The Colin Powell performance at the UN Security Council on Wednesday February 5, with CIA Director George Tenet at his shoulder – powerful and graphic as his disclosures were about Iraq’s headlong acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and deception tactics – was no more than a sideshow. As he spoke, the final preparations for military action hurtled forward relentlessly on the ground. The Powell presentation undoubtedly “burnt” some intelligence sources, as American and Western intelligence experts claimed. However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts are certain the information bared in Powell’s exposition was outdated, representing a military and strategic reality that is no more – except for only one section: Iraq’s operational links with al Qaeda, which are more current than ever.
His masterly presentation represents Powell’s debut, we are told, as the Bush administration’s spokesman on the Iraq War. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who filled that position for the Afghan War will be fully engaged in the Iraq War.
What was happening on that same February 5 and on to February 6 was, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources can reveal, five radical rearrangements of the props for the fast-approaching Iraq War:
1. The US jettisoned the principle of preserving Iraq’s integrity.
This guideline was fundamental to Washington’s military and diplomatic thinking on Iraq in all its permutations – until very recently. Now, sources in Washington report exclusively to DEBKA-Net-Weekly, the Bush administration has turned around to accept a share-out at this stage of military control over Iraq with Turkey, the UK and Jordan.
(Click here for illustrative map)
2. The Turks will advance into North Iraq ahead of the US invasion.
Their objective: to seize North Iraq’s oil fields and cities thus gaining military control of 25 percent of Iraq’s oil resources. The fate of the oil after the war has not been decided, but Turkey will certainly be awarded a sizeable stake.
3. US Special Forces and CIA units hunt Iraqi WMD systems in… Lebanon.
Their secret hiding places were the object of an intensive search at the very moment that Powell was depicting their stealthy evacuation from sites in Iraq. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources have discovered that Iraq’s military leaders, with the help of Syrian president Bashar Assad, arranged to ship out to Lebanon via Syria the bulk of Saddam’s biological and chemical weapons arsenal in special tanker trucks. Whether or not Saddam Hussein and his sons Qusay and Uday consented to this “export” undertaking or even knew about it is unknown.
4. Some top Iraqi officials are tentatively reported testing possible asylum in Syria.
Some intelligence sources claim to have heard that a few of Saddam’s officials have put out feelers in Damascus with a view to getting themselves and families out to safety from the coming threat to the regime.
5. Failing the spontaneous collapse of the Saddam regime, the US offensive will go forward on February 21.
The Bush administration hopes that the foregoing steps will build up enough pressure to blow the Saddam regime down. The date for the US assault is, as always, provisional, depending on developments on the ground and the success of terrorist groups in pulling off a mega-terror strike in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.
1. The Turks Go in First
At the beginning of this week, the Turkish General Staff quietly ordered a general call-up of Turkish forces, regular and reserves – army, air force and navy – according to information reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources. The units are being hurriedly equipped and armed for immediate transportation to the Turkish-Iraqi frontier by every available vehicle – plane, ship, rail and truck. At the frontier, the units are deployed in attack formation and are standing by for orders to move forward into northern Iraq.
According to our sources in Washington, the Turkish high command is fully coordinated with the Bush administration at the highest level. This latest twist in the Washington-Ankara arrangements for the Iraq war is being kept under close wraps in Washington, restricted to a very tight circle. The final touches to the arrangements were applied by the US war commander, the head of the US Central Command Gen. Tommy Franks, together with the Turkish chief of staff, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok.
Their joint plan calls for three Turkish armored columns to drive into northern Iraq.
The first will go in through Haur north of Zakho, heading west to cross the Euphrates and turn south not far from the Iraqi-Syrian border toward the Iraqi town of Sinjar. This column will then head east, taking in the Tall Afar area and then making for the western suburbs of the oil city of Mosul.
The second column, starting out from Zam Alamon, will cover the distance to Bamarni where the Turkish army has already established a base, move south towards the Kurdish towns of Aqrah and Irbil and onto the second oil city of Kirkuk.
