The Survival of Saddam
an interview with Dr. Ahmad Chalabi
the kurds

Dr. Ahmad Chalabi is part of a three-man leadership council for the Iraqi opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress.
How is it possible that Saddam Hussein is still in power in Baghdad?

This is not a situation unique to Iraq. Saddam Hussein runs a totalitarian dictatorship, augmented by a medieval clan structure. A totalitarian dictatorship is a twentieth-century phenomenon. You had it in the Soviet Union, you had it in Nazi Germany. In each of those countries, the regimes perpetrated untold disasters on their people. And they remained in power.

photo of Dr. Ahmad Chalabi It took the deployment of huge resources by other countries to bring those dictatorships down. In the case of Germany, there was a major war and millions of people died. And in the case of the Soviet Union, the United States alone spent perhaps four trillion dollars on defense, let alone other expenditures to contain the Soviet Union until the system was brought down.

Saddam's regime is of a similar nature. In Iraq, Saddam has control over the security services, the army, and he has a complete monopoly on instruments of violence. He has complete control over any foreign exchange, any money that comes to Iraq. He also has total and absolute mastery of the media. Every newspaper in Iraq, every day, has on the front page a picture of Saddam, without a caption. He is just there--like the sun, he always shines. He is there. So people know that Saddam is omnipotent and omnipresent. Every significant public space in Iraq has a huge mural of Saddam in every garb--Saddam the great leader, Saddam the Kurd, Saddam in Arab dress, Saddam with a feather in his hat. All these things are displayed.

And also Saddam demonstrates his control by spending billions of dollars to build new palaces, while he claims the children of Iraq are starving. And he says, "I, Saddam, am more important in my trappings of mastery of you than the food for your children." There are details of how this happens.

Saddam is getting more money,  developing weapons of mass destruction and  oppressing the Iraqi people.  When will you [U.S.] get the wake up call? Saddam has divided the armed forces of Iraq into broadly three structures, which are separate--in concentric circles--they don't join. The regular arm is weak, hungry and ill clothed. They have no ammunition. They have old equipment, and they are deployed on the periphery of the country. They cannot get near the capital. Then there are the Republican Guards, who are better off than the army, but also they cannot enter the capital. And in the capital only, there is the Special Republican Guards. . . . And they are an urban control force.

So the military is immobilized. It cannot move. The checkpoints are controlled by units of the Special Republican Guards, who do not obey orders of the General Command. So it is difficult to gather together a military force to move against Saddam. Furthermore, the officers in the units have with them, unknown to them, people who report to the Special Security Service, and they report on the officers. So the officers really cannot talk to each other about anything at all.

There are several different methods where Saddam can immobilize a plot against him, and that is why he has been successful in thwarting the thrust of U.S. efforts against him, which have mainly been concentrated in plots to overthrow him. Saddam is a far better plotter, a more apt and accomplished plotter, than the CIA will ever be. He is good. He is, as they say, pro-active. He doesn't sit still. If he thinks that there is something in the offing, he will go and send provocateurs to offer coups to his enemies. In every direction, he's done that. He manages to thwart these things.

And also Saddam lives on the contradiction of his enemies. The neighbors of Iraq and the United States each have a contradictory vision of how Iraq should be ruled. Saddam ends up, by default, being everybody's second choice, and that has been the major brunt of our struggle--to persuade the United States government that Iraq, an important country of 20 million people with the world's largest oil reserves, occupying a strategically important, crucial point in the Middle East, cannot be liberated through plots and covert action.

We say that the way to get rid of Saddam is to organize a movement of the people, and enable the people, in order to attract units of army who are disgruntled with Saddam--to control territory in Iraq, to use the resources of this territory to relieve the Iraqi people, and at the same time, to generate resources to overthrow Saddam. That is why we have been working so hard since 1996 in the United States, to get this idea across. We have done work in the media, and we managed to get bipartisan support in Congress.

We called for an open U.S. policy and open U.S. support for the people of Iraq to overthrow Saddam. Congress responded by passing the Iraq Liberation Act, which says specifically that it should be the policy of the United States to help those in Iraq who want to overthrow Saddam and establish a democratic government. Then it specifies the steps the United States is prepared to take to help those Iraqis, and that is providing weapons and training. Then it says that, after Saddam is gone, the United States will not abandon Iraq but will help to reintegrate Iraq into a community of nations.

This is the kind of thing we have been working for--it's a very big step forward. The president signed this law. The administration has been reluctant to implement it, but the experience is that the United States ultimately gets obeyed. And now we have an answer to, "What do you want from the United States?" Our answer is, "Obey the law, that's what we want." We are moving ahead in this direction, slowly, slower than we think is required. But we are definitely moving ahead. The United States now is engaged with us openly, through our political process, a messy political process.

There are many egos to overcome, and all kinds of contradictions to deal with. All kind of secret services, including western secret services, have people in the opposition dealing with them. We have to bring all these groups together, and unify them for one purpose. We want to use the resources available to us that the United State says that they will provide, to mobilize our own people in the south, in the north, and in the center, everywhere in Iraq, to pounce upon Saddam, through a process where you can measure how far you are going at each stage. This is what we want.

You compared Saddam to other totalitarian regimes, and said that it took a massive effort to overthrow the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Is the same scale of effort required to overthrow Iraq?

