January 30, 2007

NBC Today Show - January 30, 2007

Meredith Vieira and LtCol Rick Francona

I did a segment on the Today Show with Meredith Vieira on Iran's involvement in Iraq. (View the video.)

The interview was reviewed at a web site called News Busters, who claim that they are "exposing and combatting media liberal bias." (Read the review.)

Actually, I thought it was a a good interview.

Quoted in: Israeli Realism on Iran Belies Threat Rhetoric

I was recently interviewed by Gareth Porter of the Inter Press Service News Agency for an article, Israeli Realism on Iran Belies Threat Rhetoric.

Here is the text:

POLITICS: Israeli Realism on Iran Belies Threat Rhetoric
Analysis by Gareth Porter*

WASHINGTON, Jan 30 (IPS) - When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared last week at the Herzliya conference that Israel could not risk another "existential threat" such as the Nazi holocaust, he was repeating what has become the dominant theme in Israel's campaign against Iran -- that it cannot tolerate an Iran with the technology that could be used to make nuclear weapons, because Iran is fanatically committed to the physical destruction of Israel.

The internal assessment by the Israeli national security apparatus of the Iranian threat, however, is more realistic than the government's public rhetoric would indicate.

Since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in August 2005, Israel has effectively exploited his image as someone who is particularly fanatical about destroying Israel to develop the theme of Iran's threat of a "second holocaust" by using nuclear weapons.

But such alarmist statements do not accurately reflect the strategic thinking of the Israeli national security officials. In fact, Israelis began in the early 1990s to use the argument that Iran is irrational about Israel and could not be deterred from a nuclear attack if it ever acquired nuclear weapons, according to an account by independent analyst Trita Parsi on Iranian-Israeli strategic relations to be published in March. Meanwhile, the internal Israeli view of Iran, Parsi told IPS in an interview, "is completely different."

Parsi, who interviewed many Israeli national security officials for his book, says, "The Israelis know that Iran is a rational regime, and they have acted on that presumption." His primary evidence of such an Israeli assessment is that the Israelis purchased Dolphin submarines from Germany in 1999 and 2004 which have been reported to be capable of carrying nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

It is generally recognised that the only purpose of such cruise-missile equipped submarines would be to deter an enemy from a surprise attack by having a reliable second strike capability. Despite the fact that Israel has long been known to possess at least 100 nuclear weapons, Israeli officials refuse to discuss their own nuclear capability and how it relates to deterring Iran.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, a former Pentagon official who visited Israel last November, recalls that Israeli officials uniformly told his group of eight U.S. military analysts they believed Iran was "perfectly willing to launch a first strike against Israel," if it obtained nuclear weapons.

But when they were asked about their own nuclear capabilities in general, and the potentially nuclear-armed submarine fleet in particular, Francona says, the Israelis would not comment.

In fact, Israeli strategic specialists do discuss how to deter Iran among themselves. An article in the online journal of a hard-line think-tank, the Ariel Centre for Policy Research, in August 2004 revealed that "one of the options that has been considered should Iran publicly declare itself to have nuclear weapons is for Israel to put an end to what is called its policy of 'nuclear ambiguity' or 'opacity'."

The author, Shalom Freedman, said that in light of Israel's accumulation of "over 100 nuclear weapons" and its range of delivery systems for them, even if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons within a few years, the "tremendous disproportion between the strength of Israel and an emergent nuclear Iran should serve as a deterrent."

Even after Ahmadinejad's election in mid-2005, a prominent Israeli academic and military expert has insisted that Israel can still deter a nuclear Iran. In two essays published in September and October 2005, Dr. Ephraim Kam, deputy head of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former analyst for the Israeli Defence Forces, wrote that Iran had to assume that any nuclear attack on Israel would result in very serious U.S. retaliation.

Therefore, even though he regarded a nuclear Iran as likely to be more aggressive, Kam concluded it is "doubtful whether Iran would actually exercise a nuclear bomb against Israel -- or any other country -- despite its basic rejection of Israel's existence."

Kam also pointed out that the election of a radical like Ahmadinejad would not change the fundamental Iranian policy toward Israel, because even the more moderate government of President Mohammad Khatami had already held the position that the solution to the Palestinian problem should be the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the Zionist Israeli state. Furthermore, he wrote, Iran's basic motive for aspiring to nuclear weapons in the first place had not been to destroy Israel but to deter Saddam Hussein's Iraq and later to deter the United States and Israel.

Despite the existence of a more realistic appraisal of the actual power balance and its implications for Iranian behaviour, Israeli officials do not see it as in their interest to even hint at the possibility of deterring a nuclear Iran. "They don't talk about that," Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst based in Tel Aviv, told IPS, "because they don't want to admit the possibility of defeat on Iran's nuclear programme. They want to stop it."

Occasionally, Israeli officials do let slip indications that their fears of Iran are less extreme than the "second holocaust" rhetoric would indicate. Last November, Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh explained candidly in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that the fear was not that such weapons would be launched against Israel but that the existence of nuclear capability would interfere with Israel's recruitment of new immigrants and cause more Israelis to emigrate to other countries.

Sneh declared that Ahmadinejad could "kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs."

Israel's frequent threat to attack Iran's nuclear facilities is also at odds with its internal assessment of the feasibility and desirability of such an attack. It is well understood in Israel that the Iranian situation does not resemble that of Iraq's Osiris nuclear reactor, which Israeli planes bombed in 1981. Unlike Iraq's programme, which was focused on a single facility, the Iranian nuclear programme is dispersed; the two major facilities, Natanz and Arak, are hundreds of miles apart, making it very difficult to hit them simultaneously.

In mid-2005, Yossi Melman, who covers intelligence issues for the daily newspaper Haaretz, wrote, "According to military experts in Israel and elsewhere, the Israel Air Force does not have the strength that is needed to destroy the sites in Iran in a preemptive strike..." He added that that the awareness of that reality was "trickling down to the military-political establishment".

Javedanfar, Melman's co-author in the forthcoming book on Iran's nuclear programme, agrees. "There is no way the Israelis are going to do it on their own," he said.