The third column will enter Iraq through the town of Amadiyeh and head east along a route parallel to the Iraqi-Iranian frontier to fetch up at Suleimaniyeh. From this town, the column will march west up to the eastern suburbs of Kirkuk.
After capturing Mosul and Kirkuk, the Turkish forces will carve out a military buffer zone to cut off the northward path of Iraqi refugees and military escapees attempting to flee central and southern Iraq. This operation, with a nod from Washington, will cut Iraqis in flight from their only refuge: Syria.
American and Turkish war strategists hope the various Kurdish factions and tribes of northern Iraq accept Turkey’s seizure of the oil fields and cities. They are therefore trying to make sure that advancing Turkish forces stay clear of Kurdish cities as far as possible, and that those passing through, move on without interfering in Kurdish affairs.
In an effort to draw mutually acceptable red lines, representatives of northern Iraq’s ethnic groups have been closeted in Ankara since Wednesday February 5. The meeting is presided over by President George W. Bush’s adviser on Iraqi affairs, Zalmay Khalil-Zad, attended by a bevy of Pentagon officials and US military officers. Present are Sanan Ahmet Aga, Chairman of the Iraqi Turkmen Front; Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan – PUK, and Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP.
Al the participants are pretending to turn a blind eye on Turkey’s broad designs in northern Iraq and its oil. However, one group has betrayed a reluctance to join the game. The KDP leader Massoud Barzani has pointedly stayed away from the Ankara get-together, sending instead his nephew, Nechirvan.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts predict that the Turkish army’s crossing into northern Iraq and its seizure of Mosul and Kirkuk will bring to life the most deep-seated fears of every ruler in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia, that President Bush will not think twice before reshuffling the region’s geographic boundaries, re-distributing its ethnic groups and re-apportioning control of the oil fields.
The Turkish push toward Mosul and Kirkuk will fire the starting gun for the war against Iraq, the first military step of which will have been taken by a Muslim country rather than by the United States.
2. US Military Plans Overhauled
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources advise taking the assertions from Washington that the US buildup of might in the Persian Gulf is in its final stages, with a pinch of salt.
For the moment, the American deployment is simply not up to muster.
The aircraft carriers and airborne and infantry divisions that must bear the brunt of the campaign have yet to arrive on-station. Not enough US troops have assembled in Kuwait to execute an armored thrust north toward Baghdad, or for a major amphibious landing in the Basra area. To conquer western Iraq, a greater number of soldiers must collect at jumping-off bases in Jordan.
As for the preparations in Turkey, the buzz may be that some 350 fighter planes and bombers have flown into four Turkish air bases. But, according to our information, they have not landed and there is no sign they have even taken off for the region.
Furthermore, no more than three US aircraft carriers are within striking range of Iraq, and as our military sources reported in DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 95 last week, the campaign demands six or seven.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts see three options available to American war planners:
A. To postpone the start of the offensive until March in order to give additional forces time to reach the arena. Current military and political circumstances make this course impracticable.
B. To scale down US participation in the campaign by, for example, refraining from sending an invasion force for northern Iraq through Turkey and leaving the northern front to the Turkish army.
C. To relocate to central Iraq the American units assigned to occupying the north, thereby focusing more American strength on the operation for the capture of Baghdad and Tikrit.
In view of revised US war planes, these contingents have received new orders. They must all be relocated in different staging areas. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts, it would be virtually impossible to shift them all around into fresh combat positions in time to take part in a war slated to begin on February 21.
So the United States has had to revise its game plan and carry out some logistical short cuts. Instead of having to traverse hundreds of kilometers overland to reach central Iraq, the troops will be dropped by parachute or ferried by air to landing strips near their targets.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts reported last week on this shift of emphasis in the plans of the Pentagon and the US war command, whereby large-scale airborne operations would drop masses of troops. Under the revamped scenario, the United States will embark on what will probably be the biggest airborne assault in military history. At least two full divisions will have to parachute or land by air in the region, if Washington hopes to adhere to its operational timetable for late February.
