The CIA's Assets in the Middle East

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Bush in his speech on St. Patrick’s Day issued a challenge to
Saddam Hussein: “Get out within 48 hours, and take your sons with

I hope Hussein
takes this warning seriously. If he leaves, his country will be
spared a lot of bloodshed, at least until the Shi’ites take over.
But he probably won’t leave.

In a superb
two-hour documentary, “The Long Road to War,” which was aired
on PBS’s “Frontline” on the evening of March 17, the same evening
as Bush’s speech, it becomes clear that Saddam Hussein almost
cracked under pressure, twice: when the Shi’ites of Iran almost
won the war with Iraq, and again on the last day of the Gulf War,
when Colin Powell persuaded President Bush to call off the march
into Baghdad. Anyway, this was the opinion of one former Iraqi
intelligence officer, who was with Hussein at the time. In both
cases, Hussein rebounded and became more arrogant.

It also is
clear that Hussein is no Hitler. He is a Stalin. He literally
modeled himself after Stalin.

He was our
man in Baghdad from day one. He was a CIA asset.

Saddam Hussein
came under CIA influence after he had attempted to assassinate
Iraq’s leftist military leader, Kassem, in 1958, the same year
that Kassem ousted the ruling monarch. Kassem used Nasser as his
model. Hussein put together a hit team to take out Kassem. Their
attempt failed. Hussein was slightly wounded. He escaped, fled
to Cairo, and began a series of contacts with the CIA in Cairo.
The CIA was opposed to Kassem, who they regarded as too much like
Nasser and too close to Moscow.

the documentary did not cover the following, it is worth noting
that in 1953, the CIA and the British M16 had engineered a coup
against the leftist who ran Iran, Mossadegh. The New York Times
(April 16, 2000) ran several primary source documents written
immediately after the coup by the CIA. They are on-line.

had threatened to nationalize the oil, owned mainly by the British.
The British then stopped pumping oil in Iran, pushing the country
into economic crisis. The coup followed.

The CIA installed
the Pahlevi family on the throne of Iran, the Peacock Monarchy.
It would be a modernizing force for Iran, the CIA believed: secular,
not an arm of Iran’s dominant Shi’ite sect. And so the monarchy
became. It maintained control over the Shi’ite majority by creating
the infamous Savak: the secret police. In 1979, that plan backfired
when radical Shi’ites overthrew the Shah. The Ayatollah Khomeini
took over. The Shi’ites — far more aggressive than the Sunni sect
— remain in power today.

In 1963,
the Ba’ath Party engineered a coup against Kassem. They had CIA
approval. They assassinated him. Hussein returned to Baghdad.
Almost immediately, the new regime was recognized by the United
States government. But the Ba’athists were tossed out almost immediately
by a revolt of army officers. With CIA assistance, the Ba’ath
Party regained power in 1968. Much of this background information
is covered in a
March 14 New York Times article by Roger Morris

In 1979,
the same year that the Shah was removed from power in a Shi’ite
revolt in Iran, Saddam Hussein engineered a coup inside the Ba’ath
Party and killed his opponents, Stalin-like. He has been in power
ever since.


The United
States in the 1980’s funded Iraq. The Shi’ites were seen by Reagan’s
Administration as the more dangerous religious force in the region.
So, we backed the secular Ba’athists, who were socialists to the

Sunnis constitute only 30% of the population in Iraq. The majority
is Shi’ite.
The Ba’athists are more closely associated with
the Sunnis. So, the Shi’ites in Iran are hoping for the overthrow
of Saddam Hussein.

As “The Long
Road to War” makes clear, the United States called on the Kurds
(north) and the Shi’ites (south) to revolt against Hussein in
1991. They did, and then we did not intervene to support them
after the cease fire. The documentary ran video clips taken by
Ba’athists in the south, kicking and beating captured Shi’ites,
whose resistance movement lasted only two weeks after their post-war
revolt began. In the north, we did finally intervene defensively
after the Kurds had fled their cities.

In both Iran
and Iraq, the CIA’s assets used the power of the secret police
to crush the Shi’ite opposition. Khomeini removed the former asset;
President Bush will soon remove the latter. But this leaves the
Shi’ites in the majority in both countries.

