Scorpions (Iraq War)

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The Scorpions (Iraq War) were a covert action force, organized by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), part of a larger program to induce regime change, with the CIA cryptonym DBANABASIS. The overall program was approved by George W. Bush on February 16, 2002.[1] They were one of several underground groups supported by the U.S. Their name came from a former Iraqi special forces unit called Scorpion 77 Alpha.

Initially, they were trained in Nevada,[2] with final training and staging in Jordan. [3] They were distinct from Kurdish resistance elements supported by the CIA, and from the Free Iraqi Forces organized by the U.S. Department of Defense. [4]


Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet wrote that Gen. Mohammed Abdullah Shawani had helped create and lead the group. [5] James Risen said Tenet's suggestion that they were heroic was a "crock of s***". It was never expected to achieve regime change by itself, but to destabilize Iraq prior to military action, a point about which both Tenet [6] and Risen agreed.

They were made up of Sunnis from Central Iraq, distinct from the Kurdish underground, the peshmerga, but the plan was to infiltrate them into Iraq from Turkey. Turkey had not given permission. They were also distinct from Ahmed Chalabi's organization. CIA officer Mike Tucker wrote that they were not capable of operations, many had criminal or medical problems, and they were motivated by money.[7]

Prewar mission

According to the Washington Post, most of its missions: "spray-painting graffiti on walls; cutting electricity; 'sowing confusion,' as one said -- were delayed or canceled because of poor training or planning, said officials briefed on the unit. The speed of the invasion negated the need for most of their missions, others said." [3] They were sent surreptitiously into Iraq before the war and were in cities such as Baghdad, Fallujah and Qaim to give the impression that a rebellion was underway and to conduct light sabotage, according to the two defense sources and the three former and current intelligence officials.

Maguire described a more ambitious objective: seizing an Iraqi base, Nukhaib, near the Saudi border, and calling a coup. The expected response from Saddam Hussein would be to send troops, violating the southern no-fly zone and giving the U.S. a casus belli to attack.[8]


Once Baghdad fell to conventional forces, the CIA used them as translators, to escort human assets, and deliver supplies outside the protected Green Zone U.S. government complex. CIA control, however, weakened with the increasingly confused situation in Iraq. "Even though they were set up by us, they weren't well supervised," said an intelligence official.[3] They were used in interrogations, although the CIA tried to block mention in their existence in a trial relating to the death of an Iraqi prisoner. [9]

"At some point, and it's not really clear how this happened, they started being used in interrogations . . . because they spoke the local dialect" according Curtis E. Ryan, an Army investigator, investigating the unapproved interrogation of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush in 2003. [10] in which Mowhoush died; his death was ruled a homicide.


  1. Michael Isikoff, David Corn (2006), Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the selling of the Iraq War, Crown, ISBN 0307346811, pp. 9-10
  2. Isikoff and Korn, p. 151
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Dana Priest and Josh White (August 3, 2005), "Before the War, CIA Reportedly Trained a Team of Iraqis to Aid U.S.", Washington Post
  4. James Risen (2006), State of war: the secret history of the CIA and the Bush administration, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0743270673, p. 138
  5. Tenet, George (2007). At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. HarperCollins, pp.388-389. ISBN 9780061147784. 
  6. Tenet, pp. 385-386
  7. Mike Tucker, Charles Faddis (2008), Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq, Globe Pequot, ISBN 1599213664, pp. 33-36
  8. Isikoff and Corn, pp. 153-154
  9. Josh White (August 3, 2005), "Documents Tell of Brutal Improvisation by GIs: Interrogated General's Sleeping-Bag Death, CIA's Use of Secret Iraqi Squad Are Among Details", Washington Post
  10. Alfred W. McCoy (2006), A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, Macmillan, ISBN 0805082484,, p. 145