June 9, 2004
Ex-C.I.A. Aides Say Iraq Leader Helped Agency in 90's Attacks
By JOEL BRINKLEY
WASHINGTON, June 8 â?? Iyad Allawi, now the designated prime minister of Iraq, ran an exile organization intent on deposing Saddam Hussein that sent agents into Baghdad in the early 1990's to plant bombs and sabotage government facilities under the direction of the C.I.A., several former intelligence officials say.
Dr. Allawi's group, the Iraqi National Accord, used car bombs and other explosive devices smuggled into Baghdad from northern Iraq, the officials said. Evaluations of the effectiveness of the bombing campaign varied, although the former officials interviewed agreed that it never threatened Saddam Hussein's rule.
No public records of the bombing campaign exist, and the former officials said their recollections were in many cases sketchy, and in some cases contradictory. They could not even recall exactly when it occurred, though the interviews made it clear it was between 1992 and 1995.
The Iraqi government at the time claimed that the bombs, including one it said exploded in a movie theater, resulted in many civilian casualties. But whether the bombings actually killed any civilians could not be confirmed because, as a former C.I.A. official said, the United States had no significant intelligence sources in Iraq then.
One former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was based in the region, Robert Baer, recalled that a bombing during that period "blew up a school bus; schoolchildren were killed." Mr. Baer, a critic of the Iraq war, said he did not recall which resistance group might have set off that bomb.
Other former intelligence officials said Dr. Allawi's organization was the only resistance group involved in bombings and sabotage at that time.
But one former senior intelligence official recalled that "bombs were going off to no great effect."
"I don't recall very much killing of anyone," the official said.
When Dr. Allawi was picked as interim prime minister last week, he said his first priority would be to improve the security situation by stopping bombings and other insurgent attacks in Iraq â?? an idea several former officials familiar with his past said they found "ironic."
"Send a thief to catch a thief," said Kenneth Pollack, who was an Iran-Iraq military analyst for the C.I.A. during the early 1990's and recalled the sabotage campaign.
Dr. Allawi declined to respond to repeated requests for comment, made Monday and Tuesday through his Washington representative, Patrick N. Theros. The former intelligence officials, while confirming C.I.A. involvement in the bombing campaign, would not say how, exactly, the agency had supported it.
An American intelligence officer who worked with Dr. Allawi in the early 1990's noted that "no one had any problem with sabotage in Baghdad back then," adding, "I don't think anyone could have known how things would turn out today."
Dr. Allawi was a favorite of the C.I.A. and other government agencies 10 years ago, largely because he served as a counterpoint to Ahmad Chalabi, a more prominent exile leader.
He "was highly regarded by those involved in Iraqi operations," Samuel R. Berger, who was national security adviser in the Clinton administration, said in an interview. "Unlike Chalabi, he was someone who was trusted by the regional governments. He was less flamboyant, less promotional."
The C.I.A. recruited Dr. Allawi in 1992, former intelligence officials said. At that time, the former senior intelligence official said, "what we were doing was dealing with anyone" in the Iraqi opposition "we could get our hands on." Mr. Chalabi began working with the agency in 1991, and the idea, the official added, was to "decrease the proportion of Chalabi's role in what we were doing by finding others to work with."
In 1991, Dr. Allawi was associated with a former Iraqi official, Salih Omar Ali al-Tikriti, whom the United States viewed as unsavory. He and Dr. Allawi founded the Iraqi National Accord in 1990. Both were former supporters of the Iraqi government.
Some intelligence officials have also suggested that Dr. Allawi, while he was still a member of the ruling Baath Party in the early 1970's, may have spied on Iraqi students studying in London. Mr. Tikriti was said to have supervised public hangings in Baghdad. The former officials said the C.I.A. would not work with Dr. Allawi until he severed his relationship with Mr. Tikriti, which he did in 1992.
Several intelligence officials said the agency's broad goal immediately after the Persian Gulf war in 1991 was to recruit opposition leaders who had senior contacts inside Iraq, something Dr. Allawi claimed. The Iraqi National Accord was made up of former senior Iraqi military and political leaders who had fled the country and were said to retain connections to colleagues inside the government.
"Iyad had contact with people the agency thought would be useful to us in the future," Mr. Pollack said. "He seemed to have ties to respected Sunni figures that no one else had." The Hussein government was dominated by Sunni Muslims.
The bombing and sabotage campaign, the former senior intelligence official said, "was a test more than anything else, to demonstrate capability."
Another former intelligence officer who was involved in Iraqi affairs recalled that the bombings "were an option we considered and used." Dr. Allawi's group was used, he added, "because Chalabi never had any sort of internal organization that could carry it out," adding, "We would never have asked him to carry out sabotage."
The varied assessments of the bombing campaign's effectiveness are understandable, the former senior intelligence official said, because "I would not attribute to the U.S. sufficient intelligence resources then so that we could perceive if an effective bombing campaign was under way."
Dr. Allawi is not believed to have ever spoken in public about the bombing campaign. But one Iraqi National Accord officer did. In 1996, Amneh al-Khadami, who described himself as the chief bomb maker for the Iraqi National Accord and as being based in Sulaimaniya, in northern Iraq, recorded a videotape in which he talked of the bombing campaign and complained that he was being shortchanged money and supplies. Two former intelligence officers confirmed the existence of the videotape.
Mr. Khadami said that "we blew up a car, and we were supposed to get $2,000" but got only $1,000, according to an account in the British newspaper The Independent in 1997. The newspaper had obtained a copy of the tape.
Mr. Khadami, it added, also said he worried that the C.I.A. might view him as "too much the terrorist."