CIA Pushed Iraqi Opposition Out of Southern Town

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A local militia opposed to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein took control of the southeastern city of Amara on Sunday but a CIA officer told them to withdrew under threat of bombing, opposition officials said on Tuesday.

The militia of several thousand armed men, led by a man by the name of Abu Hatem Mohammed Ali, captured the headquarters of the governorate, 230 miles southeast of Baghdad, without support from U.S. forces, opposition leader Kanan Makiya told the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

He described Abu Hatem as a well-known guerrilla leader, a longtime contact of the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC) and a man known to the Pentagon.

"He was then told by a CIA officer whose name I do not know but who spoke perfect Arabic that he had to vacate that city ... He was threatened with bombing and strafing of the building, the compound he took over, so he decided it would be better to be wise and he did withdraw in fact," he added.

Makiya said the lesson of the incident was that U.S. forces should cooperate with local opposition forces instead of trying to do everything alone. "I bring it as a cautionary tale of where we can go wrong," he said.

An INC official in the Gulf said there had been a problem coordinating with the U.S. units in the field and with the INC leadership, which moved to the southern town of Nassiriya on Sunday under leader Ahmad Chalabi.

"Those guys (U.S. troops) are not used to dealing with Iraqis with arms who are their allies. It's a learning process," added the official, who asked not to be named.