3. Fragmented Fronts, Proliferating Foes
As demonstrated by the special DEBKA map displayed in this article, northern Iraq and its oil fields have been assigned to the Turkish army, while western Iraq with its oilfields will be the province of British and Jordanian special forces. US forces will be free to concentrate on the two remaining fronts – central and southeast Iraq.
One US contingent will capture the oil fields of southern Iraq with Basra, while a second will converge on Baghdad and Tikrit. The conquest of the Iraqi capital will have top priority.
The big question is: How will the ten-thirteen million Iraqi Shiites who inhabit the regions between southern Iraq and Baghdad react? As 60 percent of the population Iraq, the Shiites were the main incentive for Washington to negotiate secret political and military agreements and understandings with Tehran. Those accords, reported on these pages extensively in the last six months, are now reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources to have largely collapsed.
First to fall by the wayside was US-Iranian cooperation in northern Iraq, whose purpose was to keep Iranian fighters from joining the ranks of pro-Iranian Kurdish groups in the region.
Next to go were the understandings designed to prevent an Iraqi Shiite-Sunni bloodbath.
The revised American war plan leaves the two communities exposed to the perils of internecine conflict. With Turkey controlling the north and an Anglo-Jordanian force occupying the west, the Sunnis will be trapped with no path of escape. All they can do is surrender to the Americans or turn on the Shiites.
The US war command’s tactics can be fully comprehended only by taking a close look at one of the most dangerous weapons still remaining to Saddam Hussein – the violent Iranian opposition guerrilla group, Mujahideen al-Khalq, or MKO.
4. New Radical Shiite terror threat for America
As if sleeper cells planted by al Qaeda and Iraqi military intelligence weren’t giving the CIA, FBI and US Homeland Security enough nightmares, another terrorist group is preparing to become their worst dream by carrying out mega-terror attacks against major cities in the United States at the start of the war on Iraq.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism sources, that group is the Iranian opposition organization, Mujahideen a-Khalq, guests of Saddam Hussein, whose headquarters and primary bases are located mainly in the Baghdad area.
Intelligence information recently obtained by US counter-terrorism officials and their counterparts in other Western countries shows that Saddam has decided to activate Mujahideen a-Khalq’s networks in the United States and Europe for mega-terror attacks in the major cities in which they maintain a longstanding and largely unnoticed presence. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources say Saddam believes that the Mujahideen a-Khalq’s big advantage over other terrorist groups derives from it having long been ignored by US and Western intelligence agencies. These fiery Iranian terrorists may therefore have a good chance of getting away with a pre-emptive terrorist attack or revenge strike in retaliation for American military action against Iraq.
The Iraqi ruler has no doubt that the Mujahideen a-Khalk will do his bidding.
Its members, fierce opponents of the ayatollahs’ regime in Teheran, have called Iraq their home away from home for more than two decades. Its more than 15,000 uniformed soldiers trained in guerrilla warfare in open territory and in built-up areas and armed with the latest weaponry, are stationed in special Iraqi military camps. Save for the Republican Guard, which protects Saddam and his sons, they are perhaps the best-trained and equipped force in Iraq.
US intelligence operatives inside Iraq noticed in recent weeks that Saddam had begun to employ Mujahideen a-Khalq units to assassinate opponents of his regime, maintain order in Shiite areas of Iraq where anti-government disaffection is boiling over, and perform intelligence missions against US special forces in Iraq. Over the past week, Mujahideen a-Khalq has stepped up its activities significantly.
With the help of Iraqi intelligence, Mujahideen a-Khalq has established terrorist networks inside Iran, carrying out sporadic strikes against government offices in Teheran – mainly firing weapons from a distance or short-range missiles. Iran has responded with air and medium-range missile attacks on the group’s training bases.