Already the scale of resources deployed against Saddam has been monumental. Half a million American troops went to the Gulf to get Saddam out. Subsequent to that, the United States took in tens of thousands of Iraqis as refugees. From the wars of Saddam in the north after the Gulf war, over 9,000 people went. People continued to go to the United States. The United States government accepts them as refugees, all because of Saddam. That's a big thing.

Then the United States has been flying aircraft over northern and southern Ira, since 1991-1992. Missions everywhere, hundreds of sorties every month, to keep Saddam's air force away. In the past two year, the United States flew over 13,000 combat missions in Iraq, and they dropped over 12,000 munitions over Iraq. That's not a small-scale effort.

But does the plan that you envision require more military commitment from the U.S. to back up your plan to overthrow him?

We are not asking for deployment of ground troops. We say, extend the no-fly zones in scope to be military exclusion zones, in other words, no- drive zones. The United States declares that Saddam cannot maintain armed forces and artillery in those areas.

But the point is, that the Iraqi military should be put on notice, that if they stay with Saddam, and remain in those areas, then they are subject to U.S. and allied air attack. If the United States and the allies do that, we could easily deploy a force of not many thousands--small forces, two brigades--which are well-equipped, well-trained and can withstand one hour's attack from Saddam. Then, I think, with some speed we can control sufficient territory in the south and west to attract major units away there.

Saddam would be faced with a dilemma. Will he deploy his Special Republican Guards that he can absolutely trust to deal with this operation, and vacate Baghdad from necessary forces which he needs to control the capital, or not? What will he do? It's a lose-lose scenario. Using that, I believe we can make steady and fast progress to get through.

What does the Pentagon think of your plan?

The Pentagon does not think much about that. The Pentagon thinks that they [the Pentagon] need 200,000 people to get rid of Saddam, so how can a few rag-heads with a few thousand people get rid of Saddam with this kind of scenario? So they don't like it. At the same time, the Pentagon has a persistent admiration for Saddam's military capabilities from what they observed during the Gulf war. Using military statistics, Saddam's is the only country, militarily, which can operate at division level among the Arab countries.

They will tell you that the Iraqi army has good repair services. They will tell you the Iraqi army can maneuver armor and aircraft in coordinated unison. They will count you all those things. But then they neglect the loyalty factor. We are not fighting the Iraqi armed forces; we are making a revolution. We want to attract the Iraqi armed forces.

We tried that in 1995. We know that, if we have the resources, we can be successful in attracting a lot of the Iraqi military. I saw that first-hand in 1995, dealing with the Iraqi armed forces. We discovered that the Iraqi army is too weak to make a coup on their own, that they will not fight and die to defend Saddam. They will join other Iraqis in a serious, credible effort that can protect them to overthrow Saddam.

We can put all these lessons to use now. Despite the fact that the Pentagon doesn't think much of our forces, other U.S. military experts, generals, who have experience in Iraq, who have led forces and operated against Saddam, have staked their military reputation on our plan. And it is those generals who talked to the senators and persuaded them that this can be done, and got them to pass the Iraq Liberation Act.

Let's go over some of the history, starting with the Ba'ath Party's coup in 1963.

The United States got scared that the communists were going to take over in Iraq. And they were scared that the Kassem regime was going to permit the communists to have strong influence in the country, and eventually Iraq would be a communist country. So they found a group of officers and civilians in the Ba'ath Party, who fit the United States recipe on how to deal with communism in the Arab world and in the Third World, which is to encourage so-called indigenous, well-organized nationalist forces to oppose Marxism. These people were ideal military officers, organized conspirators, so they worked with them.

They helped them in every way. They sent messages, and passed messages to them, and they permitted them to operate from areas where the U.S. had influence, in Lebanon, in Egypt. They funded them, and provided them with communications facilities. They also provided them with a list of maybe 1,600 names, broadcast over some radio stations, of communists who should be "eliminated." That's what happened. One of the people who had a minor role to play in this was Saddam himself, who was in Cairo at the time.

. . . [So] definitely the U.S. helped them. [And] there's a clear place where the U.S. helped them diplomatically. In 1963, in the spring, there was the most vicious and determined campaign to eliminate the Kurdish rebellion in the north. For the first and only time since the monarchy, Turkey, Iran and Syria worked together to eliminate the Kurdish rebellion. I believe this was coordinated by some United States agencies. The Syrians were even permitted to send a brigade to participate in the massacre of the Kurds.

Because it was a difficult time for the Kurds in spring, 1963, it became very strange that Iraq and Turkey would cooperate with the Ba'ath Party and nationalists against Kurds. And the Shah, was, in fact, helping the Kurds just a few months earlier.

Let's talk about 1968. Was the involvement of the U.S. in that coup as detailed and as significant as with the coup in 1963?

The U.S. role in the coup of 1968 was not as detailed and as determined as its role in the coup of 1963. I think the Anderson episode was overblown. There's a great deal of fantasy and conspiratory theory involved in this, and I don't think Anderson, who was a Republican, had much clout with the Johnson administration. But the United States knew of that one, because the Ba'ath Party spared no effort to try to secure the acquiescence of the United States in their effort. They spared no efforts to try to persuade the Israelis not to block their path. One of the coup leaders, who is now deceased, came to London in February, 1968, six months before the coup. He apparently met with some Israeli military representative here in London, and said to him, if you will not stand in our way in making this coup, we will pull the Iraqi army back from Jordan once we are successful, and they did. . . .

