Bush, Tenet Meet Kurdish Leaders To Prepare For Iraq Attack

by DEBKAfile 8 June 2002


DEBKAfile’s sources in Washington and Jerusalem agree that the talks President George W. Bush is conducting with President Hosni Mubarak over the weekend at Camp David and his White House meeting next Monday, June 10, with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, are no more than time fillers for Washington to gather itself for the main US offensive against Iraq.

The promise of a presidential policy statement following those meetings is more of the same. Bush has nothing new to add to his Middle East vision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and his regular finger-shaking at Arafat for “not doing more” to stem Palestinian terror. As things stand now, even this remote “vision” sounds farfetched. The presidential conception of a free, democratic state whose back is turned on terrorism and corruption and is ruled by leaders other than Arafat is more like a mirage than a vision.

It, therefore, came as no surprise when DEBKAfile’s military and Middle East sources discovered that much of last week’s US diplomatic bustle and hustle around the Israel-Palestinian conflict was camouflage for a secret channel of activity that added another brick to America’s preparations for striking Iraq. CIA Director George Tenet, while on official business in Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah to reorganize Palestinian security forces for fighting terror, was secretly engaged on another mission: the setting up and training of a Kurdish military force to fight Saddam Hussein alongside the United States.

According to one report, this assignment took him on an undercover visit to the northern Jordanian town of Anah, close to the Jordanian-Iraqi-Syrian frontier junction, where he met three groups: the commanders of the advance US Special Forces units and CIA combat contingents, who have been in Iraq under cover since mid-March, Kurdish leaders and officers of the Israeli force stationed in Jordan. According to another source, Tenet actually crossed the Euphrates into northern Iraq, where he inspected the Abu Arazi Oasis, one of the training installations for Kurdish recruits.

The Kurdish leaders he met, Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Masoud Barazani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), are old foes who have come together to join the American military operation for unseating Saddam Hussein.

Their price, according to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources, was a personal guarantee from the U.S. president that America would use all its military might to protect the Kurdish tribes of North Iraq against Iraqi military punishment before, during and after the US campaign, so that the tragic events of 1996 are never repeated. Eight years ago, when CIA forces first tried to assemble a Kurdish army against Saddam, Kurdish renegades betrayed the operation to Iraqi military intelligence, passing enough information for Iraqi forces to wipe out the CIA training camps and bases in northern Iraq. President Bill Clinton ordered US intelligence officers to exit Iraq forthwith, leaving the Kurds to their fate. Iraqi tank columns massacred some three to four thousand Kurdish fighters, while several hundred escaped into Turkey, who handed them over to the Americans. Until recently, the Kurdish refugees in the US were denied any status; some were even indicted on charges of collaboration with Iraq.

Last week, on the recommendation of the CIA director, President Bush and other top US officials, including defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, received the two Kurdish chieftains.

None of the American moves have been lost on Saddam Hussein. DEBKAfile’s military sources report he has responded by relocating around six elite divisions of his Republican guard in the north and west, unwillingly tipping his hand on the Iraqi defense plan against a potential US-Kurdish-Turkish offensive coming from the north.

Dividing those divisions into two armies, the Iraqi command moved one out of Kirkuk and stationed it along the Lesser Zab River that washes down from the mountains dividing Iraq from Iran into the Tigris. The second army is disposed in western Iraq along the Tharthar Wadi, 90 km northwest of Baghdad. This deployment indicates that Saddam expects the deep Kurdish push towards Baghdad to be part of a wholesale thrust of American, Jordanian or Israeli tank forces, accompanied by a US air and missile bombardment.

Iraq’s military movements this week were the cue for the Jordanian army to go into a state of battle preparedness and spread out along the Iraqi frontier. Jordanian King Abdullah paid an unscheduled trip to the Saudi Red Sea town of Jeddah on Wednesday, June 5. Although the visit was officially related to “diplomatic efforts to ease Israeli-Palestinian tensions”, the Jordanian monarch is reported by DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources as petitioning the Saudi crown prince for support against Iraq.

All these maneuvers are still in progress. DEBKAfile’s military sources predict their accompaniment by escalating Palestinian terrorist assaults against Israel. Yasser Arafat will do all he can to back up Saddam’s military moves and impede American efforts to unseat him. He knows that if the Iraqi ruler is weakened or finished, the Arafat regime will go the same way. His Baghdad-Tehran-Riyadh-Damascus-Hizballah support-and-supply group is a vital element for his survival. Palestinian terrorists rely heavily on Iraq for arms, particularly explosives, which Iraqi military intelligence smuggles through Jordan to Syria, where its is relayed by Syrian military intelligence, the Hizballah and Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP couriers to destination.

In the light of this fresh impetus in war preparations against Iraq, Mubarak and Sharon will not be surprised to find that their talks with the US president and their peace plans are not the most important item of business in the US capital.