These options are set out in a report written earlier this month by Richard Haass, the head of the Bush administration's interagency working group on Iraq policy. Haass recommended backing an uprising by a popular rebel group, while simultaneously recruiting and supporting high-ranking Iraqi military officers willing to oust Saddam's regime, according to administration officials who have seen Haass' memo and described its contents to UPI.
The ouster of Saddam Hussein is what the administration means by "regime change," one of the three areas of Bush's emerging Iraq policy, along with U.N. sanctions, and maintaining the no-fly zone to protect Kurdish northern Iraq and Shi'ite Muslim southern Iraq.
One State Department official told UPI: "There is support for regime change, but we want to work with a wide representation of Iraqis opposed to the government of Saddam Hussein. We know what hasn't worked, but we don't know what's possible. We don't know what a likely scenario is at this point."
Patrick Clawson, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's research director, said in an interview Friday, "If you are going to pursue a regime change, you ought to pursue a whole variety of regime change options rather than pick your favorite one and assume it will work."
The strategy is still in the development stage, according to administration officials. On April 25, in a "deputies' meeting," which included high-ranking CIA officials, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney's national security adviser, I. Lewis Libby, the draft was sent down for further revisions.
Haass' insurgency/coup proposal is a continuation of the Clinton strategy on Iraq. The Clinton administration pursued numerous unsuccessful coup plots against Saddam since 1992, while giving public symbolic support for the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group of Iraqi rebels.
The most embarrassing U.S.-backed coup attempt was in July 1996, when CIA operatives provided support for a group of Sunni defectors associated with the Iraqi military who promised to deliver Saddam through a military insurrection.
Iraqi intelligence agents used the CIA's own communications equipment to tell the agency that its insurrection had failed and that its plotters would be executed. It is now believed that the entire organization - the Iraqi National Accord, or the Wifaq movement - which received $6 million in 1995 from the United States, was infiltrated with double agents.
"This two-track approach is an old approach, this was used from the summer of 1994 to the summer of 1996," former CIA Iraq desk officer, Warren Marik told UPI in an interview Friday. Marik who now works on a volunteer basis with the Iraqi National Congress, said the 1996 coup attempt was "totally penetrated."
Haass' proposal however does not get specific about how to pursue a coup option, other than to say that it should be pursued for now to see if such a plan would eventually bare fruit. The memo also proposes that U.S. policy refrain from explicitly stating that its goal is to remove Saddam from power and makes the case that each day he remains in power is a failure for the new administration.
Haass' report revealed a new fault line in the young Bush administration's foreign policy team on Iraq. High-ranking Defense Department officials such as Wolfowitz and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - not to mention Cheney's national security team - are strong supporters of the Iraqi National Congress and particularly one of its leaders, Ahmad Chalabi.
But many State Department and CIA officials doubt the efficacy of Chalabi's plan to create a military opposition inside Iraq capable of defeating an attack by one of Saddam's armored brigades. Chalabi has argued that this approach would give military defectors inside Iraq a safe haven and lead Iraqi military commanders disloyal to Saddam to join the INC.
One problem for Chalabi, however, is the early resistance from Iraq's neighbors to an insurgency plan. The Jordanians, Syrians and Turks are wary of the INC. On April 11, Jordan's King Abdullah - perhaps the Arab leader most sympathetic to U.S. interests in the region - said: "When it comes to the opposition I don't see, I don't agree with the weight that has been put to it. … There is an attitude that they are a solution, I don't think they are."
But the Bush administration's supporters of Chalabi are undeterred. This month, the Pentagon appointed as its Iraq transition coordinator Randy Scheunemann, former national security adviser to Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss. and Bob Dole, R-Kan., and the author of the 1998 legislation authorizing $98 million in Pentagon aid for the Iraqi National Congress. In the Clinton administration, the Iraq transition coordinator's post was filled by the State Department.
Haass would not agree to an interview due to his pending confirmation hearing.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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