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#16 - JRL 7129
April 2, 2003
'We didn't fly to Baghdad to drink coffee'
By Alexander Kornilov  

Gazeta.Ru has obtained sensational evidence proving the involvement of a group of former Soviet generals in preparing the Iraqi army for war against the United States. The generals in question refused to discuss their degree of involvement, but admitted that just before the beginning of the US-led campaign against Iraq they received state awards from the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

They are retired Soviet officers, Col.-Gen. Vladimir Achalov and Col.-Gen. Igor Maltsev. The former completed his military career as the Soviet deputy defence minister, after being the Air-Borne Troops commander and the first and last Soviet commander-in-chief of the rapid-reaction forces. The latter resigned from the post of the chief of the Main Staff of the Soviet Air Defence. In 1991 both generals backed the GKChP, (the State Committee for the State of Emergency, set up by a group of Gorbachev opponents with the goal of supplanting him and preventing the disintegration of the USSR) and were consequently dismissed from military service.

The photos show Achalov and Maltsev receiving awards from Iraqi Defence Minister Sultan Hashim Akhmed. Another photo commemorating the event features the Russian generals in the company of the head of the General Staff of the Iraqi Army Izzat Ibragim and his deputies. On the photo published above the Iraqi official is standing between Achalov and Maltsev.

According to our source who provided the photos, the ceremony was held ''less than 10 days before the beginning of the war'' in a building that was destroyed by US cruise missiles in the first few hours of air raids on Baghdad.

What exactly the Soviet generals received their awards for, our source would not say. He only specified that all the top defence officials of Iraq took part in the ceremony, which says a lot about the attitude of the Iraqis to the Russian delegation, and the significance of its visit. Our sources suggested that for further details we should contact the generals themselves.

Gazeta.Ru managed to get in touch with Vladislav Achalov. He confirmed that the photos provided to Gazeta.Ru were absolutely credible, but would not divulge any details as to why he had received his award. Here is an excerpt from a short telephone interview granted by Vladislav Achalov to Gazeta.Ru on March 31:

Vladislav Alexeyevich, is it true or not?

If [we] received [awards], then it is true.

And what for?

If there is an award, then there is a reason.

Is it true that this [ceremony] took place less than 10 days before the war started in Iraq?

Do you mean when we met with the defence minister?

Yes, with the minister. And Igor Maltsev was present, too.

Yes, it took place, I think, even less than 10 days before the war. On Wednesday we flew back, and a week later on Thursday the war began.

We have also established that the awards were conferred on behalf of Saddam Hussein, though for security reasons a meeting with the Iraqi leader was no longer possible at that time.

As to why the two Soviet generals received the top military awards of the Iraqi Republic on the eve of war, Vladislav Achalov would not say. He did remark, however, that he ''didnt fly to Baghdad to drink coffee''. Thus, one can only conjecture what role the Soviet generals have played in preparing the Iraqi army for the war. That their role was important is proved at least by the fact that both Achalov and Maltsev, as Gazeta.Ru has learnt, have visited Iraq no less than 20 times in the past 5-6 years. Given such a schedule (3-4 trips a year), it is almost beyond doubt that Achalov and Maltsev, as well as, possibly, other retired Soviet and highly placed Russian military personnel were giving advice to Iraq as it prepared its army for imminent war. And this assistance, judging by the first stage of the Iraqi war, has proved more than effective: despite the US-led coalitions efforts, in 12 days of incessant air raids they have so far failed to destroy the Iraqi command, air defence system, and to take any large city. Perhaps it is mere coincidence, but namely Igor Maltsev is rated as one of the best Russian experts in the sphere of operating air-defence systems, while Vladislav Achalov has extensive experience in the field of using rapid-reaction forces. It is hard to predict the political fallout from the reports of Russian generals training Iraqis for war. On the one hand, both Achalov and Maltsev are retired generals and do not act on behalf of Russias official authorities. Their private trips to Baghdad do not violate any UN resolutions, or any other restrictions imposed on Iraq by the UN Security Council. Yet, Russias indirect participation in the training of the Iraqi army to repulse the US-led invasion (in effect, Iraq is using the unique experience of Russias top, albeit retired officers) is likely to significantly complicate relations between Moscow and Washington. Besides, the Kremlin cannot say that it knew nothing of the services rendered by the former Soviet generals to the Iraqi military command, as such frequent trips to Baghdad could not remain unnoticed by the Russian security services. Either they did remain unnoticed, which is doubtful, or it was decided to turn a blind eye to their trips.

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