WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sometimes a little history helps us
understand the present. On Jan. 16, 1991, two days after a UN-mandated
deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait had expired, the United States and
our allies initiated hostilities against Saddam Hussein. The attack began
with a massive bombardment of Saddam's military forces and infrastructure
throughout Iraq and Kuwait by U.S. and allied ships and aircraft. On Feb.
23, the allied ground offensive commenced and by 5:00 a.m. on Feb. 28, 1991,
the "Persian Gulf War I" was over.
The Iraqi people, encouraged by the horrendous punishment
inflicted on Saddam Hussein's instruments of power were led to believe that
the United States and our allies would support them in overthrowing the
despot. But rebellions in 1991 and 1995, launched with the encouragement of
U.S. and British intelligence officers, were met with overwhelming force by
Saddam and apathy in Washington. Tens of thousands of Kurdish and Shia
fighters and their family members were killed, and the Iraqi internal
opposition was all but crushed. One of those wounded in the futile fight of
1995 described it to me as "the Iraqi Bay of Pigs."
Exactly 12 years to the month that Persian Gulf War I began, the
leaders of a reconstituted Iraqi opposition movement arrived in Washington
for quiet talks with U.S. officials. Encouraged by six months of heated
rhetoric about the need for a "regime change" in Baghdad, a UN Resolution
threatening violence if Saddam fails to disarm and a massive U.S. military
build up in the Persian Gulf, the newly unified opposition came prepared,
once again, to put it all on the line to liberate their country.
During months of meetings in Europe, resistance leaders have set
aside age-old enmities and drafted what amounts to a "Declaration of
Independence" and a formula for political power sharing in a "post-Saddam"
Baghdad. Despite a lack of funds, Iraqi army defectors and dissidents
arriving in resistance camps along the Iraqi border, out of the reach of
Saddam's Amn Al-Khass special reprisal units and his brutal Republican
Guards, have been getting training and equipment in preparation for an
On Thursday, Jan. 9, the resistance leaders met at the Pentagon
with Department of Defense Officials who approved the opposition's plan to
return to their native land and declare a permanent "Provisional Government
for Free Iraq."
The following day, President George W. Bush met in the Oval
Office with the opposition leaders and gave them his blessing. The
resistance officials I spoke with on condition of anonymity after these
meetings said that "the green light was given." DoD participants confirmed
this assessment. By Jan. 13, preparations were underway for the resistance
leaders to announce their Provisional Government from inside Iraq not later
than Jan. 21.
Before he left for the meeting in Iraq, I asked Dr. Ahmad
Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, what they would do if Saddam
responded to their "Declaration of Independence" by attacking as he did in
1995. He replied, "We will appeal to the international community for help.
... We have been assured that the U.S. will respond to our plea for
liberation, just like the French answered America's call in 1781."
I reminded Chalabi that we started asking Paris for help in
1776, and they didn't get around to it for five more years. He responded,
"It better not take your Marines that long to get to Iraq!" It shouldn't.
But it might.
By Jan. 15, the plan that Pentagon officials and the resistance
leadership had been working on for months -- and that President Bush had
endorsed -- was "on hold." This delay isn't the consequence of some recently
discovered vulnerability. It's not being caused by the opposition getting
"cold feet." And it's not because of "lack of training" or "supply
inadequacies" in the opposition's growing military arm. No, the declaration
of "Free Iraq" has been put on hold because the Freedom Fighters are caught
in a deadly crossfire -- not in Iraq, but in Washington -- between the State
Department and the Pentagon.
This is nothing new. The Department of State and the CIA have
been so reluctant to carry out the provisions of the 1998 Iraq Liberation
Act that by the end of Fiscal Year 2002, less than $5 million of the $97
million appropriated by Congress to overthrow Saddam had been spent. Radio
Free Iraq has yet to come on the air. Last October, concerned at the lack of
action, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld urged President
Bush to reallocate the remaining $92 million in funding for the Iraqi
Freedom Fighters. He did -- and the Pentagon took over.
But that hasn't solved all the problems for those who would
liberate Iraq. They need staging areas, logistics bases and safe-area
hospitals. Yet, the State Department has been so reluctant to press Turkey
for this kind of support that the issue has been added to Joint Chiefs
Chairman Gen. Richard Myers' agenda next week in Ankara. And now, in a last
ditch effort to pre-empt action by the Iraqi Resistance, the State
Department and the CIA are warning against doing anything that would
interfere with Saddam Hussein's rumored plans to abdicate power and seek
self-imposed exile in Libya. When I asked one resistance leader about this,
he could only say: "Delay for this? Why?"
Yet delay is all we hear these days. Hans Blix and his blind
mice weapons inspectors want a six-month delay in any action so that they
may "finish their work." France and Germany want to delay military action
against Saddam until the UN Security Council votes another resolution. And
our State Department and CIA apparently want the Iraqi Resistance to delay
forever their "Declaration of Independence." President Bush needs to remind
them all that delay is not the friend of liberty.