That is also the conclusion reached by Francona and other Air Force analysts. Francona recalls that he and two retired U.S. Air Force generals on the trip to Israel told Israeli Air Force generals they believe Israel does not have the capability to destroy the Iranian nuclear targets, mainly because it would require aerial refueling in hostile airspace. "The Israeli officers recognised they have a shortfall in aerial refueling," Francona says.

In the end, the Israelis know they are dependent on the United States to carry out a strike against Iran. And the United States is the target of an apocalyptic Israeli portrayal of Iran that diverges from the internal Israeli assessment.

*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005.

The Kurds: Between Iraq and a Hard Place

This article appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

Earlier this month, American forces in Iraq raided an Iranian facility in the Kurdish city of Irbil. Documents and computer files seized in that raid indicate that the facility was being used by members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in an operation to provide money and weapons to various Shia militia groups in Iraq. The weapons include advanced improvised explosive devices, mortars, newer generation rocket propelled grenades and shoulder-fired surface to air missiles. The advanced IED’s have already killed American troops, and mortars allegedly traceable to Iran have been used in attacks on Sunni areas of Baghdad.

Is the IRGC operating in Kurdish northern Iraq? Of course they are - they’ve been there since at least 1991. Soon after the Iraqi defeat in Kuwait, IRGC officers conducted clandestine and covert operations in the southern Shia area and the northern Kurdish area, and have been active there ever since.

The raid earlier this month on the Iranian facility causes problems for the Kurdish Regional Government and its autonomous region in northern Iraq. Since the Iranians claim that the facility was an Iranian consulate that had been in operation in the Kurdish enclave for years, it created a diplomatic incident. Having served in northern Iraq, including Irbil, and observing Iranian operations, I am skeptical that the facility was, in fact, a consulate. Since the raid, Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, has demanded that the United States release the five “consular officials.”

The incident highlights the conflict the Kurds face. They are part of Iraq, but are not Arabs like 80 percent of the population. For almost the entire period that the Baath Party ruled Iraq, they were the target of a genocidal campaign aimed at eradicating their separate identity. During that time, the Kurds – at times out of necessity – developed a close relationship with the Iranians. When Saddam Hussein’s forces attacked the Kurdish village of Halabja with chemical weapons, when the Iraqi army killed thousands of Kurds in the Anfal campaign, the Iranians became the Kurds’ only ally. Iran provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of Kurds, creating a bond that is hard to break and hard to ignore. When no one else seemed to care about their plight, Iran opened its borders to them.

Now that Saddam is gone and the Kurds have established an autonomous region in the north, the Iranians are exploiting that past relationship. After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, the Iranians greatly expanded their presence in the Kurdish north as well as with their fellow Shia Muslims in the south.

The Iranian presence is not a good thing for the American efforts in Iraq. It also presents problems for the Kurds, easily America’s best allies among the Iraqis. The Kurds are balancing their close relationship with America against their close relationship with the Iranians. When more raids like the one in Irbil occur in the future – and they will, given new orders to U.S. forces to no longer “catch and release” Iranian operatives, but to capture and kill them – the Kurds will have to decide which relationship means more. You can’t have it both ways. Just like the Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki, they have to decide if they are with us or with the Iranians.

January 26, 2007

Iranian Qods Force in Iraq: Treat them like al-Qaida

This article appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger site.

Recent media reports indicate that the Bush administration has given new instructions to American forces across the Middle East on how to deal with Iranian operatives. No more catch and release – now the orders are to capture or kill them. It’s about time.

Documents found on Iranians recently detained in Iraq show their involvement with groups responsible for attacks on American troops. These Iranians are members of the special operations wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – the Qods Force. The Qods (“Jerusalem”) Force has its roots in the 1982 deployment of the IRGC to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where they assisted their Lebanese Shia brethren in the creation of Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s reputation as the most effective irregular military force in the world is a testament to the training capabilities of the Qods Force.

In Lebanon, the IRGC was directly involved in the planning and execution of numerous attacks on American interests in the region, including the 1983 attack on the Marine barracks at Beirut airport. They were also complicit in the kidnappings and murders of several American citizens, including CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley in 1984 and U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Rich Higgins (serving with the United Nations) in 1989. The Qods Force remains in Lebanon today, intimately involved in the funding, training and equipping of Hezbollah. Virtually all weapons used by Hezbollah in the 2006 war with Israel were supplied by the IRGC via Syria.

Members of the Qods Force were dispatched into southern Iraq in 1991 immediately following the withdrawal of American forces after they had evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. These IRGC personnel made contact with their fellow Shia Muslims and fomented the failed uprising against Saddam Hussein.

The Qods Force has also been involved in other Iranian special operations in Europe, Asia and Africa. For example, they provided weapons to fundamentalist Islamic groups in Algeria in the early 1990’s. In 1995, the Qods Force supplied weapons and personnel to Bosnia’s mostly Muslim army – in this case with tacit approval of the United States and its allies. In the late 1990’s and until the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Qods Force supported the Afghan Northern Alliance in its operations against the Taliban.

The IRGC Qods Force is a capable, committed organization with demonstrated operational capabilities on three continents. They have had American blood on their hands for over 20 years. The Qods Force is to the Shia militias as al-Qaida in Iraq is to the Sunni insurgent groups. They should be dealt with the same way.

January 25, 2007

'Ashurah - Shi'a holy day...and target for the Sunnis

The holiest day for Shi'a Muslims, 'Ashurah, is celebrated on the 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram. The word is Arabic for "the tenth." This year that equates to Sunday, January 28.

The story

Shi’a Muslims make up about 15 percent of the of the world’s second largest religion. The difference between the sects is as old as the religion itself and revolved around the issue of succession – who would follow Muhammad as the leader of the faithful? The Arabic word for “one who follows or succeeds,” - khalifah (Caliph) - was adopted as the title. Many believed that the successor to Muhammad should be a family member, someone in the bloodline of the Prophet.

However, Muhammad had no son, no male heir to the caliphate. Muhammad did have a daughter, Fatimah, who was married to Muhammad’s cousin ‘Ali bin Abu Talib. The people who favored the selection of ‘Ali as the caliph were called the shi’at ‘ali, the “partisans of ‘Ali,” hence the name Shi’a.

