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Before the War, CIA Reportedly Trained a Team of Iraqis to Aid U.S. By Dana Priest and Josh White Washington Post Staff Writers Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Before the war in Iraq began, the CIA recruited and trained an Iraqi paramilitary group, code-named the Scorpions, to foment rebellion, conduct sabotage, and help CIA paramilitaries who entered Baghdad and other cities target buildings and individuals, according to three current and former intelligence officials with knowledge of the unit.

The CIA spent millions of dollars on the Scorpions, whose existence has not been previously disclosed, even giving them former Soviet Hind helicopters. But most of the unit's prewar missions -- spray-painting graffiti on walls; cutting electricity; "sowing confusion," as one said -- were delayed or canceled because of poor training or planning, said officials briefed on the unit. The speed of the invasion negated the need for most of their missions, others said.

After Baghdad fell, the CIA used the Scorpions to try to infiltrate the insurgency, to help out in interrogations, and, from time to time, to do "the dirty work," as one intelligence official put it.

In one case, members of the unit, wearing masks and carrying clubs and pipes, beat up an Iraqi general in the presence of CIA and military personnel, according to investigative documents reviewed by The Washington Post and according to several defense and intelligence officials.

Post inquiries about the case prompted the CIA to brief the House and Senate intelligence committees on the unit, said several members of Congress and two defense officials.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, asked if he was satisfied with the information he received on the unit, said, "Yes -- if it existed." But he added: "We're not spending a lot of time going back and dissecting tactical programs."

CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise declined to comment on the unit. Defense Department spokesmen referred comments on the unit to the CIA. All former and current government officials interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the classified nature of the Scorpions.

Authorized by a presidential finding signed by President Bush in February or March 2002, the Scorpions were part of a policy of "regime change" in Iraq. The covert members, many of whom were exiles recruited by the Kurds, were trained in target identification, explosives and small arms at two secret bases in Jordan, according to one U.S. government official.

They were sent surreptitiously into Iraq before the war and were in cities such as Baghdad, Fallujah and Qaim to give the impression that a rebellion was underway and to conduct light sabotage, according to the two defense sources and the three former and current intelligence officials.

"They painted X's [for targeting] on buildings and things like that," said one former intelligence officer.

After the initial combat phase of the war, the CIA used the paramilitary units as translators and to fetch supplies and retrieve informants in an increasingly dangerous Iraq where CIA officers largely stayed within the protected Green Zone, according to the officials.

CIA control over the unit became weaker as chaos grew in Iraq. "Even though they were set up by us, they weren't well supervised," said an intelligence official.

"At some point, and it's not really clear how this happened, they started being used in interrogations . . . because they spoke the local dialect" and were caught roughing up detainees, Curtis E. Ryan, an Army investigator, told a military court in Colorado where four soldiers are charged in connection with the death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush in 2003.

Many of the paramilitaries did not speak English. When they entered Iraq after the invasion, because they wore civilian clothes and traveled in civilian vehicles, the Scorpion teams were often mistaken for insurgents. On a couple of occasions, U.S. soldiers unknowingly tracked the teams as insurgents and focused on their official safe houses as possible targets until they were discovered to be working with U.S. officials.


The Scorpions (Iraq War) were a covert action force, organized by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), part of a larger program to induce regime change, with the CIA cryptonym DBANABASIS. The overall program was approved by George W. Bush on February 16, 2002.[1] They were one of several underground groups supported by the U.S. Their name came from a former Iraqi special forces unit called Scorpion 77 Alpha.

Initially, they were trained in Nevada,[2] with final training and staging in Jordan. [3] They were distinct from Kurdish resistance elements supported by the CIA, and from the Free Iraqi Forces organized by the U.S. Department of Defense. [4]

Preparation

Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet wrote that Gen. Mohammed Abdullah Shawani had helped create and lead the group. [5] James Risen said Tenet's suggestion that they were heroic was a "crock of s***". It was never expected to achieve regime change by itself, but to destabilize Iraq prior to military action, a point about which both Tenet [6] and Risen agreed.

They were made up of Sunnis from Central Iraq, distinct from the Kurdish underground, the peshmerga, but the plan was to infiltrate them into Iraq from Turkey. Turkey had not given permission. They were also distinct from Ahmed Chalabi's organization. CIA officer Mike Tucker wrote that they were not capable of operations, many had criminal or medical problems, and they were motivated by money.[7]

Prewar mission

According to the Washington Post, most of its missions: "spray-painting graffiti on walls; cutting electricity; 'sowing confusion,' as one said -- were delayed or canceled because of poor training or planning, said officials briefed on the unit. The speed of the invasion negated the need for most of their missions, others said." [3] They were sent surreptitiously into Iraq before the war and were in cities such as Baghdad, Fallujah and Qaim to give the impression that a rebellion was underway and to conduct light sabotage, according to the two defense sources and the three former and current intelligence officials.

Maguire described a more ambitious objective: seizing an Iraqi base, Nukhaib, near the Saudi border, and calling a coup. The expected response from Saddam Hussein would be to send troops, violating the southern no-fly zone and giving the U.S. a casus belli to attack.[8]

Postwar

Once Baghdad fell to conventional forces, the CIA used them as translators, to escort human assets, and deliver supplies outside the protected Green Zone U.S. government complex. CIA control, however, weakened with the increasingly confused situation in Iraq. "Even though they were set up by us, they weren't well supervised," said an intelligence official.[3] They were used in interrogations, although the CIA tried to block mention in their existence in a trial relating to the death of an Iraqi prisoner. [9]

"At some point, and it's not really clear how this happened, they started being used in interrogations . . . because they spoke the local dialect" according Curtis E. Ryan, an Army investigator, investigating the unapproved interrogation of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush in 2003. [10] in which Mowhoush died; his death was ruled a homicide.


In 2002, the CIA set up a small and secret army of Iraqi Commandos at a training site located in the Energy Department's Nuclear Test Site, a vast tract of desert northwest of Las Vegas. They had their own rallying cry: 'Back to Baghdad.'

The initial plan was that the Commados - who called themselves Scorpions 77 Alpha - would seize control of an Iraqi base near the Saudi border, declare a coup calling on Iraqi units to join them, and thereby promt Saddam to retaliate. An act that would require him to violate the no-fly zone. The United States and Britain would then have a reason to attack Saddam's forces, and the war would be on.


At the request of CIA director George Tenet, veteran CIA agents Luis (his full name has not been disclosed) and John Maguire devise a covert plan to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein. Under the plan, code-named Anabasis, the CIA would send a team of paramilitary CIA officers to recruit disloyal Iraqi officers by offering them large chunks of cash. The CIA would conduct a disinformation campaign aimed at making Hussein believe that there was growing internal dissent. Hussein would become increasingly paranoid and eventually implement a repressive internal security policy, mostly likely involving the executions of suspected disloyal officers. In addition, the plan calls for “direct action operations” (understood to be a euphemism for the assassinations of key regime officials); disrupting the government’s finances and supply networks; and conducting sabotage operations, such as the blowing up of railroads and communications towers. Finally, the plan includes creating a casus belli for an open military confrontation between the US and Iraq. The US would transport a group of exiles to Iraq, where they would take over an Iraqi base close to the Saudi border. When Hussein flies his troops south to handle the insurrection, the US would shoot his aircraft down under the guise of enforcing the US-imposed “no-fly” zone. The confrontation would then be used as a pretext for full-scale war. “The idea was to create an incident in which Saddam lashes out,” Maguire later recalls. If the plan worked the US “would have a premise for war: we’ve been invited in.” Implementing the plan would cost an estimated $400 million.


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