U.S. and British intelligence agents funneled millions of dollars in cash payments to Iraqi tribal leaders before the war began to buy their loyalty and encourage uprisings against Saddam Hussein, according to sources in Kuwait and Washington.
The cash campaign, which has become the subject of intense discussion in the military and intelligence communities, reportedly channeled the funds to the tribal leaders through a network of Iraqi agents recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency and MI6, the British spy agency.
In a briefing before the war began, George Tenet, director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, told President George W. Bush that tribal sheiks in southern Iraq had taken CIA cash and promised to "be with us" when the fighting began.
"It makes all the sense in the world," said Carleton University professor Martin Rudner, an intelligence and security expert. "It is an absolutely classic tactic."
Prof. Rudner and others point out that the CIA employed identical techniques in Afghanistan, where they paid millions to tribal leaders who promised to help the United States in its fight against the Taliban regime. By all accounts, that program was at least a partial success, and helped accelerate the campaign. Up until now, efforts to buy the loyalty of Iraqi tribal leaders do not appear to have achieved similar results.
"There isn't much evidence that it's done anything at all," said Reg Whitaker, a University of Victoria professor who specializes in intelligence affairs. "They've paid out the money, but we're not seeing any uprisings against Saddam. If anything was going to happen, we'd have seen it by now."
The problems with the cash campaign were apparently anticipated by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who sounded a cautionary note at the prewar briefing with the President and the CIA director. When Mr. Tenet assured Mr. Bush that the sheiks would be onside, Mr. Rumsfeld reportedly said, "They are also probably telling Saddam they will be with him."
Prof. Whitaker and other intelligence experts say that Iraq has proven to be a different kettle of fish than Afghanistan when it comes to exploiting fault lines in the regional culture.
"In Afghanistan, there were already significant and identifiable opposition forces on the ground," Prof. Whitaker said. "In Afghanistan, the situation is very different. It wouldn't be easy to decide who you could buy."
Analysts familiar with the complex structure of Iraqi society aren't surprised by the cash campaign's failure. They say that Iraq's ancient tribal system exists under the umbrella of a brutal dictatorship that has exerted more consistent control than the Taliban did.
"It's a much more difficult system to exploit," Prof. Rudner said. "It is very, very complicated."
Besides belonging to religious and ethnic structures familiar to the West -- Shia and Sunni Muslims, ethnic groups that include Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen -- most Iraqis are also members of a tribe. Iraq has about 150 large tribes headed by sheiks and an estimated 2,000 smaller ones or subtribes.
Through a combination of deft politicking and brute force, Mr. Hussein has managed to enlist the support of many tribal leaders while limiting the threat they pose to him and his regime. The Al-Jaburi tribe, for example, became one of the most wealthy and powerful in the country under Mr. Hussein, but was later crushed when it suited his needs.
During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, the tribe supplied 50,000 soldiers for Mr. Hussein and was rewarded with lucrative public works contracts. But in 1989, after deciding that the tribe had grown too powerful, Mr. Hussein cut off the flow of contracts and distanced tribal leaders from his inner circle. In 1990, Al-Jaburi members mounted an unsuccessful attempt on Mr. Hussein's life. In return, he ordered the execution of most of its top members.
According to intelligence sources, the CIA and MI6 attempted to identify key tribal leaders whose hatred for Mr. Hussein, along with large gifts of cash, could serve as the catalyst for local uprisings that would add to the Iraqi leaders' troubles as coalition forces pushed toward Baghdad.
"It obviously hasn't gone all that well," said Loren Thompson, executive director of the Lexington Institute, a military think tank based in Arlington, Va.
Like other observers, Mr. Thompson believes the CIA and MI6 campaign has produced little or no results. "So far, the coalition is doing all the fighting," he said.
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