|FBI Probed Alleged CIA Plot to Kill Saddam|
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The FBI conducted a secret investigation of Central Intelligence Agency officials on charges of attempting to murder Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1995, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
Quoting U.S. intelligence sources, the newspaper said the officers were eventually cleared of the charges but the probe had a "chilling effect on the CIA's ability to conduct covert action operations against Iraq."
The newspaper said the plot to kill the Iraqi leader was purportedly designed to coincide with a military offensive against the Iraqi government by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a CIA-backed dissident group in northern Iraq.
"The story behind the FBI's criminal probe of the CIA's covert action program in northern Iraq is a complex tale of bitter rivalries, plots and counterplots," it said.
"It has its roots in a botched military offensive against the Iraqi army launched by the CIA-backed Iraqi National Congress in early 1995."
The INC was funded and backed by the CIA as an umbrella group to bring together rival Kurdish factions and other dissidents.
The Times said Wafiz Samarrai, a former chief of Iraqi military intelligence who defected to the INC, told the CIA of a plot to kill Saddam.
Samarrai allegedly said that about 20 people loyal to him would ambush Saddam when he was traveling through Samarrai's hometown of Samarra.
However, CIA headquarters flatly turned down the plan and ordered the team in the field not to discuss it further, the Los Angeles Times said. The assassination attempt was never carried out.
The newspaper said five CIA officers allegedly involved in the covert operation were given polygraph tests. They were told they were under investigation on the federal criminal charge of crossing state lines to attempt to kill the Iraqi leader, the article said.
According to a document obtained by the Times, the FBI quietly dropped the case in 1996 and the Justice Department decided in April of that year not to prosecute the CIA officers.
"Ultimately CIA and FBI officials realized that the investigation had been prompted by misleading information about CIA activities in northern Iraq that was being spread in the the region, allegedly by Iraqi dissident leaders unhappy with the Clinton administration's reluctance to take a more aggressive approach to toppling Saddam," the article said.
CIA officers told the newspaper that Iranian intelligence officers had also spread inaccurate reports about the CIA's actions in the region -- reports that reached Washington.
The Times said both the FBI and CIA refused to comment on the allegations.
In August 1996, the article said, the remnant of the CIA's covert action program in northern Iraq was crushed by the Iraqi army. A second CIA covert action program designed to attract and recruit Iraqi officers to foment a military coup had been destroyed by Saddam in June 1996.
The Los Angeles Times said that CIA program, operated with the British intelligence service MI-6, was based in Jordan using a front group called the Iraqi National Accord.
Through the Iraqi National Accord covert program, the CIA was allegedly authorized by the White house to distribute explosives to agents inside Iraq to blow up power pylons and other elements of Iraq's infrastructure.
Quoting CIA sources, the newspaper said this second covert program was penetrated by Iraqi double agents who betrayed the Iraqi military officers who had worked with the U.S. and British intelligence services.
The newspaper said Saddam executed at least 100 military officers and others who had cooperated with the American and the British intelligence agencies. As a result, by the end of 1996, both of the CIA's covert programs against Iraq had been decimated.
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