Saturday, October 06, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- October 6th edition

October 6, 2006: Iraqi police watch as a fellow officer approaches a vehicle containing two would-be car bombers who were killed after a brief firefight with in Baghdad.

October 6, 2002:

Attack May Spark Coup In Iraq, Say U.S. Analysts

Senior intelligence experts inside and outside government have reached a consensus that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would likely be ousted in a coup led by members of his inner circle in the final days or hours before U.S. forces launch a major ground attack.

Faced with an imminent, overwhelming U.S. assault and the choice of either being Hussein's successors or being imprisoned or killed in the fighting, top-ranking officers or a group of military and other senior officials would take the chance to eliminate the Iraqi leader, several senior administration officials and intelligence experts said in recent interviews.

"Someone will take action and cause it to happen," said one former high-ranking CIA officer with close ties to current thinking among intelligence officials.

It was unclear how widespread this view is within the administration. But with military preparations for a possible attack underway, senior officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, have recently spoken publicly about Iraqis eliminating Hussein themselves, either through assassination or sending him into exile.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer picked up the theme last week, encouraging a coup d'état or assassination in answer to questions about the possible cost of a U.S.-led invasion. "The cost of a one-way ticket is substantially less than [the cost of war]," Fleischer said. "The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less than that."

"Saddam Hussein could decide that his future is limited and he'd like to leave," Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 18. "Another way to do it would be to persuade enough people in Iraq the world would be a lot better world if that regime weren't there and they decided to change the regime."

The "silver bullet" approach -- Iraqis eliminating Hussein on their own -- has long been central to the CIA's efforts to end the Iraqi leader's dictatorship. Earlier this year, President Bush directed the CIA to undertake a comprehensive covert program to topple the Iraqi leader, including authority to use lethal force.

It included instructions to increase support and contacts with Iraqi opposition groups and forces outside and inside Iraq, and authorized expanded efforts to collect intelligence within the Iraqi government, military and intelligence service where pockets of anti-Hussein sentiment have been detected.

The Washington Post reported in June that CIA Director George J. Tenet briefed Bush and senior Cabinet members that the newly authorized covert plan had only a small chance of working unless it was accompanied by outside military action, or at least by convincing the Iraqis that overwhelming military action was imminent.

Iraqi officers over the years have watched Hussein have his own sons-in-law shot for temporarily defecting and the brutal elimination of senior colleagues based on rumors that they were disloyal. These officers "will have to be certain the Americans are coming with overwhelming force before they move," said one top government analyst. "They have been hurt before."

A former senior Clinton administration official agreed with this assessment, citing a failed CIA attempt employing Iraqi senior officers to eliminate Hussein in 1996. "It always has been the view of [the] intelligence community that there was a low chance of success in the absence of the sound of [military] footsteps in Baghdad," the official said.

Several officials said one reason for their view that the inner circle in Baghdad would move against Hussein is the Bush administration's vocal and seemingly determined planning to launch a war with a goal not just of eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction but also of changing the country's leadership. Senior defense and intelligence officials have spoken openly of their conviction that many Iraqi military units would not defend Hussein in the event of a U.S. attack, or could be persuaded not to do so.

The assessment that a coup in Baghdad would be possible, if not probable, may have helped shape some of the administration's thinking about planning for a post-Hussein Iraq.

It has led many CIA and State Department officials, for example, to oppose recognition of the leaders of prominent Iraqi exile groups as a government in exile, arguing that they would never be accepted to head any new Baghdad government. "The exiles would be seen as a U.S. quisling government," one senior analyst said, referring to the Norwegian who betrayed his country to the Nazis in World War II and then headed the government under Fascist occupation.

Although U.S. officials have talked of instituting a democratic government in Baghdad, many intelligence officials believe that a military-led coup could help keep Iraq together and avoid moves toward separation that could come from its three major ethnic groups: the Shiite majority, Kurdish groups of the north and the Sunni minority that has dominated the country in recent times. A coup also would leave many of Iraq's upper- and middle-level bureaucrats in place, limiting the need for major rebuilding of the government, according to the intelligence community's thinking.

