Developments in US Policy toward Iraq
Iraq News, JULY 27, 1998
By Laurie Mylroie
The central focus of Iraq News is the tension between the
considerable, proscribed WMD capabilities that Iraq is holding on to and
its increasing stridency that it has complied with UNSCR 687 and it is
time to lift sanctions. If you wish to receive Iraq News by email, a service which includes full-text of news reports not archived here, send your request to Laurie Mylroie .
I. AMATZIA BARAM, SADDAM PREPARES FOR OCTOBER CRISIS, TWI, JUL 22
II. US EFFORT TO OUST SADDAM FACES OLD PITFALLS, WSJ, JUL 24
III. US WELCOMES KURDISH LEADER WHO BETRAYED US, NYT, JUL 25
IV. IRAQ SEEKS ROLE IN RELIEF IN KURDISH NORTH, REUTERS, JUL 26
The Forward informed Iraq News that the claim made in the WSJ, Jul
17, in "Clinton Seeking Support for Plan Against Saddam," to be the
first report of Gen. Downing's Iraq briefing was not accurate. The
Forward beat the WSJ, May 1, writing, "Senate Majority Leader Lott is
asking his colleagues to support the Iraqi National Congress as part of
an effort to unseat Saddam Hussein. Senator Lott met with the president
of the executive council of the INC, Ahmad Chalabi, on Monday. 'I hope
the Administration will engage seriously with the Congress in moving
toward a policy toward Iraq that is designed to achieve the goal of
ending Saddam Hussein's reign of terror,' Mr. Lott said. Mr. Lott's
office also organized a briefing last week for Republican Senators
Brownback, Kyl, and McCain, and Democratic Senators Lieberman and Kerrey
on the substance of how exactly Saddam Hussein can be overthrown.
General Wayne Downing, retired as the head of the Special Operations
Group for the US Army during the Gulf War, conducted the briefing,
congressional aides said. 'We met and had a briefing on how you might
orchestrate a viable military strategy to overthrow Saddam Hussein,'
Senator McCain told the Forward."
The London-based, Al Hayat, reported Jul 22, on its front page, about
the RCC-Party statement reiterating Iraq's warning to the UNSC, under
the headline, "Saddam Threatens New Escalation." That, in contrast to
the US media, which did not even report it. A significant difference
exists between the Arab perception of the Iraqi threat and the US
perception. That is due, in large part, to the Clinton administration's
ceaseless "spinning" about Iraq and all that follows.
Amatzia Baram, visiting at USIP from Haifa U, in Near East Report,
Jan 12 wrote, "Saddam is making prodigious efforts to retain at least
his most lethal poison gas-the VX-as well as his biological weapons,
which are almost as deadly as nuclear weapons. . . The danger that
Saddam might actually use these doomsday weapons is real. . . . Even
the most horrifying scenarios cannot be ruled out. A plague could be
introduced by Iraqi agents into an Israeli, Turkish, Saudi, or Kuwaiti
city-as revenge and as a warning to change policy."
But on Jul 22, Baram, writing about Saddam's Jul 17 repetition of
the May 1 warning [see Iraq News, Jul 20] as well as the Jul 21
RCC-Party statement, said, "While the tone is threatening, Iraq's
intentions are not fully disclosed nor is the time-table for action
elaborated. This part of Saddam's speech should be seen as a warning
shot before the October 1998 UNSCOM report and UN Security Council
debate regarding the sanctions." That, of course, is the administration
position. It wants to quiet Congressional criticism of its Iraq policy
and otherwise tell the public that its policy of "diplomacy backed by
force" put Saddam back in his "box" again.
Al Quds al Arabi, Jul 13, which interviewed Syrian Vice President,
Abdel Halim Khaddam, explained, "Khaddam did not rule out the occurrence
of a major crisis between Iraq and United States in the near future,
saying that as long as there is a blockade, the crisis will continue; it
could erupt at any moment." That is the view of Iraq News.
Baram also wrote, "As the Iraqi strategists see it, they still have a
window of opportunity to lift the embargo or seriously erode it until
the semi-annual report and debate in New York in April 1999. After
that, the election campaign in the United States will make it impossible
for the Administration to show any leniency towards Baghdad."
On the basis of what information was the judgment reached that that
is the way Baghdad is thinking? And why Apr 1999 in regard to elections
to be held in Nov 2000?
The WSJ, Jul 24, "US Effort to Oust Saddam Hussein Faces Old
Pitfalls," also wrote of the anticipated Oct crisis, "US officials
expect yet another Iraqi crisis this fall." But as the WSJ noted, "The
US doesn't seem to have a coherent strategy for maintaining effective
pressure on Saddam Hussein while countering a gradual erosion of
international support for continued sanctions. Indeed, an
administration official concedes the US basically is trying a little bit
of everything. 'If you want to pursue a strategy to isolate Saddam, you
push all the buttons,' he said."
