Exclusive: Saddam key in early CIA plot
By Richard Sale
UPI Intelligence Correspondent
From the International Desk
Published 4/10/2003 7:30 PM
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forces in Baghdad might now be searching high and low for Iraqi
dictator Saddam Hussein, but in the past Saddam was seen by U.S.
intelligence services as a bulwark of anti-communism and they used him
as their instrument for more than 40 years, according to former U.S.
intelligence diplomats and intelligence officials.
International has interviewed almost a dozen former U.S. diplomats,
British scholars and former U.S. intelligence officials to piece
together the following account. The CIA declined to comment on the
have thought that Saddam first became involved with U.S. intelligence
agencies at the start of the September 1980 Iran-Iraq war, his first
contacts with U.S. officials date back to 1959, when he was part of a
CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with assassinating then Iraqi Prime
Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim Qasim.
In July 1958,
Qasim had overthrown the Iraqi monarchy in what one former U.S.
diplomat, who asked not to be identified, described as "a horrible orgy
current and former U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
Iraq was then regarded as a key buffer and strategic asset in the Cold
War with the Soviet Union. For example, in the mid-1950s, Iraq was
quick to join the anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact which was to defend the
region and whose members included Turkey, Britain, Iran and Pakistan.
attention was paid to Qasim's bloody and conspiratorial regime until
his sudden decision to withdraw from the pact in 1959, an act that
"freaked everybody out" according to a former senior U.S. State
watched in marked dismay as Qasim began to buy arms from the Soviet
Union and put his own domestic communists into ministry positions of
"real power," according to this official. The domestic instability of
the country prompted CIA Director Allan Dulles to say publicly that
Iraq was "the most dangerous spot in the world."
mid-1980s, Miles Copeland, a veteran CIA operative, told UPI the CIA
had enjoyed "close ties" with Qasim's ruling Baath Party, just as it
had close connections with the intelligence service of Egyptian leader
Gamel Abd Nassar. In a recent public statement, Roger Morris, a former
National Security Council staffer in the 1970s, confirmed this claim,
saying that the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and anti-communist
Baath Party "as its instrument."
another former senior State Department official, Saddam, while only in
his early 20s, became a part of a U.S. plot to get rid of Qasim.
According to this source, Saddam was installed in an apartment in
Baghdad on al-Rashid Street directly opposite Qasim's office in Iraq's
Ministry of Defense, to observe Qasim's movements.
Middle East expert and author of "Unholy Babylon," said the move was
done "with full knowledge of the CIA," and that Saddam's CIA handler
was an Iraqi dentist working for CIA and Egyptian intelligence. U.S.
officials separately confirmed Darwish's account.
that Saddam's paymaster was Capt. Abdel Maquid Farid, the assistant
military attaché at the Egyptian Embassy who paid for the apartment
from his own personal account. Three former senior U.S. officials have
confirmed that this is accurate.
assassination was set for Oct. 7, 1959, but it was completely botched.
Accounts differ. One former CIA official said that the 22-year-old
Saddam lost his nerve and began firing too soon, killing Qasim's driver
and only wounding Qasim in the shoulder and arm. Darwish told UPI that
one of the assassins had bullets that did not fit his gun and that
another had a hand grenade that got stuck in the lining of his coat.
on farce," a former senior U.S. intelligence official said. But Qasim,
hiding on the floor of his car, escaped death, and Saddam, whose calf
had been grazed by a fellow would-be assassin, escaped to Tikrit,
thanks to CIA and Egyptian intelligence agents, several U.S. government
crossed into Syria and was transferred by Egyptian intelligence agents
to Beirut, according to Darwish and former senior CIA officials. While
Saddam was in Beirut, the CIA paid for Saddam's apartment and put him
through a brief training course, former CIA officials said. The agency
then helped him get to Cairo, they said.
U.S. government official, who knew Saddam at the time, said that even
then Saddam "was known as having no class. He was a thug -- a
Saddam was installed in an apartment in the upper class neighborhood of
Dukki and spent his time playing dominos in the Indiana Café, watched
over by CIA and Egyptian intelligence operatives, according to Darwish
and former U.S. intelligence officials.
senior U.S. government official said: "In Cairo, I often went to
Groppie Café at Emad Eldine Pasha Street, which was very posh, very
upper class. Saddam would not have fit in there. The Indiana was your
this time Saddam was making frequent visits to the American Embassy
where CIA specialists such as Miles Copeland and CIA station chief Jim
Eichelberger were in residence and knew Saddam, former U.S.
intelligence officials said.
handlers even pushed Saddam to get his Egyptian handlers to raise his
monthly allowance, a gesture not appreciated by Egyptian officials
since they knew of Saddam's American connection, according to Darwish.
His assertion was confirmed by former U.S. diplomat in Egypt at the
1963 Qasim was killed in a Baath Party coup. Morris claimed recently
that the CIA was behind the coup, which was sanctioned by President
John F. Kennedy, but a former very senior CIA official strongly denied
"We were absolutely stunned. We had guys running around asking what the hell had happened," this official said.
But the agency
quickly moved into action. Noting that the Baath Party was hunting down
Iraq's communist, the CIA provided the submachine gun-toting Iraqi
National Guardsmen with lists of suspected communists who were then
jailed, interrogated, and summarily gunned down, according to former
U.S. intelligence officials with intimate knowledge of the executions.
communists were killed outright, these sources said. Darwish told UPI
that the mass killings, presided over by Saddam, took place at Qasr
al-Nehayat, literally, the Palace of the End.
senior U.S. State Department official told UPI: "We were frankly glad
to be rid of them. You ask that they get a fair trial? You have to get
kidding. This was serious business."
senior CIA official said: "It was a bit like the mysterious killings of
Iran's communists just after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979.
All 4,000 of his communists suddenly got killed."
scholar Con Coughlin, author of "Saddam: King of Terror," quotes Jim
Critchfield, then a senior Middle East agency official, as saying the
killing of Qasim and the communists was regarded "as a great victory."
A former long-time covert U.S. intelligence operative and friend of
Critchfield said: "Jim was an old Middle East hand. He wasn't sorry to
see the communists go at all. Hey, we were playing for keeps."
Saddam, in the meantime, became head of al-Jihaz a-Khas, the secret intelligence apparatus of the Baath Party.
CIA/Defense Intelligence Agency relation with Saddam intensified after
the start of the Iran-Iraq war in September of 1980. During the war,
the CIA regularly sent a team to Saddam to deliver battlefield
intelligence obtained from Saudi AWACS surveillance aircraft to aid the
effectiveness of Iraq's armed forces, according to a former DIA
official, part of a U.S. interagency intelligence group.
official said that he personally had signed off on a document that
shared U.S. satellite intelligence with both Iraq and Iran in an
attempt to produce a military stalemate. "When I signed it, I thought I
was losing my mind," the former official told UPI.
A former CIA
official said that Saddam had assigned a top team of three senior
officers from the Estikhbarat, Iraq's military intelligence, to meet
with the Americans.
Darwish, the CIA and DIA provided military assistance to Saddam's
ferocious February 1988 assault on Iranian positions in the al-Fao
peninsula by blinding Iranian radars for three days.
Saddam-U.S. intelligence alliance of convenience came to an end at 2
a.m. Aug. 2, 1990, when 100,000 Iraqi troops, backed by 300 tanks,
invaded its neighbor, Kuwait. America's one-time ally had become its
bitterest enemy. Copyright © 2001-2003 United Press International
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