Since the late 1990s, one of several clandestine Iraq operations the CIA has underway is to identify key officials around Hussein and find ways to contact them, mostly through intermediaries. The object is to plant the seeds for an eventual coup or possible assassination, according to current and former U.S. officials. Promises of future power or wealth are among the rewards dangled in front of the Iraqis, sources said.

Exiled Iraqi officers and political figures are being used by U.S. intelligence to keep in touch with former colleagues and there are continuing efforts, mostly unsuccessful, to approach and perhaps recruit Iraqis who travel outside the country, officials said.

Hussein is aware of these activities and has regularly shaken up his top officer corps and others with access to him, including those in his own security force. "He came up through the security ranks of the Baath Party and is obsessed with his own security," one senior analyst said.

Hussein's closest aides are often the only ones to see him and he constantly is on the move, sources said. His public appearances, for example, are almost never announced ahead of time and it is well publicized that he almost never sleeps in the same bed two nights in a row.

The Special Republican Guard and other key security forces are run by Hussein's younger son, Qusay, and they include a large number of members from their tribe in Tikrit, the Iraqi leader's power base in northern Iraq. Even so, Hussein and his son constantly move key people around "just to keep them off balance," one intelligence official said.

Another official said that these people are so identified with the Iraqi leader that his ouster would probably include wiping out most of his tribe. "They have profited from the relationship and they know his death could be theirs," one official said. "That makes them even more loyal."

One of the more curious nuances in the administration's public pronouncements in recent weeks is the idea of Hussein and his family and advisers being sent into exile.

"If Saddam Hussein is in a corner, it is because he has put himself there," Rumsfeld said in his House testimony last month. "One choice he has is to take his family and key leaders and seek asylum elsewhere. Surely one of the 180-plus countries would take his regime -- possibly Belarus."

When questioned about Rumsfeld's comments afterward, Pentagon officials said some people in the administration thought exile was a possibility. "But," one Rumsfeld spokesman said, "there was no secret message being sent [by the secretary]."

Most intelligence analysts said they doubt Hussein would take that route. "He knows that if he is not in power, he's dead," one top government Iraq analyst said. "What country would take him and how could he be sure he would be safe?"

Read the rest at the Washington Post

October 6, 2003:

Rice will manage Iraq's 'new phase'

President Bush is giving his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the authority to manage postwar Iraq and the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

While some saw it as a sign of frustration with the handling of postwar efforts, Bush and other officials said the move is a logical next step and reflected no dissatisfaction with progress.

"We want to cut through the red tape and make sure that we're getting the assistance there quickly so that they can carry out their priorities," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. "It's a new phase, a different phase we're entering."

Rice will head the Iraq Stabilization Group, which will have coordinating committees on counterterrorism, economic development, political affairs and media messages. Each committee will be headed by a Rice deputy and include representatives of the State, Defense and Treasury departments and the CIA.

McClellan said the change is no indication of discontent with progress in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Bremer will continue to report to Rumsfeld, and the Pentagon will still be "the lead agency," he said.

Rice is one of Bush's closest confidants, and he has turned to her before to handle high-profile assignments, such as her appointment as liaison to the Middle East. Rice, 48, was a Bush adviser during the 2000 campaign. As national security adviser, she spends more time with him than any staffer except chief of staff Andy Card.

The new structure will give Bush's top White House aides a stronger voice in decisions and will make the president more directly accountable. Because of their close relationship, many people will assume Bush signed off on Rice's decisions.

The reasons for the overhaul generated much debate in Washington on Monday. Among the theories:

• Bush is displeased with Rumsfeld, who has been in charge of Iraq planning.

"It definitely reflects an awareness that something had to change," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense policy analyst at the Brookings Institution. "It shows that Rumsfeld is no longer thought to be the best person running the situation in Iraq."

• Rice is being empowered or nudged by Bush to resolve disputes between Cabinet members, which is the traditional role of a national security adviser. State Department officials have been perturbed because they haven't had a stronger say in how Iraq is managed.

"It should have been done on Day One," said Ivo Daalder, who worked for the Clinton National Security Council. "The NSC exists to coordinate the different agencies and make sure their voices are heard."

A State Department official said he hoped the reorganization would result in more focused decisions on Iraq reconstruction. Asked whether it would ease tensions between the State Department and Pentagon, the official said, "That depends on how good we are and what projects and ideas we can bring to the table."