Regarding the administration's recent plan to support the democratic
opposition [see Iraq News, Jul 14], the WSJ wrote, "Some Iraqi
opposition leaders privately scoff at aspects of the plan . . . For
example, the plan for organization-building includes 'training the
rank-and-file in word processing, fund-raising, media relations, etc.'
at a cost of $1.1 million."
And the WSJ noted Congressional criticism, "A July 12 staff memo to
Rep. Benjamin Gilman, the New York Republican who heads the House
International Relations Committee, says administration plans would
produce a 'slightly higher profile for the Iraqi opposition abroad, but
little effective help in Iraq.' It says that Radio Free Iraq, to be
based in Prague, will have 'minimal impact on the situation in Iraq.'...
"The staff memo agrees with Iraqi opposition leaders who call for the
US to designate and enforce a 'no-drive zone' in northern Iraq, which
would let Western aircraft attack any Iraqi military vehicles they find
in northern Iraq. The US already helps maintain a no-fly zone in that
region . . . and resistance leaders say a no-drive zone would help
create a safe haven for defectors and overall operations. When Saddam
Hussein's tanks and artillery rolled north in August 1996, they
destroyed operations of resistance fighters who waited in vain for US
"The lack of help occurred even through only three years earlier--in
an Aug 4, 1993, letter--Vice President Al Gore had promised Ahmed
Chalabi, president of the Iraq National Congress, an opposition umbrella
group, that "I assure you that we will not turn our back on the Kurds or
the other Iraqi communities subjected to the repression of Saddam
Still, the administration, seems to be responding to Congressional
pressure, even if it is not clear what it intends to do. Last week, Jul
18-20, Deputy Asst Sec State, David Welch, visited Iraqi Kurdistan and
met with Jalal Talabani, at his base, in Sulaymaniyah, and then with
Massoud Barazani, at his, in Salah al Din, outside Irbil.
This was the first trip of a senior US official to the region since
Apr 97. Before Welch's arrival, Barzani convened a meeting of 19 local
Kurdish leaders. He said that Welch was coming for two purposes-1) for
a KDP-PUK reconciliation and 2) to organize against Baghdad. On the
first, Barzani affirmed that the KDP was the Kurdish Gov't and would not
return to the earlier power-sharing arrangement. On the second, he
affirmed that the Kurds would not become a catspaw for the US against
Baghdad. Nonetheless, Barzani and Talabani have been invited to visit
Washington, as the NYT reported Jul 25. Should Barzani come, it will be
his first trip to the US since Apr 93, when he was part of an INC
delegation that met Vice President Al Gore, Sec State Warren
Christopher, and NSC Adviser Tony Lake.
Yet there is reason to question whether Barzani's visit will really
materialize. Barzani told Welch that he would not work in opposition to
Saddam, unless there were ironclad guarantees of US protection. But
Welch had no authority to give such guarantees and Barzani has already
sent an emissary to Baghdad to explain Welch's visit.
And the NYT report was otherwise somewhat garbled. The Shi'a and
Kurds are not "minority groups," as the NYT wrote. The population of
Iraq is 55% Shia Arab; 25% Kurds, mostly Sunni; and 20% Sunni Arab. One
of Iraq's biggest problems is that the regime is the minority element in
Also, the CIA never broke with Barzani after Iraq's Aug 31 96 assault
on Irbil, as the NYT itself seemed to acknowledge. The CIA continued to
fund KDP personalities, while a major administration concern then,
particularly as the presidential elections were two months away, was
to ensure that Iraq not be seen as an issue. The administration was
ready to let Barzani dominate Iraqi Kurdistan, regardless of his
alliance with Saddam. Following the assault on Irbil, Barzani paused.
But after Clinton responded by declaring that US interests lay in
Southern Iraq, rather than the North, and hit air defense sites there,
while expanding the southern no-fly zone, and then declared the US
response to the Iraqi aggression to have been a "success," Barzani
renewed his assault on the PUK, driving it eastward, to the Iranian
border. The PUK regrouped for a few weeks in mountain camps there, and
when it launched a counter-offensive, recovering the territory it now
holds, the administration was annoyed with it.
Finally, Iraq's Foreign Minister wrote the UNSG demanding a role for
Baghdad in implementing the humanitarian relief program in Kurdistan,
according to Reuters, Jul 26. Sahhaf complained that the UN special
agencies "were not able to fulfill their commitments on behalf of Iraq
for the implementation of electricity, water, sewerage, education, and
resettlement rehabilitation." He charged that agencies like UNICEF,
UNDP, and UNESCO had spent $200 million in administrative affairs and
"such amount of money. . . could have been used on purchasing additional
quantities of food and medicine."
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