The other school of thought, held by many prominent Muslims of the day, was that the caliph should be drawn from one of the senior and learned members of the faith, the ummah or “community.” These were the Sunnis, the traditionalists. The Sunni position prevailed and the first three caliphs were not of Muhammad’s bloodline. Finally, a convergence occurred in 656 when ‘Ali (regarded by the Shi’a as the first Imam) was named the fourth Caliph. ‘Ali was soon murdered and his son Hasan became the second Imam. However, real political power at this time rested with the Sunni caliph in Damascus. Hasan abdicated in favor of these ‘Umayyad rulers.

Hasan’s brother Husayn assumed the Shi’a imamate, presaging what became the major divide in Islamic history. In 680, Husayn was killed in battle against superior ‘Umayyad (Sunni) forces in Karbala’, Iraq on the tenth (‘ashurah) day of the month of Muharram. This day is commemorated by all Shi’a as a day of mourning and perfidy on the part of the Sunnis.

The problem

As part of the commemoration of the death of Imam Husayn, more than a million pilgrims are expected to march to the city of Karbala, located about 60 miles south of Baghdad. To get to Karbala, most pilgrims coming from the Baghdad area travel a road that traverses a Sunni area commonly called the "triangle of death." Shi'a pilgrims have usually been attacked by Sunnis along this stretch of road.

'Ashurah is a major security concern for Iraqi security forces and American troops. Given the level of sectarian violence in Iraq, violence during the 'Ashurah observances is highly likely.

January 22, 2007

Surge in Iraq - Treat the disease, not the symptom

This appeared on the MSNBC Hardball "Hardblogger"

The first soldiers of the American troop "surge" in Iraq have arrived in Baghdad - the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division moved from Kuwait into the city. This brigade represents the first of five additional Army brigade combat teams to be deployed to Baghdad, one per month until May. A regimental combat team of 4,000 Marines will also deploy to Al-Anbar province to continue fighting Sunni insurgents and Al-Qa'idah-in-Iraq fighters.

The troops deploying to Baghdad are tasked with suppressing the escalating sectarian violence in ethnically mixed areas of the city. Ever since the destruction of a Shi'a holy site in Samarra' by forces of now-dead Al-Qa'idah-in-Iraq leader Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, there has been an ethnic cleansing campaign against Sunnis in neighborhoods previously home to both Sunnis and Shi'a. The violence has been especially bad on the east bank of the Tigris River, an area rapidly becoming almost exclusively Shi'a. With the additional U.S. forces and the new directions from the recently appointed American commander General Dave Petraeus, these troops will remain in the neighborhoods after they have cleared them, rather than returning to their garrisons. In the past, soon after neighborhoods or cities were cleared and American forces departed, the insurgents or militias returned and reclaimed the territory.

The mission does not include entering Sadr City, home to two million Shi'a and stronghold of the militia of radical cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, thus they will treat the symptom, not the disease. The disease, if you will, is the militia of Muqtada Al-Sadr and its death squads; the symptom is the continuing sectarian violence in the mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad. Clearing and holding Sadr City would eliminate the disease, causing the symptoms to disappear.

That said, things might be changing, and none too soon. The recent arrest of senior Al-Sadr aide 'Abd Al-Hadi Al-Daraji indicates a willingness of the American command to confront the Al-Sadr militia. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has promised that he will move against all militias in Iraq. It is not a coincidence that, Al-Sadr just now announced that his organization (he controls 30 seats in the national assembly) is terminating its boycott of participation in the Iraqi government called after Al-Maliki’s meeting with President Bush in Jordan last November. Al-Sadr's recent instructions for his militia to maintain a lower profile also indicate his concern that he cannot continue to defy the Iraqi government.

However, the violence will continue until the Al-Sadr militia is disbanded or destroyed, and as long as Sadr City remains outside the control of American and Iraqi troops.

January 21, 2007

Kirkuk - Tinderbox in the north

Kirkuk is Iraq's fifth largest city, home to about 750,000 residents. It is an amalgam of the various ethnic groups that comprise Iraq - Kurds (the majority), Turkomans, Arabs, Assyrians and Armenians. The oilfields around Kirkuk hold about 20 percent of Iraq's proved oil reserves.

The Turkomans claim that they number over two million in Iraq (700,000 in Kirkuk governorate alone), making them about seven percent of the population and the third largest ethnic group in Iraq after the Arabs and Kurds. Turkomans are descendants of the Turkic-speaking Oguz tribes from Central Asia. They inhabit a swath of Iraq from the Syria-Turkish border area southeast to the Iranian border east of Baghdad, a buffer zone between the Arabs in the south and the Kurds in the north.

Turokomans are regarded as ethnic Turks by the government of Turkey. Both Turkey and the Turkomans regard Kirkuk as a Turkoman city. Despite attempts by Saddam Husayn in the 1980's to "Arabize" (ta'rib) the city by moving Kurdish and Turkoman families to desert areas in the south and moving Arab families into their homes, the city always remained Kurdish and Turkoman. After the fall of Saddam Husayn, the Kurds embarked on a program to recast the city as the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region. As part of that effort, former Kurdish residences have been forcibly reclaimed, raising complaints of ethnic cleansing. Some of the reclaimed residences have displaced Turkomans as well as Arabs.

Turkey has threatened to come to the defense of their "countrymen" in Kirkuk, hinting at a military incursion into northern Iraq. Incursions by the Turks into northern Iraq are nothing new. When I served in northern Iraq in 1995 and 1996, there was usually a Turkish armored brigade garrisoned south of Zakhu, ostensibly to prevent fighters of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) from using northern Iraq as a safe haven.

In the words of Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül:

“Iraq is a different country, but this does not mean we will remain aloof to the fate of our relatives there. Kurds and Turkomans in northern Iraq are our relatives. We will keep a close eye on the situation if Turkomans come under pressure."

The Turks believe the United States has not taken enough action against suspected PKK camps in northern Iraq, nor has it taken adequate steps to protect the Turkoman minority in Kirkuk. Should Turkey decide to intervene militarily in Kirkuk, it will be difficult. The Turks have a large and capable army, but Kirkuk is over 100 miles inside Iraq, even further by roads through the mountainous terrain. A confrontation between two American allies will not help the already difficult situation in Iraq.

Surely the Turks would hesitate to invade a country in which the United States in waging a counterinsurgency. They're an ally, right? Let's look back to 2003 and Turkey's refusal to allow the United States to use its territory for the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division to move into Iraq, after granting passage for the division to begin moving across southern Turkey. If you want to be an ally, you have to act like an ally.