• Rice's new responsibilities are a cosmetic change meant to demonstrate that Bush is not ignoring problems that have slowed Iraq's recovery.

"It's a rhetorical reorganization ... that doesn't really change the power structure," said James Thurber of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "It's actually admitting that they've had problems and that they've failed and now they've got to reorganize and do something."

• It's a natural evolution.

"Now that the major combat in Iraq is over, it's natural that the control of Iraq policy" should not be solely in the Pentagon, said James Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

However, Rice and McClellan dismissed most of the theories about the rationale behind the move.

"This new structure will provide higher-level and more focused" support from the federal government to the Pentagon and Bremer, Rice said. "Implementation and operational responsibility will, of course, remain" with them.

McClellan said the changes will give the White House more control over spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush has asked Congress for $87 billion this year for reconstruction and military operations.

A White House official said Rice's group will ensure that federal employees who are needed in Iraq will be sent there. It also will coordinate with other countries involved in rebuilding Iraq.

President Bush also weighed in on the reason for his decision.

Rice "is going to make sure that the efforts continue to be coordinated so that we continue to make progress," Bush said at a news conference with President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya. "And listen, we're making good progress in Iraq. Sometimes it's hard to tell it when you listen to the filter" of the news media.

Read the rest at USA Today

October 6, 2004:

Iraq had no WMD - inspectors

The group searching for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction publishes its final findings tonight and is expected to say it found no evidence of any illegal stockpiles.
Charles Duelfer, the head of the US-led team that spent 15-months searching for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, will deliver the Iraq Survey Group (ISG)'s final report to the US senate at around 1930BST.

US officials cited by the Washington Post today said that the 1,000-page document concludes that Saddam Hussein had the desire but not the capability to create weapons that could attack the west.

A leak of a draft of the report earlier this month said Saddam planned to rebuild his WMD capability had UN sanctions been lifted.

Critics of US and British policy towards Iraq will hope to use the ISG report as evidence that the policy of containment was working, while the White House and Downing Street will hope that the report draws a line under the politically damaging issue.

The prime minister, Tony Blair, appealed for the "fullness" of the ISG report to be analysed, rather than only one aspect of it.

Mr Blair, who is in Sudan on the first leg of a three-day Africa visit, was asked whether he would now go back to the Commons to correct any misleading impression about WMDs that he had given to MPs in the run-up to war.

"I think we have already been through this. I will say some more about it when the report is actually published. I hope what's actually published is the fullness of the ISG report and not simply one aspect of it," the prime minister told reporters.

Speaking in Baghdad, the foreign secretray, Jack Straw, said that the report shows that the threat from Saddam "in terms of his intentions ... [was] even starker than we have seen before".

Both George Bush and Tony Blair used allegations of WMD as a prime justification for last year's invasion of Iraq and officials are unlikely to be relishing the publication of the ISG's final findings.

Mr Bush has argued that it stopped a long-term risk posed by Saddam and insisted during his campaign for re-election that Iraq had been a "gathering" threat.

But the leaked draft - obtained by the New York Times - said that the only biological or chemical weapons Saddam's regime was working on before last year's invasion were small quantities of poisons, most likely for use in assassinations.

The draft does not rule out the possibility that WMD stockpiles could have been moved out of Iraq but there is apparently no evidence to suggest this. Earlier this year Mr Duelfer told the Guardian he expected the final report would leave some unanswered questions.

The failure to find stockpiles of WMD had been anticipated since the former head of the ISG, David Kay, quit in January. "We were almost all wrong" in thinking Saddam had stocks of such weapons, he said.

At the Labour party conference last week Mr Blair urged his party to put aside its differences over Iraq and focus on winning a third term in power.

Mr Blair told the conference he accepted that the evidence about Saddam having "actual biological and chemical weapons, as opposed to the capability to develop them, has turned out to be wrong".

"I simply point out such evidence was agreed by the whole international community, not least because Saddam had used such weapons against his own people and neighbouring countries," he said.

"And the problem is I can apologise for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can't, sincerely at least, apologise for removing Saddam. The world is a better place with Saddam in prison not in power."

Today the shadow defence secretary, Nicholas Soames, said it would be "no great surprise" if the ISG reported that no evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons had been found.

