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Book says CIA tried to provoke Saddam to war

Julian Borger / London Guardian | September 7 2006

More than a year before the invasion of Iraq the CIA devised a plan, codenamed Anabasis, to use Iraqi exile fighters to seize an air base and declare a revolt against Saddam Hussein in the hope that his response would create a pretext for war, according to a book published tomorrow.

The plan was ultimately rejected by General Tommy Franks, who led the invasion in March 2003, but the CIA-backed fighters carried out sabotage operations and assassinations of Ba'athist officials in the run-up to the war, the book, called Hubris, reports.

Hubris, by investigative journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn, adds more weight to a body of evidence that the White House was determined to go to war from early 2002. Planning on Anabasis, which cost $400m (£210m), started at the end of 2001 and was approved by President Bush in February 2002. CIA agents entered Iraq to recruit volunteers two months later. Talking to his spokesman, Ari Fleischer, in May 2002, President Bush made clear his intentions towards Saddam when he said: "I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mid East," according to another press aide, Adam Levine, who witnessed the conversation.

The covert CIA preparations for war have been previously reported, but this is the first time details of the plan have been made public. According to the book, the CIA flew 80 former Iraqi soldiers into the US in the summer of 2002, and trained them at an energy department nuclear test site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

They rehearsed seizing an Iraqi airbase at Nukhaib, near the Saudi border, and broadcasting a call to Iraqi units to join a revolt against Saddam. The CIA expected Saddam to strike back and violate the no-fly zone, creating a pretext for US-British military intervention. "The idea was to create an incident in which Saddam lashes out," John Maguire, a CIA agent who ran the operation told the authors, adding that if the plan worked "you'd have a premise for war: we've been invited in".

The CIA-trained fighters were flown to Jordan in January 2003 to wait for a green light which never came.


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