- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

The CIA this week beefed up its presence in northern Iraq, establishing two formal field offices in the Kurdish-controlled territory protected by U.S. and British fighter jets, according to Iraqi opposition officials.

As of Monday, one CIA station was established in territory controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the other was set up in territory controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The locations are being withheld out of concern that disclosing them would put American lives at risk.

The move marks the first time since 1996 that CIA has had a permanent base in northern Iraq.

It was an election year and the Clinton administration pulled the plug on a coup plot aided by CIA operatives, according to "See No Evil," a recently published memoir by former CIA officer Robert Baer.

"The CIA is on the ground in northern Iraq as of two days ago," one Iraqi opposition official told United Press International.

One former U.S. intelligence officer who maintains ties with his old employers said: "For a while U.S. people were in and out, now I've heard they are there in a permanent way."

One task of the new CIA offices will be to vet military defectors who might opt to join the American side before a U.S. military campaign.

Iraqi opposition officials told UPI there has been a rise in defections in recent months.

"Much of U.S. government policy right now is trying to precipitate internal change in Iraq so that we don't have to go to war," one national security consultant who advises the U.S. government said. "To that end the administration is trying to make it clear to senior Iraqi military officers that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain if they will move against Saddam."

As of August the presence of a formal CIA station in northern Iraq was the topic of intense negotiations between the U.S. government and the PUK and KDP, the two main Kurdish opposition factions.

Kurdish officials raised concerns that the presence of a CIA station on their territory might prompt a strike by the Iraqi military, possibly with chemical or biological weapons.

Both Kurdish groups requested that the United States send protective body suits designed to thwart the effects of chemical and biological weapons to their fighters.

Pentagon officials have also met with Kurdish officials to discuss establishing lines of communications between their men on the ground and U.S. aircraft and helicopters.

The latest developments in the United States' clandestine campaign against Iraq come as the Bush administration has softened its public line on its policy of "regime change."

On Monday, President Bush went so far as to say that if Saddam Hussein complied with a forthcoming U.N. Security Council resolution on disarmament, "that in itself will signal the regime has changed" a shift from earlier statements by the president that U.S. policy was to topple the Iraqi government.

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