by Patrick Seale
A shadowy Pentagon unit -- the Office of Special Plans, headed by Douglas Feith, former U.S. Under Secretary of Defence for Policy -- deliberately fabricated intelligence linking Saddam Hussein’s regime to al-Qaida in order to incite the United States to make war on Iraq.
This conclusion, long suspected by most observers of the Middle East, has now been confirmed by Thomas F. Gimble, Inspector General of the U.S. Defence Department, in a declassified report, released on April 5, at the request of Senator Carl M. Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Together with his boss, Paul Wolfowitz, then Deputy Defence Secretary, Douglas Feith was one of an influential group of pro-Israeli neo-conservatives in the Bush administration who exploited the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the U.S. to campaign and intrigue for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
According to the Inspector General’s report, Feith produced intelligence assessments which claimed that there was a "mature, symbiotic relationship [between Iraq and al-Qaida]" in no fewer than ten specific areas, including training, financing and logistics. To bolster his case, Feith made much of an alleged meeting in Prague in April 2001 between Muhammad Atta, one of the Al-Qaida hijackers, and an Iraqi intelligence officer, Ahmad al-Ani.
To mobilize the American public for an attack on Iraq, Feith leaked his fraudulent conclusions to the Weekly Standard, the neo-con magazine which, under its editor William Kristol, had been stridently calling for "regime change" in Iraq since the late 1990s -- and which has now turned its attention to calling for war against Iran.
After a thorough examination of the evidence, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) both concluded that Feith was wrong. They found "no conclusive signs" of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida and no evidence of "direct cooperation."
But Feith was not deterred. Instead, he did his best to discredit the CIA and DIA findings and, bypassing the intelligence community, he presented his phoney evidence as fact to another prominent neo-con, I. Lewis Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and to Deputy National Security Director Steven Hadley. In due course, by means of complicities in the Administration, Feith’s dubious material was passed up to President Bush and Vice-President Cheney who used it in speeches preparing the public for war in March 2003. The intrigue was successful.
Senator Carl Levin said in a written statement last week that the Defence Department’s report fully demonstrated why the Inspector General had concluded that Douglas Feith had "inappropriately" written intelligence assessments before the March 2003 invasion alleging connections between Iraq and al-Qaida. The word inappropriately is hardly a precise description of Feith’s criminal behaviour.
As is now plain for everyone to see, the war has been an unmitigated disaster for the United States, for Iraq, and for the whole Middle East. But it is only now, four years after the American seizure of Baghdad, that an official report has clearly pointed the finger at the men largely responsible.
Why did Feith and his neo-con associates do it? And how did they manage to get away with it?
Clearly, in pressing for war, they were primarily concerned to enhance Israel’s security by smashing a major Arab state, thereby removing any potential threat to Israel from the east. As they schemed to transform the region with America’s military power, they dreamed of defeating all of Israel’s enemies -- Arab nationalists, Islamic radicals and Palestinian militants -- at a single stroke. Overthrowing Saddam was to be only the first step in a thorough transformation of the region to the advantage of both Israel and the United States.
In the event, the United States has suffered a devastating blow to its political influence and moral authority, as well as to its finances and to the fighting ability of its armed services, while Israel, confronted by a resurgent Iran, is itself less secure than before the war.
The reckless enterprise of Feith and his fellow neo-cons would probably have had little chance of success had they not managed to team up with men like Dick Cheney and former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who were evidently seduced by the prospect of taking control of Iraq’s oil reserves, second-largest in the world after Saudi Arabia’s, and of turning a submissive Iraqi client state into a base for the projection of American power throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.
President George W. Bush himself bought their agenda -- a decision he must now bitterly regret, as he and his advisers seek desperately to find a way out of the Iraqi quagmire.
In retrospect, the campaign by Israel and its American friends to push the United States into war with Iraq must be judged one of the most audacious sabotage operations of the Arab world ever mounted.
Israel has a long history of seeking to destabilise its neighbours in the belief that a weak and divided Arab world is to its advantage. Over the years, it has sent funds, weapons and military instructors to stiffen the southern Sudanese in their long war against Khartoum and has provided even greater support to the Kurds against Baghdad.
Its repeated invasions of Lebanon -- in 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996 and 2006 -- have been designed to wrest that country out of Syria’s sphere of influence and bring to power in Beirut a government prepared to do Israel’s bidding. In the Occupied Territories it has sought to destroy Palestinian resistance not only by boycotts, military strikes and a systematic campaign of murder of Palestinian activists, but also by setting one Palestinian faction against another, notably Islamists against nationalists.
But for sheer daring, the intrigue which carried the U.S. into war against Iraq can best be compared to the Iran-Contra Scandal of the mid-1980s.
It will be recalled that Israel started sending American weapons secretly to Iran from the start of the Iraq-Iran war in 1980, even while American hostages were held captive in Tehran and in infringement of the arms embargoes imposed by both the Carter and Reagan Administrations.
Israel’s interest was to fuel the war so as to rule out any possibility that Iraq might turn westwards and combine its military power with that of Syria. Selling arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was then fighting for its survival, was a way to weaken two potential enemies -- Iran and Iraq. It was also highly profitable for Israel’s arms dealers.
To persuade Washington to turn a blind eye to this arms trade, Israel came up with an ingenious idea. It proposed overcharging Iran for the American weapons it was secretly supplying and diverting the profits to the Nicaraguan Contras. The Americans fell for it. They had been looking for ways to support the Contras after Congress had cut off funding.
On 17 January 1986, President Reagan signed a Finding which formally re-launched the clandestine arms programme. Israel’s arms sales to Iran were freed from all constraint. But the exposure of what was to become known as Irangate crippled the last years of the Reagan Administration, much as Bush’s last years have now been crippled by the Iraq war.
Can Israel now be persuaded to seek its long-term security by means of good neighbourly relations with the Arabs rather than by spreading mayhem among them?
The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, re-launched at the recent Arab Summit in Riyadh -- which offers Israel peace and normal relations with all 22 members of the Arab League if it withdraws to its 1967 borders -- could perhaps be seen as an invitation to Israel to play a constructive rather than a destructive role in the region.
The Arab message to Israel seems to be this: "Stop being the bad boy on the block. Let’s put war behind us and cooperate for a better future." But Israel’s interventionist instincts are so deeply ingrained that it would take something of a revolution in its military and security thinking for it to seize the opportunity now being presented to it.
Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.
Copyright © 2007 Patrick Seale
Released: 11 April 2007
Word Count: 1,325
Advisory Release: 11 April 2007
Word Count: 1,325
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