Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Of sly snakes and connections

"the mother of all battles has continued, and will continue." -- Saddam Hussein, Ramadi, November 1992

"He's determined to beat the US and 'topple the White House into the dust,'" -- Hussein Kamal, Iraqi defector, 1995

"The world is safer without Saddam Hussein" -- George W. Bush, 2007.

How many remember the strange defection of Iraqi General Hussein Kamel Hussein? This guy was either an enigma, a hero, or a complete idiot. Married to Saddam's daughter Raghad, herself a member of Iraq's new 41 most-wanted list, Kamel was in charge of the Ministry of Defense during his tenure with the Butcher. His legendary demise was the stuff of spaghetti westerns--lured back to Iraq only to be killed in a 13 hour gun battle on his farm after regime goons tried to arrest him.

Middle east experts such as Juan Cole love to remind us that most of the information used by Bush to indict Saddam came from Ahmed Chalabi and the INC, filtered through the office of Vice President. But they cannot claim such with Kamel, who defected straight out of Baghdad. And his tale was a double-edged sword:
HUSSEIN KAMEL: No, Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction. I am being completely honest about this.
And then:
SADLER: Was it a viable project?[The "Supergun"-ed]
KAMEL: Yes. It was meant for long range attack and also to blind spy satellites. Our scientists were seriously working on that. It was designed to explode a shell in space that would have sprayed a sticky material on the satellite and blinded it.
He defected in August, 1995. That was a tumultuous year all around. While America was reeling from the April Oklahoma City bombing and facing a government shutdown later that year the CIA was busy blowing a coup attempt with Ahmed Chalabi in March, where CIA agents were later investigated by the FBI on rumors they planned to illegally kill Saddam in the process. The lessons from that debacle factored into later decisions on removing the Butcher.

Speak of the devil, he was busy putting down an uprising in Ramadi and tasking Uday to form the Fedeyeen Saddam. Earlier in the year Ramzi Yousef was captured in Islamabad in February, then later in November a massive bomb blew up at the Saudi National Guard barracks in Riyadh and several American soldiers were killed. Of that attack Kamel said:
He wants everybody to think it's the Iranians behind the attack. He is using them as a smoke screen, hoping to fool the world.
Of note, a previously unknown terror group calling themselves the "Islamic Change Movement" took credit and would later suggest another attack was imminent the day before TWA 800 crashed on July 17, 1996 (Saddam's Liberation Day in Iraq) along with a few other minor attacks. They were supposedly affiliated with Hizballah or AQ but little was known of them and they were never a major factor in any further events. Perhaps Kamel was correct on that one.

But perhaps the most damning aspect of Kamel's confessions centered on Saddam's goals for the middle east:
Saddam wants to dominate most major sources of oil in the Middle East. That is why he attacked Iran in the 1980s. When that failed, he set his sights on Saudi Arabia. He invaded Kuwait not only to seize its oil wells, but to use Kuwait as a springboard for the conquest of Saudi Arabia.

Following the Gulf war, the Bush administration made the mistake of not eliminating Saddam, something the Iraqi leader deemed "decadent Western weakness."
He seemed more than happy to relay such damaging information as he did in this UN debriefing, which probably caused some trepidation within the ranks of western leaders. They certainly did not believe his proclamation about WMDs, witnessed by Clinton's 1998 cruise missile party called Operation Desert Fox and Hans Blix's later uncertainty as chief of UNMOVIC in 2003. Ironically, the 1998 bombing became a cause celebre for UBL, strengthening his fatwa to kill Americans "anywhere they are found". And nobody seriously questioned whether Saddam deserved his thumpin' back in 1998.

If he wasn't believable on WMDs, what about all the rest? It's easy to dismiss everything he said as disinformation and to suggest Saddam sent him as a method actor designed to snooker the UN and prove his disarmament. His subsequent death after being "lured" back to Baghdad was perhaps a part of the script Kamel never got to see, a plot hardly out of character for Saddam. Or maybe he played the part just a bit too well. Surely Raghad knows. Has she ever been questioned?