After the
documentary, the local PBS station ran Bill Moyers’ weekly “NOW”
show. He interviewed one of the expatriate Iraqi advisors to President
Bush, Kanen Makiya. He has been in the United States for 35 years.
He teaches at Brandeis University, the liberal, secular Jewish
university. This is the man Mr. Bush has selected to run the committee
that will produce the post-Saddam Iraqi constitution. He told
Moyers that he is confident that democracy will work just fine
in Iraq — as confident as Richard Perle is. The two of them delivered
a joint lecture on March 17.

My suggestion:
when putting together a committee of Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi’ites,
it’s probably not a good strategy to put a Brandeis professor
in charge. I would call this arrangement “insensitive,” except
that liberals have co-opted this word.

Moyers also
interviewed the historian Simon Schama. Schama thinks that the
invasion of Iraq will be the Rubicon crossing for the United States,
i.e., a major turning point in the history of the Middle East
and the United States. He is not confident that we will be successful
in putting the pieces back together. Far more optimistic was Walter
Isaacson, now the head of the Aspen Institute, formerly a senior
editor at Time and the co-author of The
Wise Men
, a book on the six men who shaped American foreign
policy, 1935—80. He thinks that we may actually be able to
depart in two years. Isaacson was also interviewed by Moyers.

As an historian,
I’m with Schama on this issue. We are about to open Pandora’s
box, where only hope was positive. The United States must protect
the rebuilt oil fields. A bigger task will be to keep the Kurds
out of the clutches of the Turks, and the Sunnis out of the clutches
of the Shi’ites.

Twenty years
ago, the Reagan Administration was determined to keep the Iranian
revolution bottled up. This was why our government sent money
and weapons to Iraq. Now Reagan’s hawks — Paul Wolfowitz, Richard
Perle — insist that a Saddam-free Iraq can move into democracy,
despite the 1991 slaughter of the Kurds and the Shi’ites by the
Sunnis under the Ba’ath flag. More than this: they actually believe
that Iraq will become a model of democracy for Arab states in
the region.

I’m sure
that our allies, the Saud family, get all tingly just thinking
about how much democracy will do for them and their continuing
control over Saudi Arabia. As Sunnis, they must relish the thought
of democracy in Iraq, where their ancient rivals, the Shi’ites,
will become the dominant political force as soon as American troops


Sunnis aren’t like Presbyterians. Iraq is not the United States.
These Islamic sects take their religion very seriously. They are
not like America’s denominations, content to recruit from each
other’s members unofficially, and not much more. If you want a
comparison for Iraq, think of the Thirty Years War (1618—48),
which tore up Germany for a generation.

For almost
a quarter century, Saddam Hussein has ruled with an iron fist.
Prof. Makiya said that the Ba’ath Party has murdered well over
a million people — something in the range of 8% of the population.
I don’t doubt it. When a man models himself on Stalin, he is not
going to be squeamish about a million counter-revolutionaries.

So, without
any democratic tradition, Iraq is about to be pushed into democracy
by occupying troops, whose main task will be the defense of the
oil wells. The United States will hand out billions of dollars
for rebuilding what our military forces will soon blow up. It
would not surprise me if Haliburton Co., Mr. Cheney’s former employer
(CEO), might even get a few construction contracts. Why not? It
has experience. While
Mr. Cheney was running Haliburton, the company signed two contracts
with Iraq through two of its subsidiaries. The contracts were
worth $73 million.

The hostility
between these groups runs deep. It will take more than the skills
of a Brandeis professor to create a working constitutional settlement
and establish peace. It will take full-time American troops. The
problem we will soon face is how to keep a well-armed citizenry
from killing each other and assassinating our troops from time
to time.

the Shi’ites across the border in Iran will do what they can to
see that their spiritual brethren are not denied their “democratic
rights” as the dominant majority in Iraq. For this cause, they
lost about 400,000 troops in the 1980’s. Now their rival, Saddam
Hussein, no longer has U.S. money to back him in his war against

The problem,
of course, will be the presence of full-time American troops in
Iraq. The Great Satan will be within a couple of minutes’ flight
from Iran. To keep the lid on in Iraq, the United States must
station troops.

There is
a slogan attributed to Islam: “My brother and I against our cousin.
We and our cousin against the world.” I am beginning to hear assorted
pundits in Washington discuss the recruiting potential for al-Qaeda,
now that American troops are stationed in the region. In a report
to my subscribers on October 11, 2001, I wrote this:

All over
the Middle East, bin Laden is getting a hearing. His accusations
now focus on Islamic concerns generally, not just the issue
that first motivated him: the presence of infidels (Americans)
on Saudi Arabian soil. He now talks of U.S. support of the State
of Israel, the U.S. sanctions against Iraq, which still include
almost daily bombing, and the looming attack on an Islamic nation,

It should
be clear what he is doing. It is what I have said from the beginning
that the attack was all about: recruiting for the jihad.

