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Attacking Iraq - Downing Plan / Afghan Model

In November of 1993, Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, presented the Clinton Administration with a detailed, four-phase war plan entitled "The End Game," along with a request for the money to finance the plan. In March, 1995, Chalabi's insurrection was launched, and failed dramatically. In late 1998 President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which allocated $97 million for training and military equipment for the Iraqi opposition.

By 2001 the INC war plan included training, encouraging defectors, and American enforcement of the no-fly zone in southern Iraq. The INC proposed to recruit 200 instructors to train a force of 5,000 dissident Iraqis, reinforced by mercenaries [who would include retired American Special Forces troops]. American air strikes would enforce a no-drive zone to protect the insurgents from attack by Iraqi forces. The force would be inserted into southern Iraq, near most of Iraq's oil fields, possibly at an abandoned airbase west of Basra. According to the INC, if the insurgent force took Basra, it would tie up Iraq's oil supply and the regime would collapse.

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, and the quick success of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the INC plan was modified. The new plan was developed with the help of a retired four-star Army general, Wayne Downing [who ran a Special Forces command during the Gulf War], and former CIA officer Duane (Dewey) Clarridge, who have served as unpaid consultants to the INC. Clarridge ran the U.S.-backed contras who fought the leftist Sandanista regime in Nicaragua during the Reagan administration. Downing was appointed by President Bush in October 2001 to be the deputy national-security adviser for combatting terrorism. General Downing resigned in July 2002, reportedly frustrated by the administration's lack of action against Iraq.

The new version included the INC establishing a firebase inside Iraq, from which it would announce the creation of a provisional Iraqi government [which the Bush Administration would recognize]. The US would begin an intense bombing campaign, as it did in Afghanistan, and airlift thousands of Special Forces troops into southern Iraq. The United States Air Force would systematically bomb key Iraqi command-and-control facilities. Early versions of the plan did not call for a direct military assault on Baghdad, but proposed quick-strike attacks on military units in the north and primarily in the south. If all went as planned, dissent would break out in the Iraqi military, and Saddam Hussein would have to decide whether to send his forces south to attack the Americans or to keep his forces in Baghdad to guard against an invasion from the north. If Saddam's forces counter-attacked, they would be exposed to American air strikes and destroyed. The INC believed that any show of force would immediately trigger a revolt against Saddam within Iraq. According to Clarridge, the "idea from the beginning was to encourage defections of Iraqi units. You need to create a nucleus, something for people to defect to. If they could take Basra [Iraq's second-largest city and major port], it would all be over."

In December 2001 Chalabi's revised plan, modified by a Pentagon planning group authorized by Paul Wolfowitz, was presented to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for evaluation. Anthony Zinni, the retired general who had served as head of Central Command responsible for US forces in the Middle East, had dismissed the plan as the "Bay of Goats."

The Downing Plan and variations thereof is portrayed as an enlarged version of the operation in Afghanistan -- local forces, with American Special Forces and airpower. After the success in Afghanistan, a lot of people were saying this might be a new model that would be pursued: look for the opposition within a country, support them with air power, let them do the ground work. Afghanistan and Iraq are however very different. In Afghanistan, the government was little more than a weak coalition, and the opposition was relatively well armed. The Iraqi government is powerful and strongly entrenched, and the opposition is much weaker than even the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Consequently, it seems unlikely that the Downing Plan would succeed against such odds, which is why some refer to it as the Bay of Goats [since the results would approximate the Bay of Pigs].

Were the Downing Plan to succeed, it would do so largely through the force of arms of the Kurds and Shiites, who would demand their own states as a reward, and who would be strongly positioned -- morally and militarily -- to enforce this claim. They might break Iraq up into three largely autonomous governates [along Ottoman lines], that would be independent in everything but name. One gathers that this outcome is not desired by some states that would be essential to the military campaign, notably Turkey.