There was some effort by officers through contacts in Beirut to keep the U.S. abreast of this. The deputy director of military intelligence also played some role with some intermediaries with the United States. He was not a sophisticated man. He was a person who had a flair, in Iraqi terms, for appearing secretive and conciliatory, and he was easily manipulated.

So, there were these links. But you see it was not all an even thing, because, by 1968, the massive Arab nationalism was essentially a spent force. Nasser was defeated by the Israelis, and the Arabs were in disarray. Iraq was also in disarray, a weak country--the oil prices were not that high, and there are always the Kurds who could be stirred up. The Shah was much more powerful than Iraq; Iraq was not considered to be a strategic threat.

We've heard from some American diplomats who were active in the 1970s that there was a gradual improvement of relations, from the mid-1970s, and, roughly, onwards--beginning with business contacts, then diplomatic contacts at higher levels. What do you think was motivating that on the American side?

Saddam persuaded the Ba'ath to nationalize the oil companies in 1972. He made a treaty with the Russians, a friendship and cooperation treaty for 15 years. I know there was a western effort to try to make a coup in Baghdad. Some Americans and British people were involved. They asked King Hussein to lead this effort, and, in 1972, did make an attempt. The U.S. also made an attempt with the Kurds, in beginning of 1972. Henry Kissinger met with Barzani in 1972 and promised them help.

King Hussein met with Barzani--unfortunately most of the actors in this drama are deceased, but they did meet--and there was a flurry of activity. Then King Hussein was told by the western powers to desist by the autumn of 1972. This effort was abandoned, because the focus shifted to using the Kurds to put pressure on Saddam--the strategy that was advocated by the Shah. So the focus shifted to Idris Al Barzani. General Barzani gave a very important interview to the Washington Post. He was interviewed in northern Iraq, in Kurdistan, around August of 1973.

General Barzani, at the time, was very forward in seeking U.S. support, and even seeking Israeli support in the effort against the Ba'ath Party. This developed into full-scale open warfare in Iraqi Kurdistan. All kinds of games were played on the Kurds, and their expectations rose, contrary to the wishes of General Barzani. His rebellion was transformed into an exodus of people. He told me that he was weakened by the fact that there were over half a million people who have migrated from their homes in the cities of Iraq.

Kurds were leaving valleys by the hundreds in Kurdistan, and across the border in Iran, and he now had to think, not only of logistics for his fighters, but for these hundreds of thousands of people, which made him very, very much dependent on the Shah.

. . . So there was this rebellion, and all kinds of games played by the Iranians on General Barzani. They promised him weapons. The United States delivered to the Shah weapons captured by the Israelis in the 1967 war--Soviet weapon, and weapons that they had captured in Vietnam--to be delivered to General Barzani. The Iranians would help with weapons, so they make some progress. Iranian involvement became more significant because they had to provide artillery support for General Barzani.

Because they did not give them the guns themselves so they can defend themselves, the end situation became right for a resolution in the style of Dr Kissinger. My own theory is, that the sell-out to the Shah, I mean the selling out of the Kurds in 1975, took place in the context of the failure of Dr Kissinger's first effort to do Sinai II in the winter of 1975. He spent 33 days trying to persuade President Nasser to acquiesce into a Sinai II--a development of the initial Sinai agreement. Nasser refused--by ending the Kurdish rebellion and letting Saddam go into Kurdistan triumphantly, that would unleash his energies against Nasser. . . .

As the same time that this happened, the Lebanese civil war started. Within a short time, on March 5, the Shah met with Saddam in Algiers, and they kissed and made up and the Kurds were sold down the drain. In the second week of April, the massacre took place in Lebanon, and that was the beginning of the civil war. Nasser was beseiged, from the east and from the west, and Sinai II took place in the autumn of 1975, six months later.

You can date the improvement in relations with the west from the time that the Shah sold out the Kurds in 1975. Unfortunately, I observed these events, and there was very little we could do about it. I got wind of this at the end of February. I went to see General Barzani in 1975 to warn him about this. He would not speak in the house, in the palace that the Iranians had given him to stay in. Although it was chilly, he took me out for a stroll in the garden, and I told him this. He said, "Now I know why those scoundrels would not let me see the Shah." He said that, the second day, the Shah came from his ski holiday, returned to Teheran, stayed less than 24 hours, and flew out to Algiers and signed the agreement.

Anwar Sadat played a role in that. He requested that Barzani send him an emissary, as he was still away, and in an important position, to meet with him. And he sent back a message to Barzani, the gist of which was, "No matter what the Shah does, he loves the Kurdish people very much." The import of that was clear.

So it is from that time that things developed. It's at the same time, in the winter of 1975, that the head of SAVAK asked that a Iraqi delegation go to Jordan, to meet with King Hussein to develop a scenario to get rid of the Ba'ath Party. A delegation went to Jordan, but was clearly chasing a red herring. Jordanians were unaware and unwilling to participate in any such event.

So this was all prepared. There were too many actors in the region were involved in this process who had also excellent relations with the United States. Saddam was reintroduced into the fold in 1975. Things developed. He played a coordinated role with Anwar Sadat in the Lebanese civil war against Syria, and he went on to develop his relations with the United States, through economic programs, through giving contracts to U.S. companies, and through exporting more oil to the United States, until he came to power in 1979.

