Washington's claims that brilliant US intelligence work led to the capture of Saddam Hussein are being challenged by reports sourced in Iraq's Kurdish media claiming that its militia set the circumstances in which the US merely had to go to a farm identified by the Kurds to bag the fugitive former president.
US officials said that they had extracted the vital piece of information on Saddam's whereabouts from one of the 20 suspects around 5.30pm on December 13 and had immediately assembled a 600-strong force to surround the farm on which he was captured at al-Dwar, south of Tikrit.
Little attention was paid to a line in Pentagon briefings that some of the Kurdish militia might have been in on what was described as a "joint operation"; or to a statement by Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraq National Congress, which said that Qusrat and his PUK forces had provided vital information and more.
Wow. This would sure be just a little embarassing if true, don't you think? This would be on the level of "Mission Accomplished" even, if not worse. Bragging about a great intelligence victory, and software, when it was the Kurds who did the dirty work. Of course, the media jumps on stories like this, so it's certainly possible that the talk of innovative software and all that was never really meant to be spun as the impetus behind the capture.
In any event, I'm not buying the story just yet, as it's always possible that the Kurds on the expedition let it slip that Saddam was captured, and, while we sat on Saddam before announcing the capture, the Kurdish celebration and self-serving spin began. I'm sure we'll soon find out, one way or the other, but it's surprising that we (the U.S.) haven't commented on this yet, especially since other elements of the story do seem to point to signifigant Kurdish involvement, and these claims can't just be dismissed out-of-hand.
An intriguing question is why Kurdish forces were allowed to join what the US desperately needed to present as an American intelligence success - unless the Kurds had something vital to contribute to the operation so far south of their usual area of activity.
A report from the PUK's northern stronghold, Suliymaniah, early last week claimed a vital intelligence breakthrough after a telephone conversation between Qusrat and Saddam's second wife, Samirah.
Again, the story's not complete on this one yet. Did the Kurds make the breakthrough independently, were we working together (which would leave open the possibility that we suggested they interview, or worse, Saddam's second wife), did we do most of it and the Kurds just happened to be along for the (distant joy) ride, or can we thank the new powers given John Ashcroft in pursuing terrorism for this arrest?
Inquiring minds want to know. I'd also like to know if Saddam was drugged. It's not that I would necessarily disagree with a strategy of discrediting and humiliating Saddam, the man and symbol, upon capture, but to do so in a reckless way, that everybody finds out about after the fact, could do more damage than good. In a way, I'm beginning to wonder why I just don't expect our current leadership to bungle and muck things up. But I'll withhold judgement until until we get a response, and this matter gets more fully sorted out.