission of terrorism; a Yemeni terror group, the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Army of Aden claimed to have struck the tanker, because it was transporting fuel for the US war effort against Iraq. The claim proved that, for al Qaeda, American and Israeli targets and any Western or Arab interest cooperating with Washington to oust Saddam were fair game for a new war of terror in the Middle East-Gulf region.
The Iraqi leader is thus enabled to give up the inanimate posture he has held in the face of American military moves and launch the very terror offensive ruled out by Tenet by using a partner and surrogate, al Qaeda. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources estimate that the ramming of the oil tanker, from which one seaman was declared missing, and the shooting attack that resulted in the death of one US Marines in Kuwait are ominous straws in the wind for turbulence to come.
American, Jordanian, Saudi and Israeli targets in the Middle East are braced for strikes by al-Qaeda and Baghdad-allied terrorist groups, such as Palestinian organizations with close operational links to Iraqi military intelligence. Al Qaeda may also resume its attacks outside the Middle East, reaching into the United States and North Africa.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say Iraq’s extensive ties with terrorist networks give Saddam a free hand to conduct his diplomatic campaign with the United States in the United Nations, while others perform his works of terror, without anyone able to definitively lay responsibility at his door.
The Iraqi ruler will have the freedom to engineer a rising wave of terror for as long as he sits in the presidential palace unscathed. His removal will also bring the violence to an end.