Ankara, stay out of it. You had your chance.

January 20, 2007

The Qods Force - Iran's special operations force

Islamic Revolutionary Guard CorpsExploitation of documents seized in recent arrests by American forces of Iranian nationals in Iraq indicate direct involvement of the regime in Tehran with insurgent groups responsible for attacks on American troops. The individuals are members of the special operations wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) known as the Qods Force.

Although the Qods Force (Arabic al-quds, Jerusalem) was officially created in 1990 through a reorganization of the IRGC (the "Sepah Pasdaran") and the Ministry of Information and Security (Iran's intelligence service, the "Etala'at"), its roots go back to 1982 and the initial deployment of the IRGC outside Iran. That deployment was to Lebanon's Biqa' Valley, where the "IRGC Syria and Lebanon Corps" made contact with their Lebanese Shi'a brethren and created the Party of God, known more commonly by its Arabic name, Hizballah. Hizballah is regarded as probably the most effective irregular military force in the world, a testament to the abilities of the Qods Force.

In Lebanon, the IRGC was directly involved in the planning and execution of numerous attacks on American interests in the region, including the 1983 attack on the Marine barracks at Beirut airport. They were also complicit in the kidnappings of several American citizens, including CIA Beirut station chief Beirut Bill Buckley in 1984 and U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Rich Higgins (serving with the United Nations) in 1989. Both were tortured and murdered at the hands of the IRGC and Hizballah.

The IRGC in Lebanon became the backbone of the newly formed Qods Force. While they took on a new host of responsibilities, they remain in Lebanon to this day. They are intimately involved in the funding, training and supply of Hizballah. Virtually all of the weapons used by Hizballah in the 2006 war in Lebanon were supplied by the IRGC, mostly via Damascus International Airport. (See
Hezbollah and Hamas - the Iranian connection.)

It was members of the Qods Force who were dispatched into southern Iraq in 1991 immediately following the withdrawal of American forces after they had evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. These IRGC personnel made contact with their fellow Shi'a Muslims and fomented the failed uprising against Saddam Husayn.

The Qods Force has been involved in other Iranian special operations in Europe, Asia and Africa. For example, they were involved in providing weapons to fundamentalist Islamic groups in Algeria in the early 1990's. In 1995, the Qods Force was involved in smuggling weapons to Bosnia's mostly Muslim army (with tacit approval of the United States and its allies), as well as providing some operations personnel.

SAHA 747The IRGC and its Qods Force often use the aircraft of SAHA airlines to move weapons and personnel. SAHA is a charter service wholly owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, operating several Boeing 747 aircraft (see photo to right). SAHA is an acronym for the Persian words "military transport service." Its aircraft are often seen at the airport in Damascus.

In the late 1990's and up until just prior to the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Qods Force was involved in supporting the Afghan Northern Alliance in its operations against the Taliban. The current concern is IRGC/Qods Force involvement in Iraq, primarily in the Kurdish north as well as in Baghdad. Over the last few weeks, American forces have detained several Iranians who are believed to be IRGC officers. (See
Iran - still part of the problem and Hoshyar and I - the Iraqi foreign minister on detention of Iranians.)

The IRGC Qods Force is a capable, committed organization with demonstrated capabilities on three continents. They are involved in supporting, and possibly even directing or conducting, operations against American forces in Iraq. They have had American blood on their hands for over 20 years. If we find them in Iraq, they should be dealt with accordingly. Rather than bringing them to justice, let's bring justice to them.

January 16, 2007

"Iraq for Land" - This might work, except...

An edited version of this article appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger.

As the United States attempts to create the conditions that will allow it to withdraw its forces from Iraq, Iraq's Arab neighbors are worried about what happens when - and how - American forces depart. With Iranian influence and power on the rise and an escalating civil war in Iraq, the Arab countries are understandably concerned.

Those concerns are particularly acute in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. With the exception of Bahrain, all of these countries have a Sunni majority. They are rightfully concerned with the future of an Iraq ruled by a Shi'a-dominated government with close ties to the Shi'a regime in Tehran. In an effort to ensure that the post-American period in Iraq is not chaotic and detrimental to their own internal stability, several of the Arab governments have committed to help stabilize the situation in Iraq. In return they expect the United States to restart peace talks between Israel on one side and Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians on the other. This plan is expected to be presented to Secretary of State Rice during meeting with her counterparts this week while she is traveling in the region.

The inclusion of Lebanon in this proposal is a red herring. According to the United Nations, Israel has completely withdrawn from Lebanon as far back as 2000. According to Lebanon and Syria, however, Israel still occupies a piece of land (the Shaba' Farms) it claims to be part of Syria, but that Lebanon and Syria say is part of Lebanon. This fiction is the fig leaf that allows Hizballah to maintain its militia in Lebanon, counter to UN Security Council Resolutions 425 (of 1978) and 1559 (of 2004), which called for the disbanding of militias and the withdrawal of foreign forces. (See my earlier,
The Shaba' Farms - Hizballah's Fig Leaf.)

The concerned Arab countries have labeled their proposal "Iraq for Land." The United States has hoped for some time that the "moderate" Arab states (primarily Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) would use their influence among Iraq's Sunnis to lessen the violence and convince them to participate in the unity government. That influence, in conjunction with increased American special operations in the volatile Al-Anbar governorate, is expected to have an impact in defeating the Sunni insurgency and on Al-Qa'idah in Iraq's capabilities. If Syria wants to be a part of this, it will have to close down its porous border and stop its tacit support for insurgent operations in western Iraq once and for all.

In return for their assistance, representatives from these Arab countries expect the United States to broker a restart to the Middle East Peace Process, ultimately leading to an agreement in which the Israelis withdraw from all Arab lands seized in 1967. This means the Golan Heights and Shaba' Farms (Syria), and the Gaza Strip and West Bank (Palestinians). Of course, withdrawal from the Palestinian areas also means the establishment of the Palestinian state. According the King 'Abdullah II of Jordan, the Arab states will recognize Israel as a condition of the withdrawal, based on the "Arab Peace Initiative" put forth in 2002.

