Iraqi coup attempt fails, reports say

March 14, 1995|By New York Times News Service

DAMASCUS, Syria -- The head of Iraqi military intelligence during the Persian Gulf War tried but failed to overthrow President Saddam Hussein early this month, according to American intelligence reports.

Wafiq Samaraii, a retired major general who was relieved of his military intelligence post in a purge, apparently tried to mount a coup with Iraq's main opposition group and with help from the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, the reports said.

Although there have been myriad reports of coup plots against the Iraqi leader since the end of the war in 1991, the Clinton administration took this plot seriously because it indicated some attempt to coordinate opposition in the north and south, senior administration officials said yesterday.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher considered the plot noteworthy enough to give King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who professes a deep interest in Iraq, a lengthy briefing on it in Jiddah.

Kurdish officials have tried to portray the coup attempt as an American-led effort to overthrow Mr. Hussein, but administration officials strongly denied the claim. However, the Central Intelligence Agency runs a modest covert operation to help overthrow the Iraqi leader and received advance word of the coup attempt.

There is little agreement among Iraq-watchers on the significance of the coup attempt or whether it was a coup at all.

One reason the plot was doomed was that it was known about so widely in advance, according to senior Pentagon officials in Washington and Western diplomats in Damascus.

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