Iraqi National Congress

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In 1992, the Iraqi National Congress (INC) was formed by exiles in London, beginning with the two main Kurdish groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headed by Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Jalal Talabani.[1] The first meeting was in June, with an assortment of other opposition groups. A key meeting took place in October, when the major Shi'ite groups joined.

Structure

The group had a three-member Leadership Council and a 26-member executive council. The former consisted of moderate Shiite Muslim cleric Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum; ex-Iraqi general Hasan Naqib; and Masud Barzani. Although Bahr al-Ulum did not represent the more influential radical Shiite fundamentalists in the opposition, his selection was perceived as more palatable to the United States than the appointment of a fundamentalist.

Ahmed Chalabi became leader of the Executive. Based at Salahuddin, north of Irbil in the quasi-autonomous Kurdish region, INC had CIA funding from its inception.[2]

Guerrilla operations

Chalabi, who had no military experience, tried to form a guerrilla force in 1995, which would attack three cities held by Saddam. CIA case officer Robert Baer informed him that Saddam's intelligence had learned of the plan, and the CIA would not support it. Further, the CIA had learned that Chalabi had forged a document indicating the U.S. planned to assassinate Saddam, and leaked it to Iranian intelligence. Baer speculated that the forgery was intended to draw Iranian support to the INC.[3] Baer could not say how U.S. intelligence learned the Iranians had the forgery, but the Washington Post said that U.S. communications intelligence intercepted an Iranian message containing it. [4]

The attack was tried but was a fiasco. [5]

In August 1996, at the invitation of one of the Kurdish factions in the INC, invited Saddam into Kurdistan to destroy the opposition. The resulting attack by 40,000 troops also captured and killed hundreds of Chalabi's loyalists in Salahuddin; the U.S. evacuated 7,000. He began operating the INC from a townhouse in Washington, D.C., without significant assets in Iraq.[5]

In April 1999, he was demoted to INC member, but immediately came to Washington with a plan to overthrow Saddam.[6]

Role in the Iraq War

As GEN Tommy Franks pushed for completion of the Iraq War in late March 2003, LTG John Abizaid, deputy CENTCOM commander, called Zalmay Khalizad in Ankara and asked him to arrange a meeting of exiles in the liberated port of Umm Qasr, and explore if the Iraqi Army might be more willing to surrender to Iraqis. Franks followed up with a call urging the same thing.

Abizaid also called Feith's office, in search of Iraqis to fight with the Americans. William Luti, a senior assistant to Feith, referred Abizaid to COL Ted Seel, who had been a defense attache to Egypt and the CENTCOM liaison to Chalabi. Seel, along with LTG Henry "Pete" Osman, had entered northern Iraq from Turkey, to facilitate U.S. goals there. On the 27th, Abizaid asked if Chalabi could deploy forces in the south as well. Seel asked Chalabi, who was next to him; Seel reduced Chalabi's estimate of 1000 troops in 48 hours to 700. [7]

Frank Miller, the NSC deputy for defense, had never heard of the plan with Chalabi. There had been a plan to train Iraqis in Hungary, pushed by Feith and Wolfowitz but disliked by Franks. It had produced 73 volunteers, being used as interpreters. Miller assumed the CIA was involved, but Tenet told him he knew nothing of the Chalabi plan; there was a separate group with which CIA was involved, the Scorpions.

CIA field personnel told Washington that the Chalabi force contained Iranian mercenaries. Seel vouched for the men, and approximately 570 eventually flew to the south in April. Chalabi insisted on going with them, to which Abizaid objected given that Chalabi was a political operator, not a fighter. Eventually, Chalabi and his men went to Talil. They were unequipped when they arrived; the Air Force had not wanted untrusted armed troops o their aircraft.

McKiernan, who would actually use the fighters, had known nothing of them. They were never used in combat, although Chalabi did deliver a speech at Nasiriyah.

References

  1. Iraqi National Congress, Globalsecurity
  2. Dilip Hiro (2001), Neighbors, Not Friends: Iraq and Iran after the Gulf Wars, Routledge, ISBN 0415254124, p. 83
  3. Julian Borger (5 June 2004), "Pentagon accused of ignoring CIA evidence of Chalabi's link to Iran", The Guardian
  4. Walter Pincus and Bradley Graham (4 June 2004), "Coded Cable In 1995 Used Chalabi's NameL Intercepted Iranian Message Involved Plot to Kill Hussein", Washington Post Staff Writers
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jane Mayer (June 7, 2004), "The Manipulator: Ahmad Chalabi pushed a tainted case for war. Can he survive the occupation?", New Yorker
  6. Hiro, pp. 171-172
  7. Michael R. Gordon, Bernard E. Trainor (2006), COBRA II: the inside story of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Pantheon, ISBN 0375422625, pp. 315-317