There is no question that resolution of the Israel-Palestinian issue is required for stability in the region. The Iraq Study Group included this in their recommendations, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it, Egyptian President Husni Mubarak has said it, even Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad has said as much.

This might work, except...

There are some major stumbling blocks that always get in the way of these comprehensive proposals. Let's take a look, by issue:

Lebanon: The Shaba' Farms issue is fiction perpetuated by Syria and Hizballah, and at times by the Fu'ad Sinyurah government in Lebanon. The real player here is Syria. Neither Lebanon nor Hizballah has control over their own destinies - final approval for any moves will be granted in Damascus and Tehran.

Syria: Syria wants the return of the Golan Heights. Israel has been reluctant to return what has been for decades considered militarily strategic territory for Israel's security. However, with advances in weapons technology, the Heights have lost their "high ground" importance. Syria does not need the Golan to rain missiles into Israel - they can do that from north of Damascus. Israel does want to retain its intelligence collection sites on the high ground. These sites produce information the Israelis consider critical to monitor and assess Syrian military movements and capabilities. The area is also important to Israel for economic reasons - control of important water resources - the headwaters of the Jordan River.

For the return of any part of the Golan, Israel will demand that Iran and Syria cease their support (especially weapons supplies via Damascus International Airport) for Hizballah, and likely ask for some international guarantees or confidence-building measures. Additionally, Israel has extended civil administration over the Golan and made a huge investment in the infrastructure of the area, so relinquishing it to Syria will require some legal adjustments and compensation to Israeli citizens who would be displaced.

On the Syrian side, there has been disagreement on what actually constitutes the 1967 border, depending on which day in June of that year is used to determine the borders. It is not a simple process - it determines whether or not Syria has access to Lake Tiberias.

Palestine: The ultimate issue, of course, is the future of Jerusalem. Israel cannot legally, and will not politically, withdraw to the 1967 borders and turn the area over to the Palestinians. No matter how close negotiations have come in the past to a resolution of the Palestinian problem, there has never been a solution for Jerusalem acceptable to both sides. The closest resolution was a proposal to address all other issues and leave Jerusalem as "an issue to be resolved in the future."

A major problem in dealing with Palestinian issues is that there is no one group that speaks for all the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority is split into factions and there is almost a civil war developing between the Fatah faction led by President Mahmud 'Abbas and the Hamas faction led by Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyah. Haniyah has stated as recently as December that Hamas will not recognize Israel. It is difficult to imagine fruitful negotiations if one side refuses to recognize the other.

That said, overall, the "Land for Iraq" proposal deserves serious consideration. The Arabs are not asking for a settlement to the issues in return for their assistance with the situation in Iraq - they are asking that the talks be restarted. While this is certainly possible for the Syria/Lebanon track, progress on the Palestinian track will be difficult to achieve, but worth a try.

January 13, 2007

Muqtada Al-Sadr: He has to go

The biggest threat to our success in Iraq is Muqtada Al-Sadr. He has to go. President Bush needs to tell Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki that either he neutralizes Al-Sadr or we will. Then the President needs to order American forces in Iraq to hunt down Al-Sadr and capture or kill him. I don't mean "negotiate his surrender" (we saw how well that worked for us in Afghanistan at Tora Bora), nor allow him to go into exile in Iran, but unconditionally seize him and place him under arrest. If he resists and is killed in the process, so much the better.

Am I being clear enough? Al-Sadr has become the folk hero to the Iraqi Shi'a, indicated by the chanting of his name by witnesses at the execution of Saddam Husayn.

During last week's ceremonies marking the 86th anniversary of the creation of the Iraqi Army, soldiers openly chanted the names "Muhammad, Haydar, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn." That in itself should raise concern. While Muhammad is revered by all Muslims, Haydar (a nickname for 'Ali), Fatimah (Muhammad's daughter and 'Ali's wife), Hasan and Husayn (both children of the couple) are revered only by the Shi'a. The Iraqi Army is theoretically the army of the entire country, not just the Shi'a, although many Sunnis perceive it that way. To make matters worse, those chants of the Shi'a religious icons were followed by chants of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada."

Consider the reaction of 'Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Nadawi, a senior official in Al-Sadr's movement, to the planned increase in the number of American forces in Iraq - "The American people have to prevent their sons from coming to Iraq or they may return in coffins."

We should have arrested Al-Sadr long ago for complicity in the 2003 murder of Imam 'Abd Al-Majid Al-Khu'i. Since that did not happen, he should have been killed or arrested when he engineered an uprising in Al-Najaf in 2004. Thanks to the Ambassador Bremer's lack of spine he was allowed to survive both times. Now he has reached cult status among Iraqi's Shi'a.

Analysts have warned that killing Al-Sadr will create a martyr. That may be, but at this point that is a risk that must be taken. If he is not removed - imprisoned or killed - he will eventually emerge as the main power figure in the country, and we can look forward to the "Tehran annex."

January 12, 2007

Hoshyar and I - the Iraqi foreign minister on detention of Iranians

Hoshyar ZebariIraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari is between a rock (or Iraq) and a hard place as he attempts to defuse a diplomatic issue between American forces and Iran. Good luck.

Earlier this week, American forces, acting on intelligence information that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers were operating in northern Iraq out of a building in the Kurdish city of Irbil, raided the facility and detained five Iranians. The Americans claim the five are part of an IRGC team in country.

Is the IRGC operating in northern Iraq?

Of course they are - they've been there since at least 1991. Soon after the Iraqi defeat in Kuwait, IRGC officers have been conducting clandestine and covert operations in the southern Shi'a area and the northern Kurdish area. Everyone is aware of the Shi'a rebellion in the southern part of Iraq after Saddam Husayn's defeat in Kuwait, but the IRGC has been at work all over the country.

I was assigned to CIA's northern Iraq operations teams in 1995 and 1996. Our job was not only to observe and report on the situation inside the country, but to assess the conditions for an eventual coup against Saddam Husayn. Our allies in this effort were the two major Kurdish factions, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Our base of operations was in Salah Al-Din, a former resort city in the KDP area of the country. It follows that most of our contacts were with KDP officials, among them Hoshyar Zebari.

