Iraqi National Congress

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The Iraqi National Congress (INC) was created at the behest of the U.S. government for the purpose of fomenting the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The INC has been funded since 1992. An unnamed INC offical told the New York Times in 2004 that INC had received $27 million in the last four years. [1].

In May 1991, following the end of Operation Desert Storm, then-President George H.W. Bush signed a presidential finding directing the CIA to create the conditions for Hussein's removal. The hope was that members of the Iraqi military would turn on Hussein and stage a military coup. The CIA did not have the mechanisms in place to make that happen, so they hired the Rendon Group, a PR firm run by John Rendon, to run a covert anti-Saddam propaganda campaign.

"The Iraqi National Congress, and its most famous spokesperson Ahmad Chalabi, are entirely the creation of a media strategy company (Rendon Group) doing the bidding of the United States government." [2]

Rendon's postwar work involved producing videos and radio skits ridiculing Hussein, a traveling photo exhibit of Iraqi atrocities, and radio scripts calling on Iraqi army officers to defect. ClandestineRadio.com, a website that monitors underground and anti-government radio stations in countries throughout the world, also credits the Rendon Group with "designing and supervising" the Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and Radio Hurriah, which began broadcasting Iraqi opposition propaganda in January 1992 from a US government transmitter in Kuwait.[3] According to a September 1996 article in Time magazine, six CIA case officers supervised the IBC's 11 hours of daily programming and Iraqi National Congress activities in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Arbil.[4]

A February 1998 report by Peter Jennings cited records obtained by ABC News which showed that the Rendon Group spent more than $23 million dollars in the first year of its contract with the CIA. According to ABC, Rendon came up with the name for the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition coalition of 19 Iraqi and Kurdish organizations whose main tasks were to "gather information, distribute propaganda and recruit dissidents." ABC also reported that the INC received $12 million of covert CIA funding between 1992 and 1996.[5]

The INC represented the first major attempt by opponents of Saddam to join forces, bringing together Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs (both Islamic fundamentalist and secular), as well as democrats, nationalists and ex-military officers.[6]. In June 1992, nearly 200 delegates from dozens of opposition groups met in Vienna, along with Iraq's two main Kurdish militias, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

In October 1992, the major Shiite groups came into the coalition and the INC held a pivotal meeting in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, choosing a three-man Leadership Council and a 26-member executive council. The three leaders included moderate Shiite Muslim cleric Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum; ex-Iraqi general Hasan Naqib; and Masud Barzani. Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Iraqi Shiite Muslim and mathematician by training, joined the group. Chalabi had previously served as chairman of the Petra Bank in Jordan, where he engaged in various cloak-and-dagger operations that ended abruptly in August 1989 when he fled the country "under mysterious circumstances" and was convicted in absentia for embezzlement, fraud and currency-trading irregularities.[7]

The INC's political platform promised "human rights and rule of law within a constitutional, democratic, and pluralistic Iraq"; preservation of Iraq's territorial integrity, and complete compliance with international law, including U.N. resolutions relating to Iraq. However, many observers noted that the INC might not act as a democratic body if it came to power, because most of its groups have an authoritarian internal structure.[8]

Differences within the INC eventually led to its virtual collapse. In May 1994, the two main Kurdish parties began fighting with each other over territory and other issues. As a result of the growing difficulties within the INC, the United States began seeking out other opponents who could threaten the Iraqi regime, such as the Iraqi National Accord (INA), headed by Iyad Alawi. The rivalries between the Kurdish parties prompted the KDP to seek armed support from Saddam Hussein for its capture of the town of Arbil from the rival PUK. Iraq took advantage of the request by launching a military strike in which 200 oppositions were executed and as many as 2,000 arrested. Six hundred fifty oppositionists (mostly INC) were evacuated and resettled in the United States under the parole authority of the US Attorney General.

The lNC was subsequently plagued by the dissociation of many of its constituent groups from the INC umbrella, a cutoff of funds from its international backers (including the United States), and continued pressure from Iraqi intelligence services. In 1998, however, the U.S. Congress authorized $97 million in U.S. military aid for Iraqi opposition via the Iraq Liberation Act, intended primarily for the INC.[9]

In April 2001, the Iranian government allowed the INC to open US-funded offices in a plush northern suburb of Tehran. It marked the first time since the Iranian revolution in 1979 that Washington allowed government funds to be spent inside Iran, according to a December 2001 Guardian article.[10]

The same December 2001 article reported that the INC worked with General Wayne Downing, a Bush counter-terrorism adviser, on a plan for the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein that at the time was being considered by the US joint chiefs of staff. The state department, the CIA and some of the Pentagon's uniformed top brass were reportedly highly sceptical of the Downing-INC plan, which called for a force of about 5,000 INC fighters crossing into Iraq from Kuwait and seizing a deserted airbase near Basra. The action would tempt Saddam to send his crack Hammurabi tank division to the south, where it would be a sitting duck for US bombers, according to the plan. Former Central Command commander, General Anthony Zinni derided the plan at the "Bay of Goats," the Guardian writes.[11]

In March 2002, Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that "exile groups supported by the I.N.C. have been conducting sabotage operations inside Iraq, targeting oil refineries and other installations. The latest attack took place on January 23rd, an INC official told me, when missiles fired by what he termed 'indigenous dissidents' struck the large Baiji refinery complex, north of Baghdad, triggering a fire that blazed for more than twelve hours." However, Hersh added, "A dispute over Chalabi's potential usefulness preoccupies the bureaucracy, as the civilian leadership in the Pentagon continues to insist that only the INC can lead the opposition. At the same time, a former Administration official told me, 'Everybody but the Pentagon and the office of the Vice-President wants to ditch the INC.' The INC's critics note that Chalabi, despite years of effort and millions of dollars in American aid, is intensely unpopular today among many elements in Iraq. 'If Chalabi is the guy, there could be a civil war after Saddam's overthrow,' one former C.I.A. operative told me. A former high-level Pentagon official added, 'There are some things that a President can't order up, and an internal opposition is one.'"[12]

