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What are the Americans up to in Iraq?

>From today's Daily Star (Lebanon)

What are the Americans up to in Iraq? 
US delegation visits opposition groups in the north 

Najm Jarrah 

Special to The Daily Star 

LONDON: While this week’s visit to Iraqi Kurdistan by a ranking US delegation has triggered much 
speculation about possible American plans to engineer the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein’s 
regime in Baghdad, a former head of Iraqi military intelligence believes that it is for the most 
part misplaced. 
General Wafiq al-Samarai, a former director of Iraqi military intelligence who served during the 
Gulf War and defected in 1994, told me the notion of the United States enlisting the Kurds in a 
campaign to topple the central government ­ using aerial bombardment, ground forces, guerrilla 
warfare, economic and political pressure, or a combination thereof ­ was far-fetched, and 
inconceivable under present circumstances. 

Iraqi dissidents, Western analysts and Arab commentators alike have seen the visit as evidence that 
Washington is making active preparations to line Iraq up as the next target of its “war on terror” 
after Afghanistan, and to use the country’s three Kurdish-controlled northern provinces for that 
The American delegation, led by Undersecretary of State for Near East Affairs Ryan Crocker, spent 
four days in the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, meeting separately with Kurdistan Democratic 
Party leader Masoud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan chieftain Jalal Talabani as well as 
representatives of other minor Iraqi opposition groups based in the area, including an ethnic 
Assyrian party and the Turkish-sponsored Iraqi Turcoman Front. 
Baghdad protested against the visit, which the head of the Iraqi Parliament’s Arab and 
international affairs committee, Salem Kubaisi, described as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and 
an act of blatant interference in the country’s internal affairs. “It is a new link in the chain of 
repeated aggressions which American administrations have committed against Iraq,” he said, urging 
the UN to put an end to such violations of international law. 

US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the aim of Crocker’s mission was “to demonstrate 
continued US engagement with the Iraqi opposition” and “consult with key players on issues in 
northern Iraq,” as well as mediating between the KDP and PUK on long-standing disputes between 
Each party controls a sector of the Kurdish enclave, which has been off-limits to Baghdad and 
policed by Turkish-based American warplanes since 1991. Political rivalry between the two main 
Kurdish parties led to bouts of fierce fighting, particularly in 1996, when Iraqi government forces 
intervened on the KDP’s side to eject the PUK from Arbil, and in the process put an end to the 
presence in the enclave of the American-backed opposition group known as the Iraqi National 
Since peace was established between them, the two Kurdish parties have gone some way toward 
resolving their quarrels over power sharing and the allocation of revenue from taxes levied on 
external trade, prompting observers to question the assertion that Crocker’s mission is to mediate 
between them. 

“To be sure there are still many unresolved issues between the two sides, but they do not require 
American mediation any longer, and one would have thought the Americans had other priorities at the 
moment,” one independent Kurdish politician remarked to The Daily Star. 
That perception was shared by non-Kurdish Iraqi exiles, who pointed to the recent stream of 
high-level statements from Washington threatening military action against Baghdad, either on 
grounds of sponsoring “terrorism” or developing weapons of mass destruction. 
“This visit is a serious move,” one well-connected opposition figure said. “I wouldn’t go so far as 
to say that the Americans have a ready-made plan for military action in Iraq, but they’re sounding 
out the Kurds about the possible options and gauging their response. This is the preparatory work,” 
he said. 

He pointed out that Britain, which a few weeks ago was publicly opposing an American offensive 
against Iraq, has become more guarded in its statements on the subject, declining to rule out the 
possibility. He noted that the INC, though lacking any real presence on the ground in Iraq, is 
strongly favored by many hawks in and close to the Bush administration. Under the Clinton 
administration, they lobbied in favor of its proposal that the US carve out and extend military 
protection to a “safe haven” in southern Iraq from which it could organize a guerrilla campaign 
aimed at eventually seizing power in Baghdad. 
“The thinking then was that they would use Shiite rebels, but the countries of the region would 
have none of it and the Clinton administration was not interested. The thinking now may be to try 
and do the same in the north, using the Kurds rather than Shiites,” perhaps under the auspices of 
an alternative opposition umbrella to the INC. 
The Bush administration’s apparent eagerness to project US military might, especially after success 
in Afghanistan by using heavy aerial bombardment to pave the way for local guerrilla forces to 
overrun and oust the Taleban regime, may tempt it to try to repeat the scenario in Iraq. 

But Samarai said the formidable practical and political difficulties of such an enterprise render 
it a non-option, at least in the foreseeable future. 
“I do not believe they intend to apply the Afghanistan experiment to Iraq,” he told me. 
“I think the visit (of the US State Department delegation led by Crocker) is a routine one in every 
respect, apart from its timing. In my estimation, the timing is deliberate, intended to exert 
strategic pressure on Baghdad in the current climate, but I don’t see a major military campaign 
against the regime ensuing,” he said. 
For one thing, he said, the Kurds ­ who maintain a modus vivendi with Baghdad under which it leaves 
them more or less to their own devices in their American-protected enclave provided they do not 
“provoke” it ­ have too much to lose from such a venture going wrong. 
Iraq’s neighbors, especially the Gulf Arab states, also oppose US military action against Iraq 
unless it deals a fatal blow to Saddam’s regime and at the same time does not lead to Iraq’s 
dismemberment ­ neither of which could be guaranteed beforehand. 
Samarai said the Iraqi military also retains considerable capabilities, and any attempt to oust the 
regime by American-backed force would inevitably inflict “tremendous destruction” on the country, 
far in excess of what many of its advocates appear to assume.

While not ruling out US air strikes against Iraq in the coming few months, especially if Baghdad 
does not move on the disarmament issue, Samarai said a concerted campaign aimed at changing the 
regime was not viable. Rather, it is more likely that the status quo in relations between Baghdad 
and Washington will be maintained for a while longer, particularly if the UN arms inspectors, who 
were pulled out of Iraq ahead of the December 1988 Anglo-American bombing campaign against the 
country, are allowed back in. While the Iraqi government is sticking to its refusal to readmit 
them, Samarai said there had been indications that it might change its stance in the six months 
before the UN Security Council next discusses the issue. 
The former military intelligence chief said he believed the most feasible way of changing the 
regime in Baghdad was at the hands of the Iraqi armed forces themselves. A coup could be encouraged 
by external powers, but much work would have to be done. “It would require an evaluation of the 
situation, detailed plans, declarations of intent, and the appropriate climate,” he said.


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