Although overall I thought KDP members were not as pragmatic as the PUK, I found Hoshyar to be an enlightened realist. Hoshyar and I are about the same age and have broken bread together, and yes, tipped a few glasses. Hoshyar was educated in England and Jordan, and is astutely aware of international relations and international opinion. He was the KDP representative to both the United Kingdom and the United States. While I was dealing with him in northern Iraq, I appreciated the fact that he understood that our relationship with the Kurds was about Saddam Husayn and not about the conflict between the KDP and the PUK - and he knew full well that I was more sympathetic to the PUK.

Back to the IRGC. They were there when I was there, as were other countries' teams, and we ran across the IRGC teams on numerous occasions. We had an unspoken arrangement not to interfere with each other. There were times that we would be billeted in the same guest house as the IRGC teams - those were the nights we slept with weapons in hand, ready to fire. Dinners in the hotel dining room were interesting and intense - all of us, both sides, had AK-47''s and sidearms "locked and cocked" while eating dinner.

The Kurds - especially the PUK - had (and have) a close relationship with the Iranians, meaning the IRGC. When Saddam Husayn gassed the Kurds, when the Iraqi army was killing thousands of Kurds, the Iranians became an ally. After all, they provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of Kurds. That tie is hard to break and hard to ignore. It is no surprise that Hoshyar Zebari feels he must defend the Iranians in this issue.

The Kurds have to decide whose side they are on, as does the Iraqi government of Nuri Al-Maliki. Are they with us or with the Iranians?

January 11, 2007

Finally, Al-Maliki steps up to the plate (we hope)

This article appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger.

As expected, President Bush declared the deployment of five U.S. combat brigades to Baghdad and an additional 4,000 troops to Al-Anbar province. While American troops are an important factor in resolving the deteriorating security situation in Baghdad, the real key to success will be the ability – or willingness – of the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki to become part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem.

Nuri Al-MalikiSince he was sworn in last spring, the prime minister has stood in the way of U.S. efforts to contain the escalating sectarian violence in the capital city. American commanders have always believed (rightly so) that the major antagonist in the Shi'a versus Sunni violence is the radical cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. American efforts to isolate and subsequently neutralize the group’s stronghold in Sadr City - the sprawling slum that is home to 2.5 million Shi'a - have been resisted or outright vetoed by Al-Maliki. Al-Maliki and Al-Sadr have a close relationship based on their devout Shi'a faith and a political alliance in the fragile coalition that rules Iraq.

If we take the President and the prime minister at their collective word, Al-Maliki has finally made a commitment to act against the sectarian militias. You can use the term “sectarian militia,” but we all know that we really mean the Mahdi Army. There was likely a back-channel communication between President Bush and the Iraqi prime minister that if Al-Maliki is not willing to address Muqtada Al-Sadr’s death squads who have been murdering dozens of Sunnis every day, American commitment would virtually end.

Al-Maliki is now on record that he will confront the Mahdi Army. This is probably his last chance, but he faces an uphill challenge. The Sunnis in Iraq, ever distrustful of the prime minister’s alleged close ties to Iran, refer to Al-Maliki as al-irani (“the Iranian”) and his office as “the Persian carpet.” As I have said before, Al-Maliki must start acting like the prime minister of the government of Iraq, not the government of the Shi'a.

Al-Maliki’s Baghdad security plan calls for 18 Iraqi army and police brigades to deploy to the capital. Add to that the five American brigades and you begin to approach the doctrinal numbers required (1:50) to control an area. The Americans will embed a brigade with each Iraqi division, and there will be no restrictions where they can operate.

The solution is not a question of numbers; it is a question of attitude. There is an Arabic saying, hibr ‘ala waraq (“ink on paper,” similar to our “talk is cheap”). Let’s see if the Iraqi prime minister’s words are more than merely ink on paper. If so, the President has changed course in Iraq. If not, it’s more of the same - more of the same and time to reassess our mission in Iraq.

January 10, 2007

U.S. Troop Surge in Iraq - Over to you Al-Maliki...

This article appeared on the MSNBC Hardball "Hardblogger" blog

President Bush is expected to announce tonight that he will order an increase in the level of U.S. forces in Iraq by as many as 20,000 troops. Most analysts believe that the bulk of these forces will likely be assigned the mission of establishing security in Baghdad, and some tasked with putting increased pressure on the Sunni insurgents in Anbar province. While there is a need to continue operations against the insurgents in the western part of the country, the major focus of these forces should be resolution of the abysmal security situation in Baghdad.

Security in Baghdad is mostly a sectarian issue – Sunni versus Shia. Although there has always been some level of sectarian violence in the capital, it was somewhat held in check by the moral authority exercised by the “moderate” Shia clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani and Ayatollah Abd Al-Aziz Al-Hakim. That discipline evaporated in February 2006 with the destruction of Shia Islam’s fourth holiest site, the Al-Askari (or Golden) mosque in Samarra at the hands of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Since then, Shia militias have been waging a murderous – and effective - campaign against Sunnis, with the center of their operations in Baghdad.

The main culprit in the expanding sectarian violence is the Shia militia of Muqtada Al-Sadr, known as the Mahdi Army. Muqtada Al-Sadr, despite his relatively low standing in the Shia religious hierarchy as a hawjat al-islam (scholar of Islam), has eclipsed all other Shia leaders in terms of influence among rank and file Shiites. The cries of “Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada” from many of those present at the execution of Saddam Hussein are testament to that fact.

The security situation in Baghdad is an Iraqi problem that requires an Iraqi solution. It is absolutely essential that Al-Sadr’s militia be either abolished or neutralized. This should be a condition for the deployment of additional American forces. The question is how that happens. Is the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki capable enough - or willing - to take on the Mahdi Army?

Up until now, there has been no indication, despite verbal assurances to the contrary, that the Al-Maliki government has the willpower to marginalize Al-Sadr. When American forces attempted to stop operations of the Mahdi Army in its stronghold of Sadr City, the prime minister stepped in to resist or refute those efforts.

It is time for the Al-Maliki government to act as the government of Iraq, not the government of the Shia. If Al-Maliki does not move against Al-Sadr, why should we?

January 7, 2007

Analysis - Israeli plans for attack on Iranian nuclear facilities

According to an article in the January 7, 2007 edition of the British newspaper The Sunday Times (read article), Israeli military officers have developed plans to attack Iranian nuclear research and development facilities using tactical nuclear weapons.