We've heard from State Department officials who were around at the time, that there was almost a policy within the White House, Brzezinski in particular, to, in a way, make Iraq their China--get the public relations benefits like Kissinger and Nixon did of turning a hostile state around. Do you have any insight into that?

Yes. The United States government, particularly the National Security Council, at that time lead by Dr Brzezinski, felt that they could make an impact in opening with Saddam, and with the Ba'ath Party in Iraq. They though they get some foreign policy benefits out of it, by opening to a regime that was closed--drawing them out into the world, dealing with them, developing Iraq and getting credit for it. This was policy at the time. Unfortunately, they did not understand the nature of Saddam and the Ba'ath Party.

We've heard that, in 1979-1980, before Saddam took power, and before he launched the war against Iran, that he made visits to Amman, Jordan, and then Saudi Arabia. He met the king in Amman, and that there are reports that he may have met some Americans who may have been in the capital at the time. Do you have any insight into that?

I don't know whether he met Americans at the time, but I know a lot about his visit to Amman. I believe King Hussein helped Saddam avert a move within the Iraq Ba'ath Party to get rid of him. . . . There was a coordinated move by leaders of the Ba'ath Party, involving many of the senior people in the party, to get rid of Saddam. They were impatient with his high-handedness, and they were very, very disturbed by his control over oil funds, and by his control over the security services. So they made a move to get rid of him.

Saddam had suspicions. . . . Saddam clearly was preferred by some U.S. government agencies to succeed in Iraq, to succeed Bakr. Saddam was a man they could do business with. He was strong, charismatic, young, and with great anti-imperialist, and anti-American credentials--an ideal person in all respects.

So he was assisted to thwart this effort by the killer. He came down, himself. He came in a state of total paranoia. He even brought his own chair with him, his own waiter to serve him his own tea when tea was given to people in the room. He arranged a large contingent of bodyguards, and he stayed a few days. He came on the July 12, and on July 17 he became president of Iraq. Then, he subsequently arrested and executed many, many Ba'aths.

Some people, who are now still alive, were placed in a special prison where they were tortured on a daily basis. The foreign minister of Iraq died of thirst in the prison, in the arms of one of his colleagues who was arrested with him. And the man is still alive, he is living in Saudi Arabia. Saddam tortured his own comrades, his own associates, who were working with him on a daily basis in government for a period of 11 years. His private secretary was tortured and killed.

The whole thing was bizarre, but very characteristically Saddam. He took control in 1979. And his chance came because Iran was on a collision course with the United States. Saddam immediately came to power when there was a threat from Muslim leaders to the Ba'ath region. He immediately thought that the best way to deal with this problem was to fight the war with the Arabs, and he began to explore the situation. He met with Iranian exile leaders who came through Jordan, with the former prime minister, and with some generals who came also through Jordan. They went to Iraq and persuaded him that if he makes a war, there will be an Iranian uprising against him. That would be sure.

. . . And the war continued. When Saddam was under threat in 1982, the warehouses of the West were open to him. He was given the opportunity to develop weapons of mass destruction. He was permitted to buy precursors for the most lethal chemicals. Western companies built chemical weapons factories for him, enhanced his earlier effort to develop such weapons, and he was given very advanced weapons, Exocet missiles. He was permitted all this. He was able to acquire fuel air bombs, he was able to acquire fragmentation bomblets, advanced aircraft, and he was given satellite imagery by the United States, to help him in the war against Iran

It is from that time that the efficiency of Saddam and the efficiency of his military left a lingering fondness for him, as the person who can do things, and move mountains in the Middle East.

To what extent was America informed, or possibly even involved in the plan to start a war with Iran?

I think the United States knew about Saddam's plans, definitely. They knew about Saddam's plans from many sources. They knew because Jordan was privy to the plan, the king was privy to the plan. They knew from the Americans, from the Iranian generals who went to Baghdad, and from the Iranian political personalities who were aware that a war was being planned. Of course they knew it from the purchases that Saddam was doing. Saddam was stockpiling things. Iraq had $26 billion of oil revenues in 1979. They had a huge influx of revenue from oil after this revolution in Iran, when oil prices were driven up. After the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, oil prices were driven up, and Saddam had this very, very big huge revenue in 1979.

He used that to purchase weapons, civilian goods, and to give contracts. At the same time, Saddam kept the Saudis abreast of what he was doing. So it was all visits to Saudi Arabia, and visits by other Iraqi officials and contacts with other Iraqi officials with the Saudis. The Saudis were privy also to Saddam's war plans against Iran, and that was another channel where the United States was informed about these plans.

You mentioned that the CIA met Saddam. Obviously, that would have been done with authorization from Washington. What, in your opinion, was the idea behind allowing senior CIA agents to meet Saddam Hussein?

I can only speculate. It was the time of planning the war against Iran, and the time that Saddam was in active preparation for war plans against Iran. Also, he was facing a challenge by the Islamic party in Iraq, and he was seeking support and information about their activities. This situation proliferated, in terms of Saddam challenging those people. Two months after his visit, he was bold enough to execute the leader of the Iraqi Shi'ites and his sister--arrest them and execute them in Baghdad. So Saddam wanted assistance, in terms of information and tracking, and at the same time, wanted to impart some of the information about his intentions towards Iran to feel out what the United States thought.

