Saturday, August 18, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 18th edition

August 18, 2004: A U.S. special operations sniper locks on a target near the cemetery in Najaf in the second week of battles with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

August 18, 2002:

U.S. aided Iraq despite gas warfare

A covert U.S. program during the Reagan administration provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when U.S. intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program.

These officers, most of whom agreed to speak on the condition that they not be named, spoke in response to questions about the nature of gas warfare on both sides of the 1980-88 conflict between Iran and Iraq. Iraq's use of gas in that conflict is repeatedly cited by President Bush and, last week, was cited by Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, as justification for "regime change" in Iraq.

The covert program was carried out at a time when President Ronald Reagan's senior aides -- including Secretary of State George Shultz, Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci and Gen. Colin Powell, then the national security adviser and now the secretary of state -- all were publicly condemning Iraq for its use of poison gas, especially after Iraqi forces attacked Kurdish civilians in Halabja in March 1988.

During the Iran-Iraq war, the United States decided it was imperative that Iran be thwarted, so it could not overrun the important oil-producing states in the Persian Gulf.

It has long been known that the United States provided intelligence assistance to Iraq in the form of satellite photography to help the Iraqis understand how Iranian forces were deployed against them. But the full nature of the program, as described by former Defense Intelligence Agency officers, was not previously disclosed.

Powell, through a spokesman, said the officers' description of the program was "dead wrong," but declined to discuss it. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was a senior defense official at the time, used an expletive relayed through a spokesman to indicate his denial that the United States acquiesced in the use of chemical weapons.

The Defense Intelligence Agency declined to comment, as did retired Lt. Gen.

Leonard Perroots, who supervised the program as the head of the agency.

Carlucci said, "My understanding is that what was provided" to Iraq "was general order of battle information, not operational intelligence."

"I certainly have no knowledge of U.S. participation in preparing battle and strike packages," he said, "and doubt strongly that that occurred."

Later, he added, "I did agree that Iraq should not lose the war, but I certainly had no foreknowledge of their use of chemical weapons."

Though senior officials of the Reagan administration publicly condemned Iraq's employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other poisonous agents, the U. S. military officers said that Reagan, Vice President George Bush and senior national security aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program in which more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for air strikes and bomb-damage assessments for the Iraqi general staff.

The Iraqis shared their battle plans with the Americans, without admitting the use of chemical weapons, the military officers said. But the Iraqi use of chemical weapons, already established at that point, became more evident in the final phase of the war.

Saudi Arabia played a crucial role in pressing the Reagan administration to offer assistance to Iraq out of concern that Iranian commanders were sending human waves of young volunteers to overrun Iraqi forces. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, then and now, met with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and then told senior officials of the CIA and the DIA that the Iraqi military command was ready to accept U.S. assistance.

In early 1988, after the Iraqi army, aided by U.S. planning assistance, retook the Fao Peninsula in a lightning attack that reopened Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf, a defense intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Rick Francona, was sent to tour the battlefield with Iraqi officers, the U.S. military officers said.

He reported that the Iraqis had used chemical weapons to cinch their victory, one former Defense Intelligence Agency official said. He added that Francona saw zones marked off for chemical contamination, and containers for the drug atropine scattered around, indicating that Iraqi soldiers had taken injections to protect themselves from the effects of nerve gas that might blow back over their positions.

Francona, now retired, could not be reached for comment.

CIA officials supported the program to assist Iraq, although they were not involved. Separately, the CIA provided Iraq with satellite photography of the war front.

Retired Col. Walter P. Lang, the senior defense intelligence officer at the time, said in an interview that he would not discuss classified information, but added that officials of both the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA "were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose" to Iran.

"The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern," he said. What Reagan's top aides were concerned about, he said, was that the Iranians not break through to the Fao Peninsula and spread the Islamic revolution to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to the south.

Lang asserted that the Defense Intelligence Agency "would have never accepted the use of chemical weapons against civilians, but the use against military objectives was seen as inevitable in the Iraqi struggle for survival."

Senior Reagan administration officials did nothing to interfere with the continuation of the program, a former participant in the program said.

Iraq did turn its chemical weapons against the Kurdish population of northern Iraq, but the intelligence officers say they were not involved in planning any of the military operations in which these assaults occurred. They said the reason was that there were no major Iranian troop concentrations in the north and the major battles where Iraq's military command wanted assistance were on the southern war front.