Reportedly, the Israelis will attack three targets in Iran that comprise the critical elements of the nuclear program, setting back the weapons effort for years. The three targets are the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, the uranium conversion facility at Esfahan, and the heavy water reactor at Arak. The fact that two of the three targets are involved in uranium processing and the other in plutonium production, indicates that Iran is pursuing at least two different avenues to obtain fissile material suitable for use in thermonuclear weapons.

When I was in Israel a few months ago, senior Israeli officials told me that they believe the next year would be critical in stopping the Iranian program, because they believe that in two years the Iranians will have produced enough fissile material - probably enriched uranium, but possibly plutonium as well - to build nuclear weapons (see my earlier article,
Iran - The "Existential Threat" to the State of Israel).

If the Israelis believe that international diplomacy will not succeed in deterring the Iranians from attempting to develop a nuclear weapon, it is reasonble to assume that they will take military action. They have limited capability to do so with a high probability of success, but if they truly believe - and I think they do - that the very existence of their country is at stake, they will try. Their best and only realistic option is an air strike.

According to the article, the strike planning involves the use of tactical nuclear weapons, each with about a one kiloton yield (the Hiroshima bomb was about 15 kilotons). In my opinion, a one kiloton device may technically be a "tactical" nuclear weapon, but in the world of political reality, there is no such thing. Any use of a nuclear weapon, the first since the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, will draw international condemnation and brand Israel as a pariah nation. Add to this the U.S. sanctions required by law once a country cannot be certified as nuclear weapons free. Israel has skirted the nuclear issue for years with its policy of "nuclear ambiguity" - use of a tactical nuclear weapon in Iran removes that ambiguity (see my earlier article,
Israel's Nuclear Weapons).

F-15IMost military analysts believe that if the Israelis conduct an air strike, the likely platform will be either the F-15I (photo) or the new F-16I. These fighters are modified for long-range strike missions using precision-guided munitions. Given the reportage that the air bases at Hatzerim and Tel Nof are training for the mission, it appears that the F-15I may be the platform of choice.

Israeli pilots have reportedly flown training flights over the Mediterranean as far as Gibraltar in recent weeks to train for the 2,000-mile round trip to potential Iranian targets. All well and good, but flying over the Mediterranean is not flying that same distance through hostile airspace. My previous assessment of Israel's air strike options is still valid (see
Iran - Israel's Air Strike Options).

One should also consider that this information may have been intentionally leaked or planted as part of an information operations campaign to influence Iranian thinking, or to stiffen European and American resolve to deal with this issue diplomatically. Thus far, Tehran is not listening.

The bottom line here: Use of tactical nuclear weapons is an absolute last resort. Doing so removes any doubt about Israel's nuclear arsenal, invites sanctions and runs the risk of igniting a regional war. On the other hand, doing nothing puts the existence of the state of Israel at risk. When faced with possible extinction, the Israelis may well opt to go nuclear.

January 2, 2007

The coming battle with the Al-Sadr militia

MuqtadaAl-Sadr - click for larger imageIn the aftermath of the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn in what appears to be almost a Shi'a lynching, it is becoming apparent that there is a looming showdown with the jaysh al-mahdi (Al-Mahdi Army), the Shi'a militia of radical cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr.

The degree of Al-Sadr's influence was clear as the cell phone video of Saddam's execution hit the internet. The cries of "Muhammad and 'Ali," "Long live Muhammad Baqr Al-Sadr*," and "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada" all indicate that the majority of witnesses were Shi'a.

Will the coming showdown be with the Iraqi government and its nascent security forces, or will it require the commitment of American troops?

That depends on the government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and his willingness (or capability) to confront Muqtada Al-Sadr. In the past, American attempts to control the operations of the Mahdi Army have been resisted or stymied by Al-Maliki. That has to end.

If Al-Maliki refuses to order his forces to engage the militia, he must realize that American troops will. How much longer are we going to put up with his recalcitrance?

No longer can we countenance the existence of Shi'a death squads, most of which are believed to be made up of members of the Mahdi Army. Other death squad participants likely come from the very Iraqi security forces that are supposed to confront these militias and protect the populace, be they Sunni, Shi'a or Kurd.

If there is to be calm in Baghdad, the first step is to abolish the Mahdi Army. The second step is to neutralize Muqtada Al-Sadr - by any means necessary. Only then can the sectarian violence abate and the Sunnis begin to trust the Shi'a-dominated government. It will be difficult in the wake of the Saddam execution video.
* The late Muhammad Baqr Al-Sadr was the father-in-law of Muqtada Al-Sadr. He was executed in 1980 by the Saddam regime.

Iraq and 9/11 Deaths - Faulty Analogies

by Signe - click for largerA recent political cartoon (left) highlights the fact that the number of combat deaths in Iraq has now exceeded the number of people killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Interesting statistic, but irrelevant. Not only is the statistic irrelevant, the use of the twin towers graphic/bar graph is insulting to the memories of those who died at the Pentagon and Shanksville.

Why is this analogy irrelevant?

Several reasons. Comparing the event that takes you to war with the casualties incurred in that war is ludicrous. I am sure that more Americans died at Antietam that did at Fort Sumpter. More Americans were killed by the time U.S. Marines had taken Guadalcanal than were killed at Pearl Harbor. World War One was ignited with the death of one member of the Austrian monarchy. The potential casualties are an important factor when determining strategy and tactics, but not in the decision on whether or not to act in defense of what are perceived as the national interest

Another line of reasoning probably lost on those trying to make this faulty analogy. Many Americans - and I dare say including those who are trumpeting this statistic - believe that Iraq had nothing to with the events of September 11, 2001. If that is the case (and I believe that it is), there should be no comparison of the deaths in the two unrelated events. You can't have it both ways.

Bottom line: We all mourn the loss of our young men and women in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We continue to mourn the loss of our fellow citizens and friends on September 11, 2001. Don't insult their memories with cheap shots like this.

January 1, 2007

Iraq: Halabjah Revisted

With the recent execution of Saddam Husayn, there are writings all over the media about our relationship with him, the death penalty, foreign policy, etc. Some are accurate, most are not. I have already commented on Robert Fisk's article (Robert Fisk - again) in the British Paper The Independent.