How serious
is this jihad for Americans? Until September 11, it was only
marginal. Now, it is on the minds of tens of millions of potential
recruits. The U.S. media will not discuss this. They do not
want to face facts. This is why we saw so little of the street
demonstrations on TV. They were spontaneous, unlike most street
demonstrations. What we saw was a spontaneous, deeply felt hatred
of America all over the Islamic world — not just the Middle

The reality
of this process is becoming visible, even to the talking heads
in Washington. For a decade, Osama bin Laden has preached the
removal of American troops from Saudi soil. He has argued that
we plan to control the region. Now we are proving his point.

In February,
British-based Islamic news agency
claimed to have an audiotape
by bin Laden that predicted his martyrdom this year. This was
the day after al-Jazeera broadcast another tape by bin Laden calling
for martyrdom in the war against the United States and Israel.

There have
been a few reports of volunteers coming into Iraq from other Arab
nations to join the Iraqis in what are essentially suicide operations.
I have seen one video clip of a group of these volunteers. Their
presence, followed by their certain deaths, will serve as fuses
that are laid all over the region. The solidarity of Arabs is
rare. It takes a common enemy. We are now the target, even more
than the British after 1918. The British knew how to run their
empire from the shadows. We will be on satellite TV.

forces or our allies (for this year) may kill bin Laden later
this year. This will not do us much good. We are about to enter
the tar baby of the Middle East. We have become the common enemy.
Europe, apart from Britain, will be able to say, “It’s not our
fault. Our hands are clean. Blame Bush.” If the cost of the war
escalates, we can be sure that the Democrats in Congress will
say the same thing.


If Saddam
has any sense of military strategy, he has dispersed his forces
into squads. These squads are assigned to homes in Sunni-dominated
areas. This will force our troops to attack villages and towns.
It is unlikely that we would level each town from the air. House-to-house
combat will raise the cost of the war: more casualties for our
troops, and more civilian casualties, which is bad for public

There is
no way that Iraqi tanks, planes, or anything larger than a mortar
will survive our initial onslaught. If he masses his troops, they
will be taken out early. There will be tens of thousands of grieving
families who blame America for their post-war desolation.

But if he
has dispersed them, we will have a tactical problem. House-to-house
combat in Sunni areas will tend to create a bond between the Sunnis
and Ba’ath forces. The Sunnis know what will happen if Shi’ites
get into power. This is why they will be willing to defend their
homes from our troops. For his troops to attempt to occupy Shi’ite
areas now would be foolhardy.

are being told nothing about how the Iraqi military forces are
being deployed. Our military forces must know from satellite surveillance.
I have no inside information. If Hussein learned anything from
the road of death — the retreat from Kuwait — in 1991, he will
not concentrate his forces where planes can bomb them. He will
place them in close contact with civilians, not just in Baghdad,
but in the whole region.

If Hussein
keeps large numbers of troops massed together, then his generals
can surrender more easily. I saw a press conference at which Donald
Rumsfeld claimed that there have already been preliminary negotiations
between American generals and Iraqi generals. But if Iraqi troops
are dispersed, then no surrender at the top will be enforceable
on the troops. They will be dug in.

The initial
phase of the attack has a name: shock and awe. (The post-war phase,
as described by the Administration so far, can accurately be named
shuck and jive.) Shock and awe worked in Afghanistan. But in Iraq,
the Sunnis know that they will be the big losers in any post-Saddam
regime. They probably know that those Iraqis who survive the war
will be well-treated by American troops. But we are not their
main problem. Shi’ites are their main problem. If we leave, the
reprisals will begin. We allowed Saddam exact his reprisals against
the Shi’ites in 1991. If we decide to leave or withdraw to the
oil fields, there will be executions on a scale never dreamed
of by the Hatfields and the McCoys. I don’t think a professor
from Brandeis can do much to stop this process.


This war
is not going to be a cakewalk. I pray that Saddam Hussein will
get out while the getting is good, but I think he has decided
to take his chances. He will not win this war.

The question
is: Will we?

19, 2003

North is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
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