The Pentagon's battle damage assessments confirmed to the Americans that Iraqi military commanders had integrated chemical weapons throughout their arsenal and were adding them to strike plans that U.S. advisers either prepared or suggested.

Iran claimed it suffered thousands of deaths from chemical weapons.

The U.S. intelligence officers never encouraged or condoned Iraq's use of chemical weapons, but neither did they oppose it because they considered Iraq to be in a struggle for its national survival, people involved at the time said in interviews this week.

Another former senior Defense Intelligence Agency official who was an expert on the Iraqi military said the Reagan administration's treatment of the issue -- publicly condemning Iraq's use of gas while privately acquiescing in its employment on the battlefield -- was an example of the "realpolitik" of U. S. interests in the war.

The U.S. effort on behalf of Iraq "was heavily compartmented," a former Defense Intelligence Agency official said, using the military jargon for restricting secrets to those who need to know them.

"Having gone through the 440 days of the hostage crisis in Iran," he said, "the period when we were the Great Satan, if Iraq had gone down it would have had a catastrophic effect on Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and the whole region might have gone down -- that was the backdrop of the policy."

One officer said the Iraqis "had gotten better and better" and after a while chemical weapons "were integrated into their fire plan for any large operation, and it became more and more obvious."

A number of Defense Intelligence Agency officers who took part in aiding Iraq more than a decade ago, when its military was actively using chemical weapons, now say they believe that the United States should overthrow Hussein at some point. But at the time, they say, they all believed that their covert assistance to his military in the mid-1980s was a crucial factor in Iraq's victory in the war and the containment of a far more dangerous threat from Iran.

The Pentagon "wasn't so horrified by Iraq's use of gas," said one veteran of the program. "It was just another way of killing people -- whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn't make any difference," he said.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

August 18, 2003:

Saudis in Iraq 'preparing for a holy war'

Increasing numbers of Saudi Arabian Islamists are crossing the border into Iraq in preparation for a jihad, or holy war, against US and UK forces, security and Islamist sources have warned.

A senior western counter-terrorism official on Monday said the presence of foreign fighters in Iraq was "extremely worrying".

A statement purportedly from al-Qaeda was broadcast on Monday by the Arab satellite television channel al-Arabiya. It claimed the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the leader of the Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime Mullah Mohammed Omar were still alive. But it also asserted that recent attacks on US forces in Iraq were the work of jihadis.

The focus of concern for US counter-terrorist officials was at first on a reconstituted Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group based in northern Iraq before the war. But US officials have recently acknowledged the presence of other foreign fighters in Iraq.

Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, said recent raids, including one near al-Qaim last month, uncovered fighters "carrying travel documents from a variety of countries".

According to Saad al-Faguih, a UK-based Saudi dissident, the Saudi authorities are concerned that up to 3,000 Saudi men have gone "missing" in the kingdom in two months, although it is not clear how many have crossed into Iraq.

Saudis who have gone to Iraq have established links with sympathetic Iraqis in the northern area between Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit, where they have hidden in safe-houses, a Saudi Islamist source said on Monday.

Pressure on Islamists in Saudi Arabia has grown since the bombing of an expatriate residential compound in May killed 35 people. The subsequent arrest of many Islamists has forced some underground while others are trying to flee to Iraq.

"Part of this movement of people has been individual, but it is getting more organised now," Saad al-Faguih said, adding that the loose organisation of Saudi Islamists did not have a clear link to al-Qaeda. "Al-Qaeda is there and not there. But its umbrella is huge, which is what has given it its ability to survive," he said.

A senior UK official said there was evidence of extremists from several countries focusing on Iraq, though it was unclear what role al-Qaeda played.

"I don't know whether you can talk about an al-Qaeda strategy in Iraq, though there is great evidence of al-Qaeda involvement in the jihadi cause inside Iraq. But there's as much talk about other people doing things inside Iraq," the official said.

Read the rest at the Financial Times

August 18, 2004:

Report on Iraq abuse cites interrogators, clears leaders

A new Army report on prisoner abuse by intelligence personnel at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison cites misconduct by military interrogators but exonerates high-ranking Pentagon officials and senior U.S. military commanders, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.

