- * A detailed review of the evidence lends
more weight to the possibility that Operation Desert Fox was integrally
related to a failed coup attempt in Iraq.
- Normally we don't revisit Global Intelligence
Updates we have issued until the story evolves to some degree. However,
we received several comments from our readers about our January 5 GIU on
a possible coup attempt in Iraq that caused us to reexamine the events
and our analysis. This review has only strengthened our belief that an
abortive coup attempt took place in Iraq in conjunction with the U.S. and
British air strikes of Operation Desert Fox. Furthermore, the additional
information we collected leads us to speculate that Operation Desert Fox
was not merely coincidental with the coup attempt, but rather was integral
to and even driven by the attempt.
- The conventional time line for Operation
Desert Fox begins around December 10, when UN inspectors were embroiled
in their last round of standoffs with Iraq over access to disputed sites
in Iraq, including Ba'ath party headquarters in Baghdad. The next point
on the conventional time line occurred on December 16 when, only hours
after chief UN weapons inspector Richard Butler issued a report stating
that Iraq was continuing to be uncooperative, the UN withdrew its inspectors
from Iraq and U.S. cruise missiles began striking Iraq. Three other incidents
prior to the launch of Desert Fox caught our attention, however.
- The first two events occurred on December
14. A Saudi soldier was shot and killed by an unidentified assailant in
a vehicle near an Iraqi border post near the Saudi town of Arar. Speculation
at the time was that smugglers may have been responsible, which is an altogether
possible explanation. Also on December 14, U.S. forces in the Persian
Gulf region were put on Defense Condition Charlie, ostensibly due to a
heightened threat of terrorist actions from militants linked to Osama Bin
Laden. That, too, may have been the case, but we're not convinced there
wasn't more at work.
- The most significant incident occurred
just before the air strikes on December 16, when Saddam Hussein announced
a dramatic restructuring and redeployment of the Iraqi armed forces. This
may have been merely coincidental and somewhat bad timing, but it certainly
wasn't initiated by forewarning of the U.S. cruise missile attack. Our
speculation, based on subsequent events, is that Saddam's Presidential
Decree Number 98, rearranging the Iraqi armed forces, was prompted by Saddam
uncovering a U.S. sponsored coup plot. Moreover, it is possible that the
discovery of the coup plot and Saddam's moves against it were the actual
trigger for heightened U.S. preparation, including DefCon Charlie, and
the launch of Operation Desert Fox.
- Examine this hypothesis: The U.S. had
for some time been actively pursuing factions within Iraq willing to carry
out a coup against Saddam Hussein. This could not be the Shiites in the
south or the Kurds in the north, because neither would be accepted by Iraq's
Sunni Arab neighbors as the new rulers of Baghdad. Besides, they were
geographically too far from Baghdad to pull the coup off. For a variety
of reasons, the coup had to come from Sunni Moslem military commanders.
And to this quest, the U.S. finally recruited officers from within Iraq's
3rd Corps, stationed to the south and southeast of Baghdad. As events
later demonstrated, the U.S. also apparently recruited at least some of
the Shiite opposition in southern Iraq to take part in sabotage operations
and to tie town units of the Republican Guard in counterinsurgency operations.
- The coup was to take place some time
in mid December, perhaps even during Ramadan. The U.S. would guarantee
the operation air cover in the no fly zones and strike key command and
control and Republican Guard facilities with cruise missiles. But in the
last stages of preparation, before the U.S. had pulled all of its necessary
forces into place and fomented the proper crisis with Baghdad, the plot
was uncovered. As Saddam moved quickly to round up the conspirators and
break up the threat to his regime by redeploying and reorganizing the armed
forces, the U.S. was forced to move up the time table in hopes that, even
crippled, the coup could go forward.
- Operation Desert Fox was launched on
December 16, directly coinciding with what was clearly a coup attempt from
within the Iraqi Army's 3rd Corps. While yesterday's GIU discussed this
coincidence, it now appears to have been more than mere coincidence. Throughout
December 16-19 there were reports of scattered incidents of sabotage being
carried out in Shiite areas of southern Iraq. The London based newspaper
Al-Sharq al-Awsat cited Iraqi opposition forces on December 19 as claiming
that armed civilians had moved against the radio and television building
in Baghdad on December 17, but failed to capture it during a three hour
battle with security forces. Opposition forces also claimed to have engaged
in firefights with security forces near Thawrah and Habibah, and that Iraqi
forces had shelled Shiites in Amarah Governate and near Umm al-Ni'aj lake
in the south.
- The January 1 Al-Hayat report cited in
yesterday's GIU outlined the actions taken by and against the 3rd Corps
during Operation Desert Fox, including the executions of Brigadier General
Ali Ma'ruf al-Sa'idi and Lieutenant Colonel Sabah Dhiyab al-Khalidi. These
executions were ordered by Ba'ath party regional commander Ali Hasan al-Majid,
who Saddam had made commander of the newly established southern area immediately
before the start of the missile attacks. On December 21, Al-Hayat published
a report from the opposition Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution
in Iraq (SCIRI), claiming that clashes took place in the Rashid camp in
Baghdad on December 18. Five officers were then allegedly executed in
the camp, including Staff Brigadier Harden Jasim al- Ubaydi, Brigadier
Husayn Muhammad Hasan, intelligence officer Staff Colonel Saddam Thamir
al-Tikriti, colonel Sa'dun Jabbar Muhsin, and Staff Lieutenant Colonel
Nuri Husam Muhammad. SCIRI also claimed that a group of officers of the
11th Mechanized Division, part of the 3rd Corps, were executed for objecting
to "measures taken in preparation for suppressing a peoples' move."