Whatever the case Kamel's impressions of Saddam were not earth-shattering and fit rather nicely with all previous notions about the man. Yet even in 2007 Americans are still divided about how much threat he posed and whether he was in league with terrorists bent on harming America. That's really the bottom line of the entire Iraq war debate, right?

Now, as everyone must be wondering at this point, what does George Tenet's book say?! He devotes a whole chapter to the 'connection question', emphatically stating there was no "authority, direction or control". But it's interesting to watch how he got to that point. On page 343 he tells the story of a September 2002 meeting between Scooter Libby and VP Cheney with CIA experts at Langley:
The briefing was a disaster. Libby and the vice president arrived with such detailed knowledge of people, sources, and timelines that the senior CIA analytic manager doing the briefing that day simply could not compete. We weren't ready for this discussion.
But wait. Only four pages later Tenet describes a Langley meeting on August 15th, 2002 between the notorious Douglas Feith and his Office of Special Plans and CIA analysts about the connection. Tenet basically did what everybody does nowadays--he smacked Feith around like a neocon pinata and insinuated he and his amateurish team had no business telling real intelligence professionals about anything. He even mocked the DIA briefer Christina Shelton, who later corrected Tenet in the WaPo. But let's keep this in sequence...he was mocking this group in August then blown away by Scooter Libby's knowledge in September?

Tenet explains their being blown away by the fact they just weren't concentrating much on Iraq in 2002, preoccupied by the real threat from Sunni terrorism all over the world. Odd, since Saddam was himself a Sunni who had dabbled in terrorism. His assertion is also seemingly refuted by the late 90s reporting of ABC's Sheila MacVicar and the information contained in CIA Alec Station Chief Michael Scheuer's first book, which discussed a relationship.

Matter of fact, that relationship was the driving force behind Clinton's bombing of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum in 1998 based on the premise that Iraqi WMD scientists were helping bin Laden. Tenet is clearly trying to suggest it was an agenda-driven administration who trumped the connection, forcing CIA to take their eyes off the bin Laden ball, when in fact it seems more like a massive covering of butts based on past knowledge.

His book is like a roller coaster--he's pretty respectful to the president throughout but not so with Bush's team. On one page he'll insinuate they might have 'fixed' the intelligence then on the next he'll drop a bomb supporting the connections. Example, on page 351 he drops what should have been a big bomb by telling us about a rather stunning development before the invasion in 2002:
What was even more worrisome was that by the spring and summer of 2002, more than a dozen al-Qa'ida -affiliated extremists converged on Baghdad, with apparently no harassment on the part of the Iraqi government.
He goes on to name names:
More al-Qa'ida operatives would follow, including Thirwat Shihata and Yussef Dardiri, two Egyptians assessed by a senior al-Qa'ida detainee to be among the Egyptian Islamic Jihad's best operational planners, who arrived by mid-May 2002.
Try Googling those two guys. You'll get nothing from the MSM, just stories by "neocon war hawks". Strange that Bush himself wouldn't have mentioned them at the time. Maybe they couldn't. But doesn't that deserve at least one 60 Minutes expose?

Tenet goes on to mention the efforts of former Sudanese president Hassan al-Turabi to bring together the Islamic terror world, mentioned heavily in Yossef Bodansky's book about bin Laden in 2000. He then moves to Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, infamous for being captured in Afghanistan after 9/11 who told CIA Saddam was training terrorists in chemical weapons then recanted after the Iraq war began. Tenet suggests he doesn't know which lie was a lie, but the Senate Phase II report, pushed by the Democrats, clearly assumed it was the former. And that's the big problem with AQ and the Iraqis, they were liars.

Despite all the blah, blah it's starting to look like conventional wisdom cement is setting around the events leading to the war. Such conceptions are hard to change on a broad scale without help from the major media and that's not likely to happen with a presidential election looming. For instance, the revelation by Tenet that scores of suspected AQ operatives were arriving in Baghdad in 2002 should have been a major story then and certainly deserves investigation now with our troops fighting in Iraq and the Democrats trying to pull them out. For some reason we get nothing.

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