The report by Maj. Gen. George Fay, which could be made public as early as Friday, found improper conduct among soldiers of the Army's 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which was responsible for interrogating detainees at the prison. The report does not implicate any soldier above the rank of colonel or senior Pentagon civilians in the abuses, said the official, who has knowledge of the report's contents. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

The official did not say whether the report finds misconduct among civilian contract interrogators who operated at Abu Ghraib. But the report does cite the role of Justice Department officials and recommends further investigation of their actions, the Pentagon source said. It was unclear where those officials were or what they did.

So far, only low-ranking Army Reserve military police have faced criminal charges related to a string of abuses of Iraqi detainees that occurred at Abu Ghraib last fall. An earlier prison abuse report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba found widespread abuse by MPs, and seven were charged. One, Spc. Jeremy Sivits, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison.

Read the rest at USA Today

War veteran sues to keep from being sent back to Iraq

A veteran of the Iraq war whose Army National Guard unit has been ordered back to Iraq filed what his lawyers described Tuesday as the first suit against the Army's "stop-loss'' policy, which allows the U.S. military to keep soldiers in combat zones after their enlistments were scheduled to expire.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by a Bay Area man identified only as John Doe, contends the program violates federal law, Doe's enlistment contract and the constitutional right of due process of law.

"You can't make slaves out of people who've already met the burden'' of military service, Michael Sorgen, a lawyer for Doe, said at a courthouse news conference. "The burden ought to be shared.''

He said Doe could be deployed to Iraq for another two years under the Army's order. He has been excused from training while he is being treated for combat-related post-traumatic stress syndrome, Sorgen said.

Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman, said the Army maintains that its program was legally authorized by an executive order, issued by President Bush three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which allows the armed forces to suspend discharges and retirements to prevent further attacks.

She said the Army empathizes with enlistees like Doe.

"It's disheartening for the soldiers and their families when they find that their loved one has been extended,'' said Hart, who added that she, also, has been subjected to a stop-loss extension. "But we all have to sacrifice. ... We're at war.''

Stop-loss is among the measures taken by the Pentagon to shore up troop levels that have been strained by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army has also ordered 5,600 discharged reservists back to duty. Hart said the current stop-loss order, issued in June, affects about 20,000 soldiers.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

August 18, 2005:

700 More Troops to Be Sent To Iraq

Responding to an appeal for more forces in Iraq to help manage a rising number of detainees, the Pentagon is dispatching an additional 700 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, defense officials said yesterday.

The previously unscheduled deployment is intended specifically to bolster prison operations, the officials said. It is not part of a temporary increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq that commanders have said is likely to enhance security for a planned constitutional referendum in October and governmental elections in December.

"The basic fact driving this deployment is the steady rise in the prison population," said Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman. "There need to be some additional resources devoted to this."

The number of prisoners held in U.S. military detention centers in Iraq has more than doubled since the autumn, climbing from 5,400 in September to more than 10,800 now, according to the latest Pentagon figures. The surge has filled existing prisons to capacity and prompted commanders to embark on an unanticipated prison expansion plan.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 18, 2006:

Judge overturns $10M verdict against Iraq war contractor in fraud case

A federal judge has overturned on a technicality a $10 million jury verdict against a military contractor accused of defrauding the U.S. government in the first months of the Iraq war.

The award, levied in March against Fairfax-based Custer Battles LLC, had been the first civil fraud verdict arising from the Iraq war.

A former Custer Battles employee had sued under a whistle-blower statute, alleging that the company used shell companies and false invoices to vastly overstate its expenses on a $3 million contract to assist in establishing a currency to replace the Iraqi dinar used during Saddam Hussein's regime.
The verdict reached $10 million because the law calls for triple damages, plus penalties, fines and legal costs.

But U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, in a ruling made public Friday, ruled that Custer Battles' accusers failed to prove that the U.S. government was ever defrauded. Any fraud that occurred was perpetrated instead against the Coalition Provisional Authority, formed to run Iraq until a government was established.

Ellis ruled that the trial evidence failed to show that the U.S. government was the victim, even though U.S. taxpayers ultimately footed the bill.

Alan Grayson, lawyer for whistle-blowers Robert Isakson and William Baldwin, said he would appeal. He faulted the Bush administration for creating the CPA in a manner that essentially allowed it to act as a money launderer for unscrupulous military contractors...

A lawsuit involving an even larger Custer Battles contract to provide security at the Baghdad airport has not yet gone to trial. That lawsuit will face similar obstacles, Grayson said.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune