Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

Return to Iraq War index page

October 2, 2002

Iraq Believed Using Riverine Barges, Vessels, for WMD Storage, Development and Possible Launch

Exclusive. From GIS stations and sources. GIS sources and analysts believe that the Iraqi Government has for some time been using barges and other riverine craft for the storage of materials used in its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, including nuclear, biological and chemical raw materials, laboratories and technical facilities. It is believed also that Iraq has worked on the utilization of barges as mobile launch platforms for medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs). It is believed that all of the navigable areas of the Tigris-Euphrates river systems would have been considered as launch points or discreet storage and/or laboratory sites.

It is also probable that some barge-stored ballistic missiles and warheads would be moved rapidly onto land in the event of hostilities, for movement further West, for launch against Israel. Already, key elements of the Iraqi Armed Forces — gathered into the al-Quds [Jerusalem] brigades — are deployed in the extreme West, optimally poised for operations against Israel in the area of the Golan Heights.

As noted earlier by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, Iraq also has an extensive WMD development program — particularly with regard to the bulkier items of the programs, such as the NoDong-1 MRBMs — in Libya, where 20,000 Iraqi scientists, engineers, technicians and teachers are working with Libyans on sensitive weapons and related projects.

GIS is aware that at least one Iraqi naval officer was high on the list of authors of the employment doctrine for Iraqi chemical and biological weapons. Iraq has virtually no navy, but the Navy does have control over river and canal barge traffic inside as well immediately off the coast of Iraq. Barge-launched ballistic systems could be used against targets in the Persian Gulf region, including Kuwait, or against other targets, in, for example, Turkey.

As well, the rôle of the Iraqi Navy is believed to be key to the Iraqi WMD program, given the need to move NoDong-1s from Libya to Iraq prior to hostilities. Some of this movement has almost certainly already occurred, although a significant number of the missiles remain visible and operational in Libya itself, as noted earlier by GIS.

Meanwhile, the latest edition of The New Republic magazine, a US publication, said that holdover employees from the Administration of former Pres. William Clinton still running the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had dismissed the best evidence that Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein had a rôle in planning the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US because they distrusted accounts from multiple Iraqi defectors who had described an aircraft hijacking training school attended by al-Qaida members near Baghdad.

According to the report: “two former Iraqi intelligence officers” brought to the CIA by the Iraqi opposition group the Iraqi National Congress (INC) had provided classified testimony claiming “that Saddam was using a base south of Baghdad, in an agricultural community called Salman Pak, to train non-Iraqi Arabs in hijacking and other black arts of terrorism”. According to the publication, the CIA remained unconvinced, even at this point. The CIA had for some time dismissed intelligence coming from INC sources, going “back to Clinton-era efforts to topple Saddam”, the magazine said, when agency officials began to suspect that an INC leader had undermined a planned coup against Saddam because it was spearheaded by a rival dissident group. Still, despite the CIA’s refusal to accept the intelligence reporting on Salman Pak, key Bush Administration policymakers, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, were reported to be taking the defectors’ accounts seriously. Some significant Bush Administration advisors, such as Defense Policy advisor Richard Perle, have long built up trusting relations with INC leaders.

The evidence of a Salman Pak link to the September 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks included:

Reports that the CIA refuses to take the Salman Pak story seriously are not new. Six weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Newsweek magazine noted: “When anti-Saddam Iraqis told US officials as recently as two weeks ago of a defector with information about 'terrorist training' operations at Salman Pak, the CIA officer on the case was openly dismissive.” Former CIA Director James Woolsey, a Salman Pak believer, has complained openly about the agency’s disdain for INC-supplied intelligence. As a private citizen, Woolsey worked to bring one of the Salman Pak defectors to the attention of CIA officials. But he said that the agency’s interrogation of his Salman Pak source was a joke. “Their principal interest seemed to be not his links to al-Qaida but what his ties were to the INC,” Woolsey told The New Republic.

