Saturday, March 17, 2018

Review Iraq, In the Eye of the Storm

Review Hiro, Dilip, Iraq, In the Eye of the Storm, New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002

This is the second book by Dilip Hiro that I’ve read on Iraq and I enjoyed both. Iraq In The Eye of the Storm covers Iraq from the Gulf War right up to before the 2003 invasion. Each chapter has a theme such as life for ordinary Iraqis under sanctions, the Iraqi opposition, the Kurds, the impact of 9/11, etc. The three most interesting parts were on the mid-1990s plots against Saddam, the coup proofing of the regime by Saddam, and the U.N. weapons inspections.

First, in 1995 the Iraqi National Congress, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party were plotting a revolt in Iraq. The plan was to attack Mosul and Kirkuk, that they hoped would cause a military collapse in the north. Baghdad would then have to send reinforcements. The INC was working with former military intelligence chief General Wafiq al-Samarrie who claimed he knew military commanders who would then kill Saddam. The rival Iraqi National Accord had its own plot underway and went to the CIA and successfully got it to pull its support. That led the KDP to abandon ship as well. The INC and PUK went ahead anyway and completely failed.

The Clinton administration didn’t give up and in 1998 Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act. The problem was few Iraqi opposition groups wanted to work with Washington because they did not want to be seen as U.S. puppets. An ex-general and an ex-CIA official drew up a plan to seize sections of western and southern Iraq by the opposition backed by U.S. air power. When Baghdad responded, that would lead to a war and the overthrow of Saddam. The problem was the administration found no backing from regional countries that would have to be used as bases for this plan. Still, at the end of his presidency Clinton wanted something done about Saddam, but found few options.

Another interesting chapter was on the survival instincts of Saddam. He was always afraid of coups and after several attempts withdrew into his inner circle and created more and more security forces and intelligence agencies to protect him. For example, the Republican Guard was created as an elite military unit that then turned to regime security, but when officers were involved a plot, Saddam created the Special Republican Guard. Each of these organizations was placed under either a family member or a trusted ally. There ended up being at least a dozen agencies or military forces many of which were meant to police the others. This was something the post-Saddam government’s continued to do for the same reason, to block any coups.

Finally, the discussion of U.N. inspections focused upon the increasing aggression of the inspectors and the U.S’s attempts to manipulate them in the mid to late 1990s. First, exasperation at the Iraqis continual denials led to the U.N. switching from finding their weapons programs themselves to how the Iraqis were trying to hide them. The inspectors worked with American, British and Israeli intelligence to try to break Iraqi communications to find out what the Iraqis did before a team arrived at a suspected site to discover which organizations and officials were behind the deception campaign. On the other hand, the Clinton administration went from backing the inspections to using them to try to overthrow Saddam. The White House wanted the U.N. to create confrontations with Baghdad that could then be used to justify military strikes to at first get rid of Saddam, and then to punish him. The CIA ended up placing their agents within the U.N. teams, planting their own devices within the U.N. monitoring and communication systems to spy on Iraq, and even used the inspections in an attempted coup plot by the Iraqi National Accord. Iraqi intelligence quickly found out about the plot and let things progress right up until the planned coup day when it called the CIA to let it know all the Iraqis involved had been rounded up and the Agency should go home. That’s exactly what they did. The U.S. didn’t believe Iraq was ever going to come clean about it nukes or WMD, so decided to use the inspectors for its own policies. In the end, the inspectors left at the end of the 1990s, and Iraq gave up on reviving its WMD and nuclear work, but the U.S. never knew about it. Those programs would then become one of the main rationales for the 2003 invasion.

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