Operation Desert Fox Said Part Of Failed Coup Against Saddam
From STRATFOR, Inc. <>
Global Intelligence Update
* 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 Party.
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 attempt either.
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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