For example, there is an editorial today by New York Times writer William Rivers Pitt titled Hussein the Rabbit, that perpetuates some incorrect information on Iraqi use of chemical weapons on the the Kurdish village of Halabjah. He even mentions me in the article, but that's not germane to the point here.

First, anyone who refers to Saddam Husayn as Husayn knows little of Arabic names. Husayn is Saddam's father's name. His name is correctly stated as Saddam Husayn Hasan al-Majid. Saddam is his given name, Husayn is his father, Hasan is his grandfather, and al-Majid is the family name.
Now for what happened in Halabjah in 1988. Here is what Pitt writes in his editorial:

Some important and uncomfortable truths died with Hussein Saturday morning. The refrain of "Saddam gassed the Kurds in Halabja" has been with us for years, standing unchallenged in any mainstream political conversation. Yet Stephen C. Pelletiere, in a January 2003 New York Times article titled "A War Crime or an Act of War," revealed some information that cuts against this grain.

Pelletiere was the CIA's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and served as a professor at the Army War College from 1988 to 2000. He also headed a 1991 Army investigation into how the United States would fare in a war against Iraq, and the classified report created from this investigation contained voluminous details of the Halabja attack.

"Immediately after the battle," wrote Pelletiere, "the United States Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report, which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know basis. That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, not Iraqi gas. The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent - that is, a cyanide-based gas - which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time."

No one can deny that Saddam Hussein had many murders to his name, and yet the facts revealed in this classified report give pause. We have here an example of political expediency in the American style, where facts are ignored because they ruffle the story line and derail the rationalizations that sustain us. When the slogan on the battle standard is a lie, those who rally to it become victims of a fraud.


I know Steve Pelletiere, and am intimately familiar with his analysis and report. I was in Baghdad when the incident took place. He is correct that in 1988 we believed that Iran was primarily responsible for the chemical attack on the Kurds in Halabjah. However, that analysis was later proven wrong as additional information came to light.

In 1995, one of the Iraqi pilots who had participated in the attack defected to the Kurds in northern Iraq. I was among those serving in northern Iraq and talked to the pilot. He confirmed that it was Iraqis who had perpetrated the attacks. It was about this same time that Khidhir Hamza, a physicist involved in the Iraqi nuclear program defected as well. According to Hamza, the attack on Halabjah was a weapons test to determine if Iraqi chemists had perfected development of the nerve agent. A month later, after the successful "test" at Halabjah, the Iraqis used the agent in their attack on the Al-Faw peninsula.

Halabjah was an attack by Saddam Husayn's Iraq on its own citizens. Let's not rewrite history.

Robert Fisk - again

Click for larger imageThe British newspaper The Independent published an article by Robert Fisk about the execution of Saddam Husayn - He takes his secrets to the grave. Our complicity dies with him.

Earlier this year, Fisk reported on what I allegedly reported to Washington after touring the battlefields on the Al-Faw peninsula shortly after Iraqi forces had retaken them from Iranian troops. In that piece, he got it wrong - read my response to that earlier article.

This current article is slightly more accurate when he talks about me. Perhaps my letters to his editor had some effect. Here's what he says this time:

Nor was the Pentagon unaware of the extent of Iraqi use of chemical weapons. In 1988, for example, Saddam gave his personal permission for Lt Col Rick Francona, a US defence intelligence officer - one of 60 American officers who were secretly providing members of the Iraqi general staff with detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning and bomb damage assessments - to visit the Fao peninsula after Iraqi forces had recaptured the town from the Iranians. He reported back to Washington that the Iraqis had used chemical weapons to achieve their victory. The senior defence intelligence officer at the time, Col Walter Lang, later said that the use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis "was not a matter of deep strategic concern".

This paragraph is fairly accurate except for the number of people involved. If you counted everyone in Washington that had any part in it (analysts, imagery interpreters, line drawing artists, etc), you may get as high as 30, but there were only two full time - Pat Lang and I, and only two ever present in Iraq at any given time.

Other than that, the story is a mish-mash of fact and fiction. I'll address a few (not all) of the more glaring fictional parts. I will do so from an American perspective as I was not privy to British support for Saddam.

Our first relationship with Saddam Husayn began in 1984 with the normalization of diplomatic relations between Iraq and the United States (broken since 1967). Almost immediately, the CIA tried a relationship with the Iraqi Intelligence Service (al-mukhabarat). We were willing to provide low-level tactical information on the Iranian troop deployments in return for information on American hostages being held in Lebanon by Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members or their surrogates. It didn't go anywhere.

I discount Fisk's claims that we provided information on ICP members. I also don't believe the report of meetings between Saddam and US officers prior to the 1980 invasion of Iran. We certainly would not have used a German arms dealer to pass satellite imagery to Baghdad - we would never have released that to such a person. Besides, that was my job!

We pretty much had nothing to do with the Iraqis (Ollie North was too busy with the Iranians) until 1987 when the USS Stark was inadvertently struck by a Iraqi Exocet missiles. Meetings held with the Iraqis in the aftermath of this incident grew into a relationship between the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and the Iraqi Directorate of Military Intelligence. In late 1987, DIA prepared an assessment which concluded that Iran would defeat Iraq in spring of 1988.

In February 1988, Reagan ordered Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci to begin providing intelligence to the DMI. That continued through September 1988. As far as I know (and I was in a position to know), we only provided information.

No weapons were ever transferred. As for the chemicals and biological stuff, they bought those on the open market - there was no restriction on them. We did not provide any assistance for his chemical or biological weapons production facilities.

As for the agricultural credits, we did that, but I had nothing to do with that, so I will defer to someone who knows. We did sell thousands of white Oldsmobile Cutlasses as death gratuities for the families of officers killed in action. Enlisted families were given red Brazilian-made VW Passats.

We did support Saddam Husayn - no question. It was in keeping with the Middle East saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." It was about Iran and the ayatollahs, not about Iraq and Saddam Husayn. Unlike the mujahidin in Afghanistan who thought our support was about them rather than about the Soviets, the Iraqis understood. As soon as they won the war, they kicked me out.

(Note: I have described these events in extensive details in my book "Ally to Adversary: An Eyewitness Account of Iraq's Fall from Grace, Naval Institute Press, 1999).