Neighbors, Not Friends: Iraq and Iran after the Gulf Wars

By Dilip Hiro | Go to book overview

4

THE MOTHER OF ALL FAILED COUPS

The idea of an anti-Saddam coup which mushroomed into the most ambitious, multi-national enterprise, coordinated by the CIA - to be staged in June 1996 - originated with a retired Iraqi general running an import-export business in Amman. He was Muhammad Abdullah al Shahwani, an ethnic Turkoman from Kirkuk, a former brigadier-general in the Republican Guard's helicopter force. In the autumn of 1994 he contacted Dr Iyad Muhammad Alawi, an Iraqi National Accord leader who had homes in Amman and London, with a plan. His three sons - Major Anmar al Shahwani, Captain Ayead al Shahwani and Lt. Atheer al Shahwani - serving in the RG wanted to organize an anti-Saddam coup. Their commitment to Baathism and active membership of the Baath Party had enabled them to enroll into the RG. But, as they did not yet enjoy high rank, they could solicit support among fellow-officers for their scheme without arousing the suspicion of any of the intelligence or security agencies. Alawi showed keen interest and alerted British Secret Intelligence Services, MI6, which passed on the information to the CIA. In due course it became the CIA's pet project. Indeed, in March 1995 it was this scheme that made US National Security Adviser Tony Lake withdraw the White House backing for the alternative Ahmad Chalabi-Wafiq al Samarrai plan. 1 The subsequent unilateral move by Chalabi, which failed, damaged his standing with the CIA, whose ardor for the INA project intensified against the background of continued rivalry between the INC and the INA, which would take a bloody turn several months later. 2 To impress its paymasters about its reach, from 1994 onwards the INA masterminded bomb blasts in the Iraqi capital and elsewhere. A bomb went off in a Baghdad cinema, killing many civilians. In early 1996 its chief explosions expert, Abu Amneh al Khadami, operating from Suleimaniya, dispatched a videotape to other opposition groups in which he complained about non-payment for the jobs he had performed. 3

By the time Gen. Hussein Kamil Hassan arrived in Amman in August, King Hussein was aware of the CIA-INA plan which also had the backing of the MI6 and the Saudi intelligence agency. During his visit to Washington in September, he was briefed by the CIA at its Langley, Virginia, headquarters. Here Steve Ritcher, former CIA station chief in Amman, had replaced Frank Anderson as

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