Notwithstanding these concerns, Hersh reported that "INC supporters in and around the Administration, including Paul Dundes Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, believe, like Chalabi, that any show of force would immediately trigger a revolt against Saddam within Iraq, and that it would quickly expand." In December 2002, Robert Dreyfuss reported that the administration of George W. Bush actually preferred INC-supplied analyses of Iraq over analyses provided by long-standing analysts within the CIA. "Even as it prepares for war against Iraq, the Pentagon is already engaged on a second front: its war against the Central Intelligence Agency.," he wrote. "The Pentagon is bringing relentless pressure to bear on the agency to produce intelligence reports more supportive of war with Iraq. ... Morale inside the U.S. national-security apparatus is said to be low, with career staffers feeling intimidated and pressured to justify the push for war."

Much of the pro-war faction's information came from the INC, even though "most Iraq hands with long experience in dealing with that country's tumultuous politics consider the INC's intelligence-gathering abilities to be nearly nil. ... The Pentagon's critics are appalled that intelligence provided by the INC might shape U.S. decisions about going to war against Baghdad. At the CIA and at the State Department, Ahmed Chalabi, the INC's leader, is viewed as the ineffectual head of a self-inflated and corrupt organization skilled at lobbying and public relations, but not much else."[13]

"The [INC's] intelligence isn't reliable at all," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior CIA official and counterterrorism expert. "Much of it is propaganda. Much of it is telling the Defense Department what they want to hear. And much of it is used to support Chalabi's own presidential ambitions. They make no distinction between intelligence and propaganda, using alleged informants and defectors who say what Chalabi wants them to say, [creating] cooked information that goes right into presidential and vice-presidential speeches."[14]

In February 2003, as the Bush administration neared the end of its preparations for war, an internal fight erupted over INC's plan to actually become the government of Iraq after the U.S. invasion. Chalabi wanted to "declare a provisional government when the war starts," a plan that "alienated some of Mr Chalabi's most enthusiastic backers in the Pentagon and in Congress, who fear the announcement of a provisional government made up of exiles would split anti-Saddam sentiment inside Iraq."[15]

A classified study prepared by the National Intelligence Council in early 2003 found that only one of Chalabi's defectors could be considered credible, The New Republic has learned. A more recent investigation undertaken by the DIA has found that practically all the intelligence provided by the INC was worthless. [16]

Despite this, it was revealed that in March 2004, the Pentagon continued to pay the INC $US340,000 a month for "intelligence collection".[17] "We're still getting good information from the INC ... There are a lot of insurgents that are doing bad things and they have a lot of contacts and [are] making better ones every day," an unnamed Pentagon official claimed.

Knight Ridder reported that the false INC intelligence fed to the US intelligence agencies was also distributed to news outlets in the United States, Britain and Australia. "A June 26, 2002, letter from the Iraqi National Congress to the Senate Appropriations Committee listed 108 articles based on information provided by the Iraqi National Congress's Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq ... The assertions in the articles reinforced President Bush's claims that Saddam Hussein should be ousted because he was in league with Osama bin Laden, was developing nuclear weapons and was hiding biological and chemical weapons," Knight Ridder reported.

In March 2004, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Carl Levin (D-MI) sent requested the General Accounting Office to investigate the INC's use of State Department money between 2001 and 2002. Newsweek reports, the issue under scrutiny is whether the INC violated its agreement with the State Department to not use U.S. fund for activities "associated with, or that could appear to be associated with, attempting to influence the policies of the United States Government or Congress or propagandizing the American people." [18]

The Senators' letter of March 3 found "troubling" the INC's use of money, pointing to the June 2002 memo to the Appropriations Committee and the "Information Collection Program." "Late last year Chalabi's Washington representative, Francis Brooke, told NEWSWEEK that State Department money had been used to finance the expenses of INC defectors who were sources for some of the listed news stories. Brooke said there were 'no restrictions' on the use of U.S. government funds to make such defectors available to the news media," Newsweek writes. But another INC spokesman told Newsweek in March 2004, "The INC paid some living and travel expenses of defectors with USG funds. None of these expenses was related to meeting journalists." The spokesman denied INC had violated any U.S. laws.[19]

Another potential violation of U.S. funding laws is a non-profit group set up by individuals who held senior positions with the INC called the Iraq Liberation Action Committee. The group, composed largely of Iraqi-Americans, was to lobby for U.S. action in Iraq. Knight Ridder reported in April 2004 that it "relied on private funds and was not subject to the same lobbying restrictions [as INC]. Even so, the formation of the group surprised and angered U.S. government officials, some of whom suspected it was an attempt to sidestep the lobbying restrictions."

Long-time INC representative and former Rendon Group employee Francis Brooke was listed as the group's principle founder, Knight Ridder reported. The group was "to work in support of United States and international efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq" and to help in "drafting resolutions, legislation and regulations" to advance democracy there.[20]

Estimates on the amount of funding the INC received from the U.S. government vary. One estimate was that between 1998-2003 it received $18 million.

In May 2004 an unnamed INC official told the New York Times that it had received $27 million in the last four years. [21] According to the report the U.S. government had decided that funding for the INC would end when its $355,000 per month contract for intelligence information expired on June 30, 2004.

In addition to the Rendon Group, the Burson-Marsteller PR firm has also provided public relations assistance to the INC.

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