The New Republic story confirms reports which GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs have been receiving about the Bush White House’s distrust of the CIA’s reliability as a source of intelligence. Many inside the US intelligence community were surprised, and relieved, when, immediately after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the President did not immediately purge the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and some other intelligence community bodies. Pres. George W. Bush’s apparent support for Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Tenet was seen as a sign to return to “business as usual”, which has turned out to be a very incorrect interpretation of the President’s message to the community. White House sources have told GIS that the President felt that it was not the time — in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001 — to be divisive, but rather to try to rebuild morale in the CIA and FBI. However, under George Tenet, morale at the CIA has continued to plummet, according to reliable sources, and Clinton Administration supporters within the CIA have remained in place.

Now, however, Pres. Bush has begun moving to circumvent the CIA, no longer trusting its advice on key matters. It was considered likely that George Tenet would be replaced as DCI Tenet after the November 2002 US Congressional elections. It was likely that changes at the CIA would, in fact, run much deeper even than that, and changes would also be made within the FBI, under the guise of reorganization for the new Department of Homeland Security.

Director Tenet  in April 2002 told US Congressional hearings that the September 11, 2001, attacks had nothing whatsoever to do with any intelligence lapses at the CIA, an assertion which ran counter to Defense & Foreign Affairs assessments following the attacks. In an article entitled What Constitutes Intelligence Failure?, by Editor Gregory Copley, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy 9-2001, it was noted: “[I]t was a failure of intelligence.” The report also noted: “Specific knowledge of the targets and the intentions of the terrorists were known, and had been reported since at least 1993. The terrorist network ... had been steadily escalating the scale of its attacks, with the bombing of the two US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998, and the bombing of the USS Cole on October 12, 2000. Considerable information about bin Laden’s intention to engage in further ‘spectaculars’ was known and published openly.” 

What seems apparent is that the US Defense intelligence community has taken up much of the slack in intelligence reporting left by the CIA, even though much of the HUMINT (human intelligence) collection tasking had earlier been taken away from the military and given to the CIA. It seems likely that after the November 2002 elections this entire approach will be reconsidered. At present, however, the condition of the CIA has left a blind spot in US intelligence collections and analysis capabilities.

Meanwhile, technical collection methods, systems and organizations within the US intelligence community and among US allies have been focused heavily on preparing for possible conflict with Iraq.

The top priority for the Australian-US satellite ground station at Pine Gap, near Alice Springs in Central Australia, was, for example, recently shifted to intelligence gathering in Iraq, including target identification. The Pine Gap facility could directly transmit real-time information to operational commanders in the field during any fighting. This would include cruise missile targeting data and tactical targeting coordinates in a battlefield situation. Pine Gap is also part of the global sensor coverage, designed to detect ballistic missile launches, and could identify in real-time any Iraqi Scud, al-Hussein or NoDong launches.

The rôle of the Pine Gap facility, which is jointly operated by the US (National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and Central Intelligence Agency) and Australian intelligence communities, partners in the UKUSA Accords intelligence-sharing relationship, is one of the major Australian contributions to the US coalition against Iraq. Any Australian force commitments would be of a more symbolic nature, given the fact that Australia’s recent defense deployments abroad, including Afghanistan-related deployments, have run the Australian Defence Force (ADF) ragged. The Australian Government of Prime Minister John Howard, which had enormous public support for defense improvements when the ADF was deployed into East Timor following the 1999 collapse of Indonesian rule, has failed to take advantage of the situation, and has kept defense spending at 1.8 percent of GDP, well below the estimated 2.5 percent of GDP which all Australian defense analysts feel is necessary to sustain its force even in peacetime.

Now, the highly-professional ADF is running on fumes.

