Scorpions (Iraq War)

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The Scorpions (Iraq War) were a clandestine 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.

Authorized by a presidential finding signed by President Bush in February or March 2002, they were trained in Jordan. [2] Organized by the CIA, they were distinct from the Free Iraqi Forces organized by the Department of Defense. [3]

Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet wrote that Gen. Mohammed Abdullah Shawani had helped create and lead the group. [4] James Risen said Tenet's suggestion that they were heroic was a "crock of s***".

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.[5]

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." [2] 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.


After Baghdad fell, the CIA used the Scorpions to try to infiltrate the insurgency, to help out in interrogations, and, from time to time, to do "the dirty work," as one intelligence official put it.

After the initial combat phase of the war, the CIA used the paramilitary units as translators and to fetch supplies and retrieve informants in an increasingly dangerous Iraq where CIA officers largely stayed within the protected Green Zone. [2]

CIA control over the unit became weaker as chaos grew in Iraq. "Even though they were set up by us, they weren't well supervised," said an intelligence official.[2] 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. [6]

"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. [7] in which Mowhoush died; his death was ruled a homicide.


  1. Michael Isikoff, David Korn (2006), Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the selling of the Iraq War, Crown, ISBN 0307346811, pp. 9-10
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Dana Priest and Josh White (August 3, 2005), "Before the War, CIA Reportedly Trained a Team of Iraqis to Aid U.S.", Washington Post
  3. James Risen (2006), State of war: the secret history of the CIA and the Bush administration, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0743270673, p. 138
  4. Tenet, George (2007). At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. HarperCollins, pp.388-389. ISBN 9780061147784. 
  5. Mike Tucker, Charles Faddis (2008), Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq, Globe Pequot, ISBN 1599213664, pp. 33-36
  6. 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
  7. Alfred W. McCoy (2006), A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, Macmillan, ISBN 0805082484,, p. 145