And what did America want from Saddam at the time?

They wanted pressure to be put on Iran, and they certainly did not want any copycat revolutions on the Islamic model taking place in any Arab country, including Iraq. There was some security cooperation. Some Iraqi Islamic fundamentalists, who had no political activity in Jordan, but were just operating there, were arrested and delivered to Saddam, or they were executed by the Jordanians in that time period.

Before Saddam went into Kuwait, had you found the U.S. administration very receptive to the Iraqi opposition, and how did that change?

I used to meet with American diplomats and people in the State Department throughout the 1980s. They would listen politely, and would dismiss what we said in a joking manner, and sort of said that their policies were to keep Iraq together, that Saddam wasn't as bad as he was portrayed, and that Iran should not read exactly . . . our course. Saddam was an efficient person, and we were on the same level. People in the parties, like the totalitarian parties of Iraq, or the Leninist parties of Iraq, were on the same moral level of Saddam. People who were talking about democracy were ineffectual dreamers. They would listen--some with more interest than others. But the official policy was to support Saddam.

Then the official policy turned even more egregiously towards the U.S. There was a ban on meeting the opposition, instituted by Schultz, who was secretary of state in 1988, because Tariq Aziz refused to meet him when he heard that some little-level State Department official met General Talabani in a café

So after 1988, contact ceased, and we were able to do something. We managed to persuade the Senate in 1988 to pass a ban on any assistance given to Saddam. The Reagan administration didn't like this. They worked diligently in the House of Representatives to dilute this resolution, by giving the president the authorities to certify that he can override this, if it is in the interest of the United States. That was a sort of a warning that all was not well with their headlong rush to embrace Saddam.

So when the U.S. government came to you in 1990 . . .

Saddam threw the CIA out of Iraq in January, 1990. He ejected them. So that's another signal to the United States, but the United States refused to believe this. There's the famous trip of Senator Dole. To most, it was very, very strange to hear that we went to Washington in 1992. The delegation met with Senator Dole. One of his aides told me that they produced a transcript, although there was no tape recorder in the room, and that his own tape recorder was taken away from him. In fact, Senator Dole was bugged in the meeting. Saddam trusted him, and he was portrayed as sort of kowtowing to Saddam.

Then the United States government still would not meet with the Iraqi opposition. . . . Even after Saddam invaded Kuwait, they would not talk to us, but people in Congress did talk to us. After President Bush issued his finding in May, 1991, about the Central Intelligence Agency to get rid of Saddam, or to help overthrow Saddam, the CIA began to look for opposition people.

Strangely enough, the first people who were introduced to them were introduced to them by the French intelligence services. The French introduced them to some Sheikh Islamisists, in 1991, but there was no significant contact. The first official contact that took place between the State Department and the opposition was in April, 1991. There was a crucial NSC principals meeting, on March 22, where it was decided, finally, to let Saddam crush the uprising, in the hope that the Iraqi military would overthrow Saddam.

There was continual criticism of the administration from Congress, and in the press, that they are not meeting the opposition. We went to the United States, invited by the Council on Foreign Relations in March, 1991. We were invited to the House International Affairs Committee. We spoke, and the congressmen were impressed with what we had to say, and they said, have you talked to the State Department. I said no, they said why not, I said, they will not talk to us. The congressman said, do you mind if we try, and I said, please, go ahead. We met in the capital. They sent us with the aide of a chief of staff. We went with him to his office, and he called the State Department, who told him point-blank that they have no time to meet with us. He closed the phone and said, "This is the strangest response I have ever received from the State Department."

But the administration came under pressure. At the end of March, Secretary Baker said they'd meet with the Iraqi opposition, but no one had asked us to meet with them. So we sent them a message, and they agreed to meet with us. A delegation was appointed and three people went. I was one of them. We went to the State Department, and they just told us point-blank that the United States would not spend one penny, or risk one American soldier, to intervene in the civil wars of Iraq. That same afternoon, President Bush announced Operation "Poised Hammer" and sent American troops into northern Iraq. And that operation, which was supposed to last only three weeks, continues to this day.

So, Congress met us, encouraged us. Then our relationship with the United States government developed through Congress in the summer and the autumn of 1991.

Did you have practical assurances that America was serious about the INC as a way to change the regime?

The United States had not previously met on such an unprecedented level with any opposition of the Arab world. The secretary received in his office in Washington the INC delegation. They made statements that we represent the hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people, and they look forward to working with us and so on. . . . The rising expectations of the Iraqi opposition was at such a level that the whole movement was galvanized in an effort to get rid of Saddam. There was such tremendous momentum and potential at the time.

Picture this. Saddam had a closed totalitarian system, and the opposition manages to organize and persuade the United States to support a meeting of the opposition inside Iraq. We gather 400 leaders of the opposition, from as far away as Australia, to come through Iran and Turkey--in itself a great feat. We declared openly that we are establishing the Iraqi National Congress, and we are calling for democracy, and calling for elections and human rights. The Kurdish leaders, who each has a half a million votes in a free election, are part of this movement. We are sitting there, and the United States is clearly helping us to make a start. The feeling of people in Iraq, the opposition, felt that they were in fact empowered to do this. Now there's a contradictory view--that the CIA organized this meeting. But that is not accurate.

