August 27, 2008

Former Iraqi general to speak out against Iran

The national security advisor to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani resigned his position so he can legally speak out about what he perceives as a threat to his country from Iran, specifically from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force.

Jalal Talabani with the author in Irbil, Iraq - 1996

Wafiq al-Samarra'i is uniqely qualified to make these kinds of assessments - he is a retired general and professional military intelligence officer. I first met Wafiq in early 1988 when President Ronald Reagan decided that an Iranian victory in the Iran-Iraq war was unacceptable and that the United States would support Iraq.

President Reagan's Secretary of Defense, Frank Carlucci, directed the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to begin providing intelligence assistance to Iraq. I was sent to Baghdad to serve as the DIA liaison officer to the Iraqi Directorate General of Miltary Intelligence (DGMI), the istikhbarat. At that time, the director of the Istikhbarat was Major General Sabr 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Duri. Al-Duri is currently on death row for his complicity in the chemical attacks on the Kurds at Halabjah in 1988. This happened while I was in Baghdad working with the Istikhbarat.

The deputy director of the Istikhbarat at the time was Brigadier Wafiq al-Samarra'i. Wafiq became my primary point of contact in Baghdad - he and I worked intelligence support to Iraqi forces fighting against Iran. With American intelligence support, they were able to halt the Iranian onslaughts and mount a series of offensives that ended the war in August 1988.

After the end of the war, Wafiq and I parted company as our countries drew apart. Saddam adopted a militazation policy and a belligerence towards American ally Kuwait that we could not abide. By the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1991, Wafiq had been promoted to the position of director of the DGMI. My friend had now become my enemy.

In response to Iraq's invasion, occupation and annexation of Kuwait, American forces poured in to the Arabian deserts to defend Saudi Arabia and ultimately liberate Kuwait. While Wafiq served as Saddam Husayn's military intelligence chief, I served as the advisor on Iraq and personal Arabic interpreter to American forces commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf.

When the war ended in March 1991, Wafiq conitnued in his position but was becoming more and more disillusioned with what Saddam was doing to Iraq. In December 1994, he defected to the West via the Kurdish controlled area in northern Iraq. Since I was one of the very few American officers that knew him and had worked with him, I was chosen to be on the team handling his debriefing and resettlement. Eventually, we had him working in the Iraqi opposition with Dr 'Iyad Alawi and the Iraqi National Accord (the wifaq), mostly in Jordan.

After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Wafiq returned home to his native Samarra' where he was instrumental in the defeat of the Sunni insurgency and al-Qai'dah in Iraq. He was selected to be the national security advisor to the Iraqi president in 2005.

The fact that Iran is a threat to Iraq is obvious. The general will attempt to ensure that the Shi'a-dominated government in Baghdad remains committed to resisting Iranian attempts to become the major power broker in the country. (See my articles, Muqtada al-Sadr biding his time in Iran and Muqtada al-Sadr in Iran - Who is behind it?)

Wafiq al-Samarra'i has the credentials and gravitas to make the case to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people. I wish him success.