In addition to its terrorist infrastructure in Iran, Mujahideen a-Khalq has also established intelligence and terrorist networks – again with the help of Iraqi intelligence – in expatriate Iranian communities in the West. An estimated two million Iranians fled the country when Khomeini deposed the Shah 24 years ago. For years, these exiles have put up the bulk of the organization’s recruits. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism sources say it has planted networks in the million-strong Iranian exile community in the United States. California alone has about 450,000 ex-Iranian emigres; the group’s branches have been set up in Canada’s 100,000-strong former Iranian community and in Britain and France, each of which hosts around 30,000 Iranian expatriates.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism experts, the thousands of Mujahideen a-Khalq fighters have a lot to lose from Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. They can say goodbye to their operational and power base and main source of revenue. Faced with this prospect, the organization under its leader, Mariam Rajavi, has determined to do its utmost to serve its patron and keep him in power in Baghdad.
5. Where Is Iraq Really Hiding its Forbidden Weapons?
General Ali Hassan al-Majid, the Iraqi minister of industry, paid a visit in the last week of January to Damascus, where he held several private conversations with president Bashar Assad. Majid’s formal title conceals the great power he wields in Baghdad as Saddam Hussein’s cousin and overseer of Iraq’s manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.
After speaking with Assad, Majid headed to Beirut for talks with Lebanese president Emile Lahoud. While he was there, reports appeared in the Arabic press that Majid had sounded out Assad on whether Syria would offer asylum to Saddam, his family and possibly other members of the Baghdad leadership in the event of a US attack on Iraq. Assad’s response was not immediately known.
Iraqi vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan paid a visit of his own to Damascus on Tuesday, February 4,and was immediately ushered in the see the Syrian leader. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources report that around the time of the two top-level visits to Damascus, convoys of giant Iraqi tankers covered with thickly padded shrouds to hide their cargo from prying eyes in the sky began to make night crossings into Syria. The tankers, which had no license plates or any other identifiable signs, were guarded by hundreds of armed men in civilian clothing traveling in black or metallic gray mini-vans. US spy satellites and planes tracking the convoys found they were carrying some of chemicals and biological agents used by Iraq in its weapons of mass destruction. Signs of various nerve gases and anthrax were detected in some of the tankers.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report the trucks made only two refueling stops in Syria and only at military gas stations, before crossing into Lebanon.
By the time US secretary of state Colin Powell laid out to the UN Security Council on Wednesday some of Washington’s evidence that Iraq had systematically removed its forbidden weapons ahead of UN inspections, some 65 tankers had already made their way from northern Iraq to Lebanon via Syria. On reaching Lebanese territory, the convoy’s guards were replaced by security guards normally employed by drug smuggling rings – usually men from Syrian military intelligence and the Hizballah’s security apparatus.
Intelligence officials believe the tankers and their cargoes have gone to ground in villages in the Lebanese mountains and the Bekaa Valley. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources say neither the Americans nor any other intelligence officials who tailed the convoys know what quantities of lethal substances were transported to Lebanon. But intelligence sources say that Saddam’s decision to move the poison gas and nerve agents to as unsafe a location as Lebanon bespeaks his dire situation and limited options in the face of Washington’s determination to take military action against him.
Now it is only a matter of time before the American and other intelligence bodies run the hideouts to earth. Their discovery in Lebanon could prompt a US special forces operation or a raid by Israeli or British commandos.
Our intelligence sources have no doubt that Assad was handsomely rewarded by Majid and Ramadan for allowing the convoys through his territory. They report that Assad is making a lucrative industry out of allowing illegal weapons, military spare parts and strategic materials to be smuggled through Syrian seaports and airports to Iraq. The sheer volume of this contraband traffic prompted Washington to send an envoy to Assad to warn him off, or pay a heavy price.
