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Iraq Special Report

  U.S. Cautious on Backing Saddam's Foes

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 1998; Page A14

Encouraging the Iraqi opposition to initiate a civil war as a way of removing Saddam Hussein "sounds -- but is not -- simple," according to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

"The Iraqi opposition is currently divided," Albright wrote in an article published today in Newsweek, "and it would be wrong to create false or unsustainable expectations that could end in bloodshed and defeat."

Albright's remarks respond to a plan for the overthrow of the Iraqi leader that was put forward last week by a bipartisan group of former U.S. foreign and security policy officials as an alternative to President Clinton's threat to bomb Iraq. Their plan calls for the United States to provide arms and military air support to restore a safe haven in northern Iraq and give diplomatic recognition to a group of Iraqi exiles established there so that they can use it as a base to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

"Iraq is ripe for a broad-based insurrection. We must exploit this opportunity," the group said in a letter to Clinton.

National security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger drew an analogy to the Bay of Pigs last week in answering a question as to why the United States is not releasing frozen Iraqi funds to support the exile groups in their efforts against Saddam Hussein. "If you encourage and almost incite people to rise up against their government, you incur a moral obligation," Berger said, noting the U.S. experiences in Cuba in 1961, Hungary in 1956 and Iraq in 1991, at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

An internal CIA report on the failed attempt at the Bay of Pigs to overthrow Cuban President Fidel Castro, made public yesterday after 36 years of secrecy, illustrates dangers inherent in U.S. plotting with exiles to remove a foreign leader.

The CIA inspector general's Bay of Pigs report, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive and first reported yesterday in the New York Times, focuses on several problems created in that U.S. effort that roughly parallel those inherent in any attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

For example, the CIA report repeatedly focuses on problems caused by infighting among the various Cuban exile groups as agency officials attempted to establish a provisional government and supply guerrilla forces inside Cuba.

"Members [representing exile group factions] would resign in a huff and have to be wheedled back," the report said. "Each faction wanted supplies to be sent only to its own followers in Cuba, while groups inside were reluctant to receive infiltrees sent in the name of the [exile front group]."

Tentative plans for a provisional government "set off a flurry of intrigue and bickering which delayed the recruiting process and did nothing to advance the cause of unity."

After months of planning, the report said, it took an ultimatum by CIA just before the invasion that they faced the "risk of [the U.S. ending] all further support" before the leaders of various factions would agree to elect a chairman.

Last week's proposal for overthrowing Saddam Hussein called for the Iraqi provisional government to be "based on the principles and leaders of the Iraqi National Congress (INC)." The INC, which is led by Ahmed Chalabi, has membership from disparate Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups and in the past received encouragement and public political support from Clinton administration officials.

The INC and an offshoot Iraqi exile group, the Iraqi National Accord (INA), made up of exiled former Iraqi military and political figures, also received up to $100 million in arms and financial support from the CIA. That aid was cut off in 1996, after the INC unsuccessfully attempted military probes into the south without U.S. support and attempted military coups plotted by the INA failed.

One reason the military action failed was the withdrawal of Kurdish elements both before and after the fighting began. Today, senior intelligence experts inside and outside government said the Kurdish leaders once associated with the INC were more interested in establishing a Kurdish homeland in northern Iraq; the Shiite Muslim leader, Akram Hakim, who still is part of the INC, is supported by Iran and does not control the various groups in southern Iraq; and most important, the Iraq Sunni populace around Baghdad has little or no representation in the INC.

Former representative Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), who is a sponsor of the new overthrow plan, criticized the administration's past efforts as a "total failure of imagination." He added: "If we convince the Iraqis that this time we are serious about bringing the regime down with political and military support, a lot of Iraqis and surrounding countries which have hesitated to support us would join us." To advance that view, Chalabi and other INC leaders came to Washington earlier this month and met with members of Congress and officials of the National Security Council and State Department.

In the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the inspector general report criticized CIA planners for believing that 30,000 Cubans would join the guerrillas in fighting Castro. "We can confidently assert," the report said, "that the agency had no intelligence evidence that Cubans in significant numbers could or would join the invaders."

The failed INC military plan in 1995, like the overthrow proposal, contemplated that members of the Iraqi army would turn and fight against Saddam Hussein.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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