The United States government was very apprehensive that such a meeting would take place in northern Iraq. The Pentagon was very concerned that Saddam would make a move, and then they would either be left twisting in the wind, and they didn't think they had sufficient forces to prevent him from making the deterrent attack force. They were very eager that we should go in and get out, after they agreed that we go. They had little choice at the time, after we used our meeting with the secretary of state to demonstrate American support. A lot of people, including the Islamisists from Syria, the opposition in Syria, the nationalists, everybody. The communists felt that this is a move, let us join.

Then there was an election. It was three or four days before the presidential elections in Washington, and a new administration came in. They immediately took the view that this was Bush's war, and that they wanted a new beginning. They wanted to depersonalize the conflict. Some unfortunate statements were made that dampened the effort. But then we took care of this when we organized the meeting in Washington, in April, for the opposition. This time, the level of reception was even higher--the vice president received the delegation from the INC. This culminated in a letter that the vice president sent to me on August 4, 1993. It was a far-reaching letter that said, "On behalf of the president, I give you the undertaking of the United States to prevent Saddam Hussein from oppressing the people of northern Iraq."

He went on to say, "I, and Secretary of State Christopher, and national security advisor Lake were very impressed with your leadership, and we give you solid assurances that the United States will do whatever it can to assist you, to overthrow Saddam and establish democracy in Iraq."

It was on the basis of this letter that we went to the north and extended ourselves, organized ourselves, took bases, and established radio stations. By the way, this effort was largely our own. A great deal of it was paid for, not out of their funds, but from our own. They refused to provide us, for example, the TV studio.

They did provide you with agents. Then, in the end, some agents did come up to the north?

This was two years after we established things. One of them called me up from Washington on a secure line, and said, "We don't know what you're doing there, but we like the results." We did all this over there, and we did such an effective organization with such limited resources, that when Congress sent some staffers to see what was going on, two years after this, they were very impressed. They wrote us a letter to this effect. They said, "We are very impressed with what you've achieved, despite the scant resources that you have." We were able to organize ourselves into an effective political organization, with a military arm, and an effective media operation that extended into Iraq.

They did not really believe that we could do all this. Saddam noticed what we were doing, and he thought differently. He thought that we have much greater support than, in fact, we did have. That is what we did in the north.

What made you decide to actually launch a military operation?

We were there to fight Saddam. We had been there for two and a half years. The Kurds were at loggerheads. There was a bout of fighting, and we managed to quell it. We thought, correctly, that we had a limited window of opportunity to operate in the Kurdish area. We felt also that we had reached a plateau of organizational strength and hardware. We had a reasonable organization, and we had developed some serious contacts with military units in our area, in the north. We thought, at the time, judging from the ragtag way and the difficulties that Saddam had in mobilizing his troops to go and launch into Kuwait . . . In October, 1994, we thought that his forces were at a very low level of preparedness and capability, and had a lot of intelligence about their prospects. So we thought that this would be a good idea to go with. There was an incident on February 12, 1995, in the south, which demonstrated that Saddam's forces would rather cut and run than fight.

I myself had presented a plan to the Americans at a combined meeting of government departments concerned with foreign policy and defense and intelligence in Washington, in the autumn of 1993. I gave a written proposal.

In the summer of 1994, I had reason to believe that there was a change of heart in Washington, and that they would at least give some support to an effort to get rid of Saddam. This was enhanced when, in September of that year, a delegation came and U.S. officials in my presence told General Barzani and General Talibani that the United States government has decided to influence Saddam, and that they've asked them to work with me to put the plan together to do this.

Who were those U.S. officials?

Officials from the Central Intelligence Agency, who had accompanied the congressional delegation at the time . . . We did prepare a plan, and then we did meet with CIA officials about this move. The night before we raided, they came and told us, "You are on your own." I think they expected us to stop, but we went ahead anyway, and our problems with them began then.

Your problems with whom?

With the U.S. government.

Why would there be problems because of that?

Because we made a challenge to Saddam, and they thought they're going to face a Bay of Pigs situation where Saddam would massacre us. And of course that didn't happened, because we managed to knock out two of Saddam's divisions, and we had over a thousand officers and men who defected over to our side. We took every battalion of every brigade of their 38th Division. Later, senior officers said the whole Fifth Corps was in total disarray as a result of our effort.

In the next year, Saddam's tanks did come.

After 18 months, and seven meetings chaired by the U.S. to solve the Kurdish problem--where we had a peace plan, which depended on U.S. commitment to solve the Kurdish problem--the commitment never came.

It was not a matter of funds. There were plenty of funds generated in the area to take care of peacekeeping. But the commitment of the U.S. was reduced to giving a million dollars for peacekeeping. They wouldn't do it. It was beyond me to see why they didn't do it. It was such an easy thing to do. If that had been done, Saddam would not have invaded the north. If that had been done Saddam would have not thrown out UNSCOM. If that had been done, probably Saddam would not be in power.

I really never understood why this did not happen. The people who are dealing with it from the State Department did a great job in bringing the sides together. It depended on the U.S. giving a million dollars. They said that the money was coming. I stayed there, and nothing doing, the money did not show up. They would only come back again when the fighting would restart and the tensions rise again.

We had brought the Kurds together. It took four years and the efforts of the Secretary of State to bring them back together again. I never understood, until this day, why the United States government refused to provide a million dollars and a commitment to assist in this process to solve the Kurdish dispute.

