November 25, 1998
| SPENCER MICHELS: As far back as the 1991 Gulf
War, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was portrayed by the Bush administration
as the embodiment of evil, the cause of the trouble. Allied bombs were
targeted on his headquarters. But a march on Baghdad to house Saddam was
not part of the U.N. resolution authorizing military action. And most of
the European and Arab allies fighting with the U.S. in the Gulf opposed
any widening of war rings, at least publicly. After Saddam's defeat, he
confronted an internal uprising by Kurdish rebels in the North and Shiite
Muslims in the South. At that point President Bush said the job of getting
rid of the Iraqi leader was up to the Iraqis, themselves, especially Saddam's
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: There's another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside, and to comply with the United Nations resolutions and then rejoin the family of peace-loving nations.
SPENCER MICHELS: But Saddam's army stayed loyal and quickly crushed the Kurdish rebellion, killing as many as 50,000 and forcing more than a million Kurds into Turkey and Iran. In response to televised pictures of fleeing Kurdish refugees, the U.S. and its allies created a safe haven for them by declaring a so-called no-fly zone, where Iraqi planes were forbidden. A year later, a similar zone was created in the South. There the Shiite uprising against Saddam's Sunni Muslim government was put down even more quickly and brutally. An estimated 30,000 to 100,000 Shiites were killed.
In the years since Saddam held on to his dictatorial power within Iraq, despite several reported coup and assassination attempts against him, members of his family, and this week an attempt on his deputy, and despite reported American backing of anti-Saddam groups in Iraq and in exile. Saddam's government also has not only survived but tried to capitalize at home on U.N. trade sanctions that barred Iraq from selling its oil and that rapidly impoverished a once wealthy nation.
In 1996, Saddam showed he still had the power to strike at potential rivals. His intelligence forces infiltrated and exploited divisions among Kurdish troops in the North. Iraq sent solders into the safe haven that summer, capturing the headquarters of one group, and executing nearly 1010 of its key officials. This summer, an increasingly frustrated U.S. Congress earmarked $97 million to train and equip elements of the Iraqi opposition. On October 31st, President Clinton signed the bill, called the Iraq Liberation Act, with no public fanfare. On the same day Iraq informed the U.N. it would no longer cooperate with arms inspections provoking the latest crisis. But even within the U.S. Government there have been dissenting voices.
A month ago, the top U.S. military commander for the region, Marine General Anthony Zinni, told a group of reporters the plan was severely flawed and that a Saddam in place and contained is better than promoting something that causes Iraq to explode, implode, fragment into pieces, and cause turmoil in the region. He went on to say that "I don't think these questions have been thought out." But last week, after yet another showdown with Iraq over U.N. weapons inspections, President Clinton began talking openly about measures to remove the Iraqi leader.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: What we want and what we will work for is a government in Iraq that represents and respects its people, not represses them, and one committed to live in piece with its neighbors.
SPENCER MICHELS: The President did not specifically mention assassination, which has been barred by executive order since the Ford administration. The following day National Security Adviser Samuel Berger spoke on the NewsHour.
SAMUEL BERGER: We will work in a prudent, effective way with opposition voices, opposition groups to strengthen their ability, strengthen their capacity to bring about change. This is not a short-term proposition. This is not a quick fix. But this is something over the long-term which we are committed to doing.
SPENCER MICHELS: In London this week, the leaders of Iraqi exile groups met with American and British officials to discuss getting more help in their efforts to overthrow Saddam's regime. Nabeel Musawi spoke to the Iraqi National Congress, an organization of exile groups.
NABEEL MUSAWI, Iraqi National Congress: We're not getting any support from Britain and the United States. If they carry out their promises, yes, our position will definitely strengthen inside the country.
SPENCER MICHELS: But Saddam Hussein, who has been a key power in Iraqi politics since Lyndon Johnson was President, has so far outlasted all the western leaders who assembled their armies to defeat him in the Gulf War nearly eight years ago.