Agence France Presse reported that, on December 19, two Iraqi colonels,
one from an armored division and one from the air force, were executed
in Baghdad's Taji barracks. The armor colonel was reportedly from Hilla
in Shiite southern Iraq, while the air force colonel was reportedly from
Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit. The report came from the Iraqi Communist
- The January 1 Al-Hayat report cited an
Iraqi official as claiming that, while the U.S. provided air cover for
the rebellious Iraqi troops, an "Arab state neighboring Iraq"
had provided them with ground and logistical support. Several reports
that emerged during Operation Desert Fox seem to support this claim. Deutsche
Presse Agentur reported on December 18 that heavy weaponry, ammunition,
and equipment was seen being transported northward through Kuwait toward
Iraq on the 17th and 18th. Kuwaiti eyewitnesses claimed that one of the
convoys of U.S. flatbed trucks, escorted by U.S. and Kuwaiti military police,
carried at least 31 tanks toward Iraq. The U.S. refused to comment on
the report. According to the Iraqi Information Ministry, Saudi armored
units, apparently on a reconnaissance mission, advanced to the Iraqi border
on December 17 before withdrawing. Saudi Arabia denied the report. The
Iranian news agency IRNA reported that U.S. and British forces crossed
from Saudi territory five kilometers into Iraq on the night of December
18. Asked about the Iranian report, a Qatari television correspondent
in Baghdad claimed to have received other reports of U.S. and British troop
movements into Iraq from sources within Iraq on the 17th. The U.S. and
Britain reportedly refused comment on the report.
- On December 18, as what was clearly a
coup attempt was mopped up, the vice chairman of Iraq's ruling Revolution
Command Council, General Izzat Ibrahim, reportedly sent a letter to Saddam
Hussein noting that "we have instructed the armed forces to restrict
their mission to the protection of the borders of the homeland." The
letter, broadcast on Iraqi radio, noted that all internal security had
been arranged for using "other armed bodies." In other words,
the coup was finished and Iraq was, at least internally, secure.
- Capping this off was a report in the
Dubai newspaper Al-Bayan on December 20, which claimed that Iraqi opposition
sources in Amman had released details of a U.S. plan, devised by the CIA
and approved by Iraqi opposition groups and Britain, to capture Baghdad
and topple Saddam. The plan was to begin on the fifth day of the U.S.-British
air campaign, which was aimed at breaking the back of the Republican Guards.
The plan allegedly involved a land attack from Kuwait, through Basra to
Baghdad, carried out by 5,000 U.S. soldiers and 3,000 Iraqi soldiers from
SCIRI, backed by 15,000 troops from neighboring states. Kurdish troops
from northern Iraq were to have moved south, taking Mosul, Kirkuk, and
Tikrit before meeting the southern force in Baghdad. The ground attack
was to have received U.S. and British air cover. The plan appears to roughly
fit the events as they transpired, albeit the events reflect what may have
happened when Saddam uncovered the plot before it was ready to commence.
Whether this plan was fact or fiction, the air war stopped short of five
days, by which time the Iraqi opposition forces which did take action had
been effectively crushed.
- We also note -- though could the U.S.
planners really have been that brazen? -- the significance of Operation
Desert Fox's namesake. German General Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox,"
was implicated in an assassination attempt on another dictator, Hitler.
Ironically, like Rommel, the coup plotters in Iraq did not survive their
- On January 4, Saddam Hussein reportedly
carried out a review of the military. After that meeting, Saddam reiterated
his opposition to the U.S. imposed "no-fly" zones in northern
and southern Iraq, and began to actively challenge U.S. patrols in those
zones. Saddam has no desire to allow the U.S. to provide cover for what
may next time be a more coordinated and effective coup attempt. The question
is, how likely is another attempt? Two of the officers executed in Baghdad
were from Tikrit, one from military intelligence and one from the air force.
The U.S. had evidently reached Saddam's inner circle. Even as the coup
was apparently uncovered, the U.S. moved ahead with a portion of its part
of the operation, launching the missile and air strikes. U.S. troops even
apparently prepared to support the ground operation from Kuwait, but by
the time the convoys rolled, the coup attempt was all but over.
- Even the air strikes may have been little
more than a token gesture to an already doomed conspiracy. At least the
U.S. could say it came through this time, unlike in the aftermath of the
Gulf War, when rebellions were put down by Saddam without any U.S. intervention.
Interestingly, according to the U.S. State Department, the confrontation
between the U.S. and Iraq in November occurred simultaneously with a bloody
crackdown on Shiites in southern Iraq, led by Saddam's son Qussay. Was
that another aborted attempt at a coup?
- So why hasn't this tale gone public elsewhere?
The Iraqis are not eager to publicize that a coordinated coup attempt
was nearly carried out. The U.S. is not eager to admit that one failed.
One thing this story does say is that Operation Desert Fox may not have
been driven by the impeachment hearings, nor even by the UNSCOM difficulties,
and the "window of opportunity" spoken of by U.S. military officials
may not have had anything to do with Ramadan. The sudden and, on the surface
rather pointless, U.S. and British air strikes may have been part of a
coup plot gone awry, forced into action before all was prepared by Saddam
uncovering the plot.
- If this attempt was as substantial and
potentially well orchestrated as it appears to have been, and it was uncovered
and uprooted, it will be a long time before the U.S. can try it again.
This means that the current tit for tat in the no fly zones may not escalate
much farther, except perhaps as a slap in frustration by the U.S.
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