And why do you think they didn't intervene in August, 1996?

Elections were taking place. The intervention by Saddam took place on the background of an Iranian incursion into the northern area, into Kurdistan, in July. So the Kurds were viewed in equally odious terms--one was dealing with Saddam, and the other was dealing with the moderates. Both those things are morally repugnant in Washington, so nobody had a moral high ground, and when Saddam intervened, they decided to cut and run.

And what was going through your mind when you were standing on the ramparts, looking at the tanks come towards you?

I was here at the time. I got a call from the assistant secretary of state on August 27, 1996. He said, "We have come to an agreement of ceasefire. Are you prepared to deploy INC forces to separate the Kurds?" I said, "We have been waiting for this call for 18 months. The answer is yes. Will you support this?" He said, "You have our support." I said, "I am going now." He said, "No, wait. The Kurds will come for either a meeting in Washington, or in London, so that we can agree on terms of the peacekeeping and the ceasefire." I said, "Fine."

The U.S. delegation then had to come to London. We are meeting them in the U.S. embassy conference room, here in London. The U.S. government was represented by the NSC, the State Department, and the CIA. Both Kurdish parties, the INC, and the British were represented. As we were solving the problems, I received a telephone call saying that Saddam's tanks were on their way.

So I came back to the conference room, and said, "Well, let's pack up. Saddam is coming." It's as simple as that.

One of the Kurdish Democratic Party officials told us that they consider you actually going ahead with your military plan was completely irresponsible, given the lack of U.S. support and the level of your forces. Why would they say something like that, and what do you think about that?

The KDP made the determination that Saddam is going to crush us. They did not really want to support it. We decided to go ahead, and they expected us to be defeated right away. In fact, this has not happened. We managed to make to keep the operation going. Saddam scored no military successes against us--the contrary was true. Saddam didn't capture any of our troops. We got thousand of people defecting to our side. We captured thousands of small arms, tens of heavy guns, and hundreds of heavy machine guns and mortars. We had a lot to show for our efforts. So it is not true to say that the operation failed. The KDP would say they did not participate.

The KDP was thinking that the United States was going to support it, and when they the United States did not support it, they wanted us to stop. But you see we had a different agenda. The Kurdish parties had territory to control, and revenues to collect. We were Iraqis, who were primarily interested in liberation. We had no interest in revenue, we had no interest in administration. We had a sole purpose. We felt we had reached a level that would enable us to challenge Saddam, even without United States' cooperation, even with the level of our forces such as it was. Saddam was on the defensive, on the retreat in that area. The campaign stopped, primarily because the Kurdish war erupted again. Had the Kurdish war not erupted again, we would have had a good chance to continue and to score more successes against Saddam. But we could not continue, because the Kurdish war restarted.

Let's jump forward and talk some about where we are now. You have the meeting next week in New York. Why is this meeting being held, not in northern Iraq, not in another country in the region, but in New York?

The answer is simple. For us to hold it in northern Iraq, the Kurds wanted, and we supported them, stringent guarantees from the United States that they would stop Saddam from coming into the north during the meeting and afterward. The Kurds did not get those guarantees. The United States was clear in a letter sent to us that said, "We are not going to increase our level of guarantees to the Kurds. The level of protection for the meeting is up to you." I traveled to northern Iraq, to Kurdistan, in July and talked to the leader of the Islamic movement, who agreed to host the meeting. But they changed their minds-they didn't look with favor on the meeting--so there was no meeting there.

But why wouldn't they look with favor, in your opinion?

They didn't look at with favor on the meeting, because the United States government thought that this meeting would surely generate a challenge, and an attack by Saddam, for which they were not prepared. The argument was that they just come out of the Kosavo thing, and that the stocks were depleted, that they had no forces in the region that would be able to stop Saddam from coming across. It was an argument largely made by the Pentagon.

So we could not have the meeting. Now our preference was not to meet in a European capital, but to have it in the United States, so we could show that we have the serious support of the United States government. Our principle problems with governments in the region is that they don't thing that the United States is serious. Our problem with Iraqis inside Iran is they don't think the United States is serious in the effort to get rid of Saddam. We are persuaded that the Iraq Liberation Act has changed the stance of the United States government.

Officially, the policy of the United States is containment, plus regime change. I say this means overflow, and they are moving towards that. Many people in the region are not persuaded. The president causes a letter to be sent to Congress from the State Department, saying we are now providing military assistance to the Iraq National Congress under the Iraqi Liberation Act. A few days later, Secretary of Defense Cohen says, "We're only providing political assistance to the Iraqi . . ." If you go to some Gulf state, they'll tell you that the secretary of state said that it is up to the Iraqi people to get rid of Saddam from the inside. They're not helping you.

If we have a meeting in the U.S. with speeches by people in the administration and Congress, things would be different. We would come out of there with united leadership, with a strategy and with a program that clearly has the support of the United States. I believe that would generate a great deal of interest in the region, and in Iraq, if we can keep the momentum going, and we intend to. A game was played . . . of blaming the victim, that the opposition is feckless, corrupt, and useless, sitting in London doing nothing, unable to generate any interest, and of great questionable support in Iraq--that the only people who have any support are people who are bad, fundamentalists. That's the game that was played--blame the victim. So people thought that we could not work together. The answer is, "Build it, and they will come. Get things together, and people will come." Our problem in the past two weeks here is to deflect and reduce the number of people who want to come to attend this conference, from all parts of the opposition.

