INC and Iraq Liberation Act of 1998
In the spring of 1991, in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, President Bush approved a covert action finding to encourage and support dissidents both inside and outside Iraq who wished to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Pursuant to this authorization, CIA began working with Ahmed Chalabi, a leading figure in the Iraqi opposition who lived outside Iraq, to create an organization - the Iraqi National Congress, or INC - to coordinate the activities of the opposition.
In 1992, the INC established an office in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq as well as media outlets to spread its message. While the Agency kept the two intelligence committees apprised of these activities, Chalabi, on his own initiative, began making periodic visits to Washington to lobby Congress to provide support for the INC. In 1994, the INC helped broker a cease-fire between two warring Kurdish groups in northern Iraq. When the cease-fire began breaking down the following year, the INC, with US involvement, obtained the agreement of the parties to a new understanding that contemplated, among other things, the insertion of an INC peace-keeping force between the two groups. The INC force contemplated by the agreement required US funding, however, to be viable.
As the issue of funding the INC force was being sorted out in Washington, the Agency in early February 1995 learned for the first time of an INC plan, to be carried out within several weeks' time with the help of Shi'a elements inside Iraq, to capture Saddam Hussein and overthrow his regime. In meetings Chalabi arranged in early March with Iranian officials to gain their support for the plan, he intimated that the United States would provide military support to the operation, a claim presumably made more credible by the presence of a CIA officer at the meeting site (although not at the meeting itself).
When Chalabi's assertions to the Iranians was reported back to Washington, however, it created a furor in the Clinton White House, which had been unaware of the INC's plan. Chalabi was informed that under no circumstances would the United States provide military support for any such operation. Chalabi believed the plan was now too far along to cancel it, however, and opted to proceed without US assistance. The operation ended in disaster. Saddam Hussein was not captured, neither the Iraqi army nor the Iraqi people rose upagainst him, and the INC's forces were decimated.
While the Agency reduced its support for the INC after this, Chalabi himself continued to make visits to Washington to plead for US support. The fighting between the Kurdish parties continued in northern Iraq, he noted, and the US had never provided funding needed for an INC peace-keeping force. In August 1996, Saddam Hussein sent military forces into northern Iraq to destroy what they could find of the INC. A hundred INC members were captured and executed; the rest were forced to evacuate the country.
In December 1996, with it becoming increasingly evident the INC's ability to be a unifying force for the Iraqi opposition had faded, the Clinton administration determined that the CIA should terminate its funding of the organization. In February 1997, the Agency broke off its relationship with Chalabi and the INC entirely. Undeterred, Chalabi continued to lobby his contacts in Congress, many of whom openly expressed sympathy with his plight.
In 1998, with the support of House Speaker Gingrich, Republican lawmakers proposed what became the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, a public bill to provide assistance to the Iraqi exile groups then opposing the regime of Saddam Hussein. While the INC was not specifically mentioned, the president was authorized to provide up to $97 million in aid to Iraqi democratic opposition organizations designated by the president. (Ultimately, seven such organizations, including the INC, were designated.) For the first time in a public document, the law provided that the US policy toward Iraq required "regime change." Although the Clinton administration initially resisted the proposal, the president signed the law, pledging to work through the United Nations and with "opposition groups from all sectors of the Iraqi community" to bring about a popularly supported government. The State Department, rather than the CIA, was given responsibility for administering the funds.
In the months that followed, however, a dispute broke out in the Senate overimplementing the new law. At first, Republicans complained the administration was taking too long to designate the opposition groups to receive the funding. Once such groups had been designated, SSCI Chairman Richard Shelby demanded that more of the money go to opposition groups headquartered outside Iraq, rather than to those inside the country, and threatened to block any further expenditures that were not consistent with his views.
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