While the Kurds whose forces number about 85-thousand could act as a proxy army in northern Iraq, most are reluctant to hand over their new-found autonomy in exchange for a vague promise of a better future or even the creation of their own country. They fear that a US attack could end the oil-for-food program the United Nations adopted in 1995 to ease the effects of the international embargo on Iraq. The UN program buys oil from Iraq so that the government can buy food and other humanitarian goods. Right now, the Kurds receive 13 percent of that oil money from Iraq, which accounts for 60 percent of their economy. They worry that a war could severely disrupt that cash flow. They also note the possibility that the next Iraqi leader could end the oil-revenue sharing arrangement altogether.

While the government in Ankara strongly supports the air patrols, it has deep concerns about the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Turkey has had a long-standing conflict with insurgents among its own Kurdish minorities, who often took refuge in northern Iraq. The Turkish government also fears that a war just across the border could badly damage the country's lucrative tourism industry and plunge the nation into economic chaos.

Members of the Iraqi opposition appeared to have set aside their differences in their meetings with U.S. officials on 8-9 August in Washington in an effort to present a united front to the U.S. administration and the international community. Representatives from six leading opposition groups attended the meetings, including Ahmed Chalabi of the INC; and Sharif Ali bin al-Husseyn of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement. Other participants included Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord (INA); and two Kurdish leaders, Hoshyar Zebari representing Mas'ud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP); and Jalal Talabani of the PUK. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shiite group backed by Iran, also sent a representative, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the brother of the movement's leader.

But the leader of one of the groups, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), as well as the leader of an opposition group that did not participate directly in the Washington talks, Al-Da'wah, have expressed their doubts about the U.S. role in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. These two groups -- one Kurdish and the other Shia -- have in common a warm relationship with the government of Iran, although Tehran is not necessarily behind their sentiments.

PUK leader Jalal Talabani denied reports that his organization offered its services to the U.S. government for a military operation against Iraq. In an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite TV on 14 August, Talabani said: "Our forces are not ready to offer services to anyone, but if the U.S. forces come to Kurdistan to protect us, then they are welcome. However, playing the role of Trojan Horse, or helping foreign forces accomplish their own tasks, are not among our tasks or duties." Talabani reiterated the position of the PUK saying: "As part of the Iraqi opposition, the PUK's position is clear; namely, that the task of change is an Iraqi task that should be carried out by the Iraqi opposition forces for the sake of a comprehensive democratic change. However, these forces do not reject international aid, including U.S. aid, to accomplish this task."

A more outspoken statement came from Al-Da'wah political bureau leader Abu Bilal al-Adib, who said that his party would not cooperate in the U.S. effort to overthrow Saddam Husseyn. The Al-Da'wah group is an Iranian-supported Shi'ite group affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which did participate in the Washington meetings. It is best remembered for its attempt to assassinate Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in 1980. On 3 July, the group joined the Iraqi Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party-Iraq Command in forming a new group, the Iraqi National Forces Coalition. The coalition advocates the overthrow of Saddam's regime, but rejects foreign interference in this endeavor.

In a 14 August interview with Al-Jazeera, Al-Adib cited differences between his group's objectives and those of Washington. "The Iraqi opposition is striving to establish a democratic government based on mutual recognition among all political forces in Iraq, a peaceful transfer of power, and using ballot boxes to decide on all that can affect the future of Iraqis. The U.S. administration on the other hand, wants to facilitate a Zionist expansion in the region. Therefore, the change that is taking place in Iraq is part of the process of changing the Middle East map. What is happening in Palestine today is really an example of how the United States will behave in this region."

Al-Adib told Al-Jazeera that his group refused to coordinate with the U.S. "We cannot see this happening, because this would not be in the interest of the Iraqi people," he said. Al-Adib added that he believed the U.S. would not allow a role for Islamists in a post-Saddam Iraq. "This is also clear from U.S. statements. The Americans are emphasizing a non-Islamic approach."



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