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38th Infantry Division

The Iraqi opposition enjoyed very limited military success against the Iraqi military in the 1990s. In fighting at Basra and Kirkuk in 1991, and at Irbil in 1996, the Iraqi army and Republican Guard crushed dug-in Kurdish, Shiite, and Iraqi National Congress [INC] troops. The only opposition success consisted of a large Kurdish force that pushed two brigades of the Iraqi 38th Infantry Division out of Irbil in 1995. According to one observer, this "came against the worst formation in the Iraqi army when that unit was demoralized, depleted, surprised, and without much armor or artillery support."

During March 2-15 1995, clashes were reported between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Iraqi forces, including tanks and artillery. Iraqi troops were accused of machine-gunning civilians. The Iraqi National Congress (INC) joined in the fighting against Iraq.

In the early 1990s the Iraqi National Congress began to build an army, and the CIA trained the Iraqi National Congress [INC] to coordinate the March 1995 attack. On the eve of the planned attack, the US withdrew support and the attack, launched with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK], failed. The leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), Massoud Barzani, did not go along with the attack and blocked some routes for the INC and PUK forces. Once the engagement began, the KDP took advantage of the absence of the PUK forces to attack Irbil, an important PUK-held city. The PUK then pulled out of the confrontation with the Iraqi army. The INC ran short of funds, and called a halt to the operation.

In response to persistent shelling and provocation by Iraqi armed forces, on 06 March 1995 Kurdish [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] and INC forces gained control over the artillery regiment of the 38th Division in the Gwer district (northwest of Erbil.) In this engagement, opposition forces captured eight 122mm artillery pieces and a large amount of light weapons and ammunition. Nearly 70 Iraqi soldiers and officers defected to the opposition side, including members of the 2nd and 3rd regiments of the 848th Brigade of 38th Division.

The initial skirmishing went surprisingly well, with few casualties on either side, as the Iraqi army did not fight. According to one account by Laurie Mylroie, "One Iraqi officer on the other side, General Najib Salhi, later explained that the INC operations had a major effect on the Iraqi army units facing it. They were ready to cooperate, hoping that the INC operations would continue. He and other Iraqi officers would have been able to assume control of their areas and they were extremely disappointed when the INC operations stooped."

On 06 March 1995 opposition forces took control over the 53rd artillery regiment (katiba) of the commando brigade located between Qrara-Hanjir and Chemchamal. The HQ of the artillery regiment and twenty bunkers were taken over. Sixteen 152mm artillery units, two anti-air machine-guns, 200 pieces of light weapons, communication equipment and a large amount of ammunition were captured. Reports speak of heavy casualties among the Iraqi armed forces. A number of soldiers and officers were taken prisoner.

On 14 March 1995 several Iraqi military positions in the Altun-Kopri sector, southwest of Erbil, were overran by Kurdish [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] and Iraqi National Congress (INC) forces. Positions of the first battalion (fawj) of the 130th brigade and six affiliated companies, including a commando unit, were overrun. Iraqi government forces sustained heavy casualties. More than 60 officers and soldiers surrendered to the opposition, including the commander of the battalion.

In March 1995, Gen. Najib al-Salhi was commander of the 27th mechanized brigade, 1st mechanized division -- opposite the Iraqi National Congress [INC] lines. He defected to the INC in November 1995. He defected later that year. The INC has long maintained that the offensive was successful and it was basically the Clinton administration's misplaced nervousness that obliged it to break it off. Salhi said that the INC "operation had a strong effect on the Iraqi army units. . . . Many battalions came across -- the 848/847/130th brigade of the 38th division. Also battalions from the 2nd division went over to the INC. And the headquarters of the 38th division fell to the INC." By early 2002 the CIA and State Department began aggressively courting exiled Iraqi generals in Europe and the United States whom they see as key to overthrowing President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Salhi is seen as a connection to senior officers who would prove important key to any overture to the Iraqi army.



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