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Iraq's attempt at a last minute deal - scuppered by Yankies

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  • Iraq's attempt at a last minute deal - scuppered by Yankies

    Iraq Reportedly Tried for Last-Minute Deal to Avert War

    By JAMES RISEN, The New York Times

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 — As American soldiers massed on the Iraqi border in March
    and diplomats argued about war, an influential adviser to the Pentagon
    received a secret message from a Lebanese-American businessman: Saddam Hussein
    wanted to make a deal.
    Iraqi officials, including the chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service,
    had told the businessman that they wanted Washington to know that Iraq no
    longer had weapons of mass destruction, and they offered to allow American troops
    and experts to conduct a search. The businessman said in an interview that the
    Iraqis also offered to hand over a man accused of being involved in the World
    Trade Center bombing in 1993 who was being held in Baghdad. At one point, he
    said, the Iraqis pledged to hold elections.The messages from Baghdad, first
    relayed in February to an analyst in the office of Douglas J. Feith, the under
    secretary of defense for policy and planning, were part of an attempt by Iraqi
    intelligence officers to open last-ditch negotiations with the Bush
    administration through a clandestine communications channel, according to people
    involved.The efforts were portrayed by Iraqi officials as having the approval of
    President Saddam Hussein, according to interviews and documents.The overtures,
    after a decade of evasions and deceptions by Iraq, were ultimately rebuffed. But
    the messages raised enough interest that in early March, Richard N. Perle, an
    influential adviser to top Pentagon officials, met in London with the
    Lebanese-American businessman, Imad Hage.According to both men, Mr. Hage laid out the
    Iraqis' position to Mr. Perle, and he pressed the Iraqi request for a direct
    meeting with Mr. Perle or another representative of the United States.

    "I was dubious that this would work," said Mr. Perle, widely recognized as an
    intellectual architect of the Bush administration's hawkish policy toward
    Iraq, "but I agreed to talk to people in Washington."Mr. Perle said he sought
    authorization from C.I.A. officials to meet with the Iraqis, but the officials
    told him they did not want to pursue this channel, and they indicated they had
    already engaged in separate contacts with Baghdad