Many people from Iran's Islamists are coming to the Congress now. They are fighting to increase their representation. Some Iranians do ask why the United States has not made a breakthrough in negotiations with Iran. But many Iranians are coming to the meeting.

If you got military support, where would you launch an attack from?

From inside Iraq.

Which party would let you do that?

We will not do it. The north is not the area to launch an attack against Saddam. The north will support an effort that starts somewhere else. We cannot call upon the Kurds to make a move against Saddam, knowing that there are three and a half million people living there will be under immediate attack by Saddam. We must not make the security of the Kurdish people into the enemy of operating against Saddam. No, we must launch the attack against Saddam from another part of Iraq, in the south and the west. Let us not get into details of military scenarios. There are possibilities.

But politically, without giving the details, you would need the support of other nations in the region.

We would like the support of other nations. But it's not a dealbreaker if it's not provided.

How is that?

There is potential to do this with the assistance of the United States. If the United States is willing to exert its political weight to support such an effort, you would find that many countries who show reluctance now would be persuaded of this effort

What do you think the chances are of that kind of support coming from America?

It's a lot better than it was last year, and much, much better than it was in 1997.

I talked to some people who were prominent in various administration--CIA people, senior people--who say, essentially, that the situation regarding the whole security of the region is actually probably the best we can do right now. Saddam is contained, and yes, the Iraqi people suffer the sanctions and his repression and all that, but really the opposition has no chance of overthrowing him-- and it's best just to let things remain as they are. How do you respond to that?

I respond to that by saying the president signed the Iraqi Liberation Act, which says it is the policy of United States to help those people in the opposition who want to work to overthrow Saddam Hussein, by providing them with weapons and training to do so. And that's the response. This is the policy of the United States.

Yes, but a lot of laws are signed that, in fact, are not implemented as vigorously as they could be, because people feel that they're not in the national interest.

They are in the national interest because they're implementing the law. They're training people, they're providing equipment, and Congress is not letting up.

The bigger strategic question behind that is, this really doesn't matter if Saddam remains in power for a while. How do you respond to that?

If you're a cynic, then the answer is yes. Saddam is weak, contained, and in his box. But there's another aspect to this. Saddam is getting more money. He is developing weapons of mass destruction, and he is oppressing the Iraqi people. When do you get the wake-up call--when Saddam perpetrates something really horrible? And what is the response of the United States? How long can the United States keep tens of thousand of troops in small countries who reject the presence of foreign forces, especially countries such as Saudi Arabia? They feel that continued American military presence and using their country as a base of bombardment on a daily basis of another Arab country threatens their own situation. How long can the United States keep this up? How long is the United States prepared to spend billions of dollars every year, shuffling troops back and forth, so that they can push a policy which, at best, is immoral, and cannot be shown to be effective.

I don't know the answer. But when you meet officials who are ingrained in a certain mind-set, and who are committed to a certain concept of people in the Middle East as people who are querulous and cannot reasonably govern themselves in a decent way, that they deserve what they get--this is essentially a racist view. Then they can say . . . that is the policy to follow. With our cynic, we now have the moral high ground. Saddam is an evil, and not only that, but from a geopolitical point of view, he is a threat at a level that the United States engagement in the region cannot contain for any length of time. The United States is using the diplomatic battle in the United Nations right now to pursue its policy. The policy, if it is only keeping sanctions on, is essentially immoral. Sanctions are not a policy. Sanctions are a very blunt instrument. Saddam is degraded. However, the situation of the Iraqi people is degraded more, because Saddam has first call on any resources that come into Iraq.

The disparity in resources between Saddam and the Iraqi people is growing. The United States is having trouble maintaining sanctions on Iraq in the United Nations. Many people in the opposition are calling for the lifting of sanctions. Many people are not thinking of the geopolitical significance of enabling Saddam by giving him huge resources. But nevertheless, the tragedy of the Iraqi people is sufficient to blind them to this geopolitical threat, and they could support the lifting of sanctions. Most countries in the Security Council now support the lifting of sanctions. It is perhaps only the United States and Britain who say no, keep the sanctions on. So the United States is not making headway in its policy. It is a policy of diminishing returns.

To what extent did a coup seem to be a more desirable option in the 1990's by the Clinton administration--more desirable than the kind of overthrow change that you were pursuing?

The Clinton administration saw co-option as the most plausible way to get rid of Saddam, and the cheapest way, and they took on this task. This started in the NSC. There was a policy directed in early 1994, early 1995 on this, and it continued and culminated in failure in the summer of 1996. They thought this was the plan to follow, and they did not succeed. As a result of this, they are gun-shy.

Who is gun-shy?

The intelligence agencies of the United States say they have a five-year plan--that we must develop new sources of human intelligence and infrastructure inside Iraq, before we can do anything about the regime. That's a long process. Essentially, they say, don't do anything now.

And what level of support do you get from them now?

Nothing. Zero. We have no support from them.

Is there an Iraqi opposition leader who is capable of providing the personality to lead the Iraqi people in the future?

The Iraqi people never had a personality that galvanized them, and around which they gathered, throughout the eight decades of Iraqi history.

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