"I don't think it alters the case for war one way or another personally, but I think it is difficult for the Americans and for the prime minister to explain," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Read the rest at the Guardian

October 6, 2005:

Bush: Iraq crucial in war on terror

Amid dropping public approval for the Iraq war, President Bush said Thursday the fight against terrorism must continue there because it is the center of a terrorist movement to "intimidate the whole world."

During a speech billed by the White House as a major policy address, Bush said if U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, insurgents would "use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against nonradical Muslim governments."

Critics have charged that the Iraq war has become a breeding ground for terror, while opinion polls suggest that U.S. public support for the war has been waning since spring.

Bush made his remarks at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, and emphasized that the worldwide terror movement should not be appeased.

"We're not facing a set of grievances" that can be negotiated, Bush said.

"We're facing a radical ideology with an unalterable objective, to enslave whole nations and intimidate the whole world," he said.

Bush indicated that the public is unaware of many anti-terrorism victories. He said the United States and its allies have disrupted 10 al Qaeda terrorism plots since September 11, 2001, including three inside the United States.

The White House said the U.S. incidents Bush was referring to include a 2003 plot to blow up a New York bridge and the case of Jose Padilla, who is being held by the military as an enemy combatant. Padilla is accused of plotting with al Qaeda to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb."

Read the rest at CNN

October 6, 2006:

Rice steals into Baghdad, says Iraq gaining ground

Wearing a helmet and a flak jacket and flanked by machine-gun-toting bodyguards to defend against insurgents, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came here Thursday, insisting that there were new signs of progress in Iraq and that the Bush administration had never sugarcoated its news about the American occupation.

"It is a quite critical time for the Iraqi government," Rice said of the reasons for her brief, unannounced visit to the Iraqi capital.

Rice said she was in Iraq to offer support to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and to urge him to move faster to settle political differences that are seen as having prevented actions to curb the insurgents' violence.

"The security situation is not one that can be tolerated and is not one that is helped by political inaction," said Rice, who met twice with al-Maliki on Thursday and praised him for his "excellent leadership of Iraq."

Yet signs of progress were not much in evidence in the first hours of her visit.

It began inauspiciously when the military transport plane that brought her to Baghdad was forced to circle the city for about 40 minutes because of what a State Department spokesman later said was either mortar fire or rockets at the airport.

On Thursday evening, during her meeting with President Jalal Talabani, the lights went out, forcing Rice to continue the discussion in the dark. It was a reminder of the city's erratic -- and sometimes nonexistent -- electrical service.

She arrived in the midst of an especially bloody few days for American troops. At least 21 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since Saturday, most in Baghdad. Two car bombings in the city Thursday left at least four Iraqi civilians dead.

The extraordinary security precautions for Rice's trip -- her first to Iraq in six months, her fifth as secretary of state -- were evidence of continuing turmoil in Iraq three years after the U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Traveling from Israel on Thursday morning, Rice had to abandon her comfortable official jet at an American air base in Turkey and board a C-17A cargo plane equipped with anti-missile technology for the final, 90-minute leg into Baghdad; that procedure has become routine for all high-ranking Bush administration officials visiting Iraq.

From the airport in Baghdad, Rice flew by military helicopter to the heavily fortified American-controlled Green Zone, bypassing the dangerous, explosives-strewn airport highway into the city.

While trying to put a brave face on the situation in Iraq, Rice defended the administration from accusations at home that President Bush and his closest advisers -- Rice has been singled out among them -- have not been truthful about Iraq.

The criticism has grown sharper since publication last week of a book by Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, who has been granted extraordinary access to Bush's inner circle in the past, that depicts the administration as dysfunctional and deceitful about the American invasion and occupation of Iraq.

On Thursday, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, offered a stark assessment of the situation in Iraq after a trip there this week. He told reporters that parts of the country have taken "steps backward" and that the United States is at risk of losing the campaign to control an increasingly violent Baghdad.

Warner said the Iraqi government is incapable of providing even basic human necessities to people in certain areas of the country. Echoing the sentiments of several leading Democrats on his committee, Warner said he believes the United States may have to re-evaluate its approach in Iraq if the situation does not improve dramatically over the next several months.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle