Sunday, October 24, 2004

Were we right on all counts?

Le Monde(warning - PDF) has a monster supplement on Iraq, including extensive reporting from sources inside Fallujah and, indeed, in major rebel groups. Perhaps the most interesting is their interview on page 4 of the supplement with a former General in the Iraqi Army, Al-Haji Feras, who now leads a nationalist guerrilla group. He claims to have been involved with a group of officers plotting against Saddam Hussein (Al-Khalas al-Watani, "National Salvation") since 1980 and to have been in contact with the CIA up to the winter of 2002, when he met his case officer, "Colonel John", for the last time at a secret location in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah. Feras claims that at this discussion, the agent requested order of battle information on the Iraqi army, which he refused to supply. He then proposed to the agent that, given their support, it would be possible to depose Saddam speedily. He claimed that the base at al-Mansouriyah could be seized for the US by his organisation, and that an 18-strong committee containing 15 Iraqi officers and 3 US representatives was formed to make preparations.

This, however, was the last contact. Only after the fall of Baghdad, he claims, were they informed that Washington opposed any role for the Iraqi Army in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He attributes this to the influence of exile politicians like Chalabi, who wished to get rid of possible rivals, and claims that the US government wanted to "destroy Islam in Iraq". He also gives the impression that he and other officers were consulted but ignored over the make-up of a new Iraqi army. Finally, on the 20th of August, 2003, Al-Khalas al-Watani members and around 30 pro-Ba'athi officers went underground as a new organisation, "Al-Soqour", The Falcon.

If his account is reliable, one of the last arguments in favour of the war is shaken. If, in late 2002, it had been possible to organise a coup d'etat in Iraq, perhaps after token military action, the argument that opposing the war is equivalent to supporting the regime is no longer sound. It is possible, of course, that Feras is blowing his own trumpet, but this is still one of the few extensive reports from inside the insurgency we have.

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