Finding an emissary in Washington to carry this message to Assad was no easy task. Officials in the US government, intelligence agencies and private research institutes told DEBKA-Net-Weekly they were fed up with going to Damascus only to hear Assad’s lies.
“With Assad, you can be sure of one thing,” said one official. “The day after you meet him, you realize not a single true word comes out of his mouth.”
Eventually, deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, handed the unenviable task to assistant secretary of state William Burns, the erstwhile US Middle East peace envoy.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that the concealment of Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons in Lebanon was at the bottom of the unscheduled visit paid to Israel this week by John Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. His turning up on the eve of Powell’s Security Council demonstration was no coincidence.
Those sources now suggest that Sadam’s secret forbidden weapons store may be attacked, along with Syrian and Hizballah targets, once the US offensive against Iraq gets under way.
6. Zarqawi Continues to Confound Pursuit
He may get around on one leg these days, but Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a top al-Qaeda operations officer mentioned in US secretary of state Colin Powell’s j’accuse speech to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, still manages to keep one step ahead of his pursuers.
debkafile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported on his nefarious activities back in early December, before Powell pointed to the terror-master as proof of the terror connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime.
One of the terrorist group’s top three leaders, he had his right leg amputated in a Baghdad hospital after he was wounded in battles that al Qaeda and its Kurdish fundamentalist ally, Ansar al-Islam, waged against the militia of Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Unlike the two other top al Qaeda figures — Sheikh Khalid Mahmoud, known as the “mukhtar”, and Sayaf al-Abdel, aka “the Libyan”-Zarqawi operates outside Afghanistan and Pakistan. His task it is to get weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda’s terrorist networks. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, he and his men are in charge of al Qaeda’s stocks of chemical and biological agents and other toxins. Moreover, the sources say, if al Qaeda does have radiological weapons, or so-called dirty bombs, Zarqawi has charge of them.
Sleeper cells carrying out chemical, biological or nuclear attacks in the United States, Europe, the Far East or Israel, will receive their weapons from the arch-terrorist. Zarqawi is already in charge of moving members of al-Qaeda’s networks from Chechnya and the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia to Eastern Europe, and from there to the West, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported last week.
That’s why all the counter-terrorism organizations in the world have turned their attention to Zarqawi. Despite the spotlight, he remains in the shadows. Tracked in Europe in early January, he gave the watchers the slip and has not surfaced yet.
His success in eluding capture again raises the mystery of how al Qaeda operatives manage to spot their pursuers and collect intelligence data on them, while yet able to move about invisibly and soundlessly, never betraying their whereabouts to their prey.
Above all, how does al Qaeda manage to maintain contact with its far-flung networks undetected by the finest surveillance equipment available to Western intelligence agencies?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism sources can report exclusively that US intelligence services believe al Qaeda cells were planning a mega-attack in the United States or against a US target in Europe or the Middle East to coincide with Powell’s speech. The United States subsequently used all the electronic means at its disposal to jam al Qaeda’s channels of communication on the Internet.
Al Qaeda uses the World Wide Web to flash electronic messages, some of them undecipherable, to its operatives. It was one of the rare times in the past two years that the Americans believe they managed to shut down al-Qaeda’s “instant messaging” and no mega-attack was staged.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism experts say there was no way of knowing if the US electronic assault caused its cancellation. It is not unlikely that al Qaeda took itself off-line until the US counter-measures ended.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources note that al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization built along military lines with a huge global reach. The latest operative word in the world of terror is “mantiqa” or district. Al Qaeda’s troika, which includes Zarqawi, has divided the organization’s “world” into three regions of operation – Europe – including the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas. Each region is split into “mantiqa”, or districts. Southeast Asia, for example, has five districts. Australia’s government and security services were astonished to discover that their giant country is only one of five “mantiqa”. Europe is comprised of three districts – west, east and south, including the Caucasus and Chechnya. In short, al-Qaeda manages to maintain regular links across wide areas of the world where even the best-equipped armies and intelligence services would find it hard to communicate.