During the 1991 Gulf War, Israeli reports praised Australia for relaying Iraqi Scud missile launch warnings from the Nurrungar joint US-Australian facility in South Australia, but that task had now been assigned to Pine Gap. Pine Gap draws principally on three geo-stationary satellites over the Indian Ocean. Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill in August 2002 visited Pine Gap, which is one of the world's largest and most advanced satellite ground stations. On October 3, 2002, Senator Hill was due to be in Perth, Western Australia, the home of the élite Special Air Services (SAS) regiment, which has been undertaken much of the advanced special warfare fighting with the US in Afghanistan. It was likely that the SAS unit in Afghanistan would be switched to Iraq, in the event of a war, and a second SAS unit, now undergoing training, would be deployed to replace the current force in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Iraq moved on October 1, 2002, to attempt to ensure that Turkey would restrict US and Coalition use of NATO bases in Turkey from being used against Iraq. The NATO base at Incirlik, currently used by the US Air Force (USAF) and British Royal Air Force (RAF) against Iraqi targets under the post-1991 war rules, would be a principal staging post for air ops against Iraq.

The Iraq Government said on October 1, 2002, that Turkey would no longer consider it a friendly nation if US military aircraft used Turkish bases for a war against Baghdad. Turkish leaders renewed opposition to US military action against Iraq, but urged Baghdad to fully cooperate with UN arms inspectors in order to avoid a strike. Asked by reporters on October 1, 2002, if Turkey, a close Muslim ally of the US, would still be seen as a friendly neighbor if US planes used its airbases to attack Iraq, visiting Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz replied: “Absolutely not.

Tariq Aziz, who was speaking after meeting Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, said that “Turkey's interests will not allow it to let the US threaten a friendly and neighboring nation”. He said that he was “very much pleased” with his talks with Mr Ecevit. Indeed, the meeting was one of the last gestures which Prime Minister Ecevit could use to leverage US support for his collapsed Government. Mr Ecevit is known to be extremely angry that the US has not supported his efforts to allow Turkey to avoid a resolution of the Cyprus problem, and has insisted, along with the UN and EU, that Turkey end its illegal occupation of northern Cyprus before the end of 2002. The collapse of the Ecevit Government meant that Turkey would go to elections on November 3, 2002, with virtually no chance that Mr Ecevit could be re-elected. He had hoped that the possible war on Iraq could enable him, with the help of the Turkish General Staff, to invoke a constitutional clause allowing him to extend his government by a year.

The US has made it clear that while it supported moves to strengthen and reform the Turkish economy, it would not be blackmailed into enabling Mr Ecevit to remain in office. This was believed to be a significant factor in US moves to withhold a military strike on Iraq until after the US November Congressional elections.

Mr Ecevit reiterated his position in an interview published on October 1, 2002, in Hurriyet newspaper, noting: “Our position is that there is no need for a military operation against Iraq. We are saying this would severely harm Turkey.” Both Mr Ecevit and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who also met with Tariq Aziz, urged Iraq to refrain from steps that could prompt a US military response and destabilize the region.

Tariq Aziz arrived in Ankara on September 30, 2002. His trip coincided with a visit by US Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones, who met with Turkish officials to discuss Iraq.

In his interview with Hurriyet, Mr Ecevit accused the US of encouraging independence moves by the Iraqi Kurds, which, he said, worked against US efforts to win Turkey’s support against Iraq. In fact, GIS sources have reported that Mr Ecevit listed to the US as one of his conditions for support in the war against Iraq that the US bring about the break-up of Iraq, with the northern Kurdish portion going to Turkey. The US refused to consider the suggestion.

Turkish legislators voted on October 1, 2002, to recess Parliament until the early general election, but even this had been resisted by Mr Ecevit, who still had sought to postpone the poll. Parliament speaker Omer Izgi announced at the end of the October 1, 2002 ballot, which was conducted by show of hands, that 191 MPs had voted for the recess and 170 against. Some MPs seeking to postpone the elections greeted the announcement with cries of protest, saying the ballot was not properly conducted. They had wanted to keep the parliament in session to introduce a bill delaying the November poll. 

Those seeking to delay the election could still call for an extraordinary session of parliament, but observers suggested this would be difficult in the wake of the October 1, 2002, vote.