Conflicting accounts of CIA and Saddam, 1959-1963
My posting last Saturday, For Whom the Bell Tolls: Top Ten Ways the US Enabled Saddam Hussein has elicited a very interesting account by a US government insider contesting the allegations about CIA-Saddam connections early in his life, specifically 1959-1963, and which denies CIA complicity in the first Baath coup of 1963 or the use of the Baath to destroy the Iraqi Communist Party.
The former official reports that Agency case officers in Cairo in 1960-1962 maintain that they never had heard of Saddam Hussein and that it was impossible that meetings should have been held with him without their knowledge. He says that he had looked into these allegations and had also contacted a number of Foreign Service Officers who were in the Cairo embassy at that time, and they also had no recollection of any contact with Saddam. (Another retired USG official who was in Cairo in this period also denied any such contacts, so I have it from two insider eyewitnesses.)
This source maintains that a national security official in Washington, DC, with Iraq oversight duties reports that he was called back to the office the evening of February 8, 1963, to find that the CIA chief of station in Baghdad was reporting that the Ba’this had overthrown and killed `Abd al-Karim Qasim and that “to convince the public of the demise of Qasim Iraqi TV showed a film of a Ba’thi officer holding up for view Qasim’s severed head.” This US government old-timer writes, “I assure you that the Ba’thi coup came as a TOTAL surprise to the US intelligence and diplomatic community . . . No one in the Washington community had ANY prior knowledge that this coup would take place, let alone having been involved in fomenting it . . .”
This source quotes an Agency case officer in Baghdad 1963 as saying that there was no connection whatsoever between the CIA Station and the Baath Party of Iraq “or with any element of the Iraqi government.” There were penetrations of the Party, “but no liaison with it. It did not happen. Nor was there any significant contact between the Ba’thi government and the Political Section of the Embassy or with the Ambassador.”
He writes, “In November 1963, civil war erupted between two factions of the Ba’thi Party of Iraq. [The civil war was, eerily, suspended for one day that month when leaders of the two factions laid down their arms and came to a US Embassy sponsored memorial ceremony for John F. Kennedy.] The losing faction, including leader Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, Air Force Commander Munthir al-Windawi, and, presumably, a junior Saddam Husayn, then fled the country, most going to Damascus. This faction returned to take power in 1968.”
I’m sorry to say that I cannot give more detail than this, but I would like to underline that the person I talked to is an eyewitness and insider, is not an apologist, and is about the best source a historian could hope for on this issue.