The coup, organised by intelligence officers in Amman, Jordan, was crushed by the Iraqi leader, who executed as many as 80 conspirators and arrested hundreds more.
The revelation will be widely seen as contradicting British and American claims that they are not planning to topple the leadership in Baghdad. They have claimed repeatedly that the only issue at stake is the entry of UN weapons inspectors. Yet 18 months ago MI6 and the CIA joined in trying to foment a military coup against President Saddam in Iraq.
Members of the Iraqi opposition say that the organisation chosen by MI6 and the CIA to organise the revolt in the Iraqi army is notorious for being riddled with informers.
CIA agents, angry that the White House stopped them from backing an attempt to assassinate President Saddam or mount a military attack on him, have confirmed for the first time to the Los Angeles Times that the attempted coup was a joint operation by MI6 and the CIA.
The two intelligence agencies chose a group called the Iraqi National Accord, recruited from Iraqi army, party and intelligence officers, as the instrument through which to organise a military coup in Baghdad. It is led by Dr Iyad Mohammed Alawi, a former member of Iraq's ruling Baath party, who has lived in London since 1971.
Other sources say that the London station of the CIA along with MI6 played a key role in choosing the Accord to overthrow the Iraqi government. With money from the intelligence agencies it moved its headquarters to Jordan in early 1996 and tried to recruit serving Iraqi officers to act against President Saddam.
Other experienced opponents of the government in Baghdad say the conspiracy never stood a chance of success. One, who did not want his name published, said: "A coup like this cannot be stage-managed from the outside, as in the 1960s. Saddam has thirty years' experience in keeping power." He added that the Iraqi National Accord has a bad reputation for containing many Iraqi double agents. The military conspiracy in Baghdad was crushed before it got off the ground. Dr Alawi had publicised his intention to start a mutiny in the Iraqi army. Starting in late June and early July 1996, there was a wave of arrests and executions of senior officers in an elite formation. The number of those killed is not known but may be as high as eighty.
The CIA'S attempt to overthrow President Saddam has received some publicity in the US, but the role of MI6 in the failed coup has hitherto been kept secret. Few other operations by British intelligence have produced such immediately fatal results for its participants since MI6 arranged in the late 1940s for Albanian anti-Communists to be sent back to their homeland under the supervision of Kim Philby.
MI6 appears to have played a lesser role in an earlier attempt by the CIA to destabilise the government of President Saddam through building up opposition in Iraq's three Kurdish provinces from which the Iraqi army had withdrawn. Here, a local team of CIA agents was prepared to carry out a much more aggressive campaign against the Iraqi leader than Washington was prepared to authorise.
So out of control did the CIA operation is Kurdistan become that the White House only learned what was happening because American code-breakers had intercepted the communications of the Iranian intelligence. From this they learned of their own men's involvement in an assassination plot against the Iraqi leader. They were immediately ordered by Washington not go give support to the conspiracy.
So frustrated did the acting head of the CIA become with some of his officers that he had them investigated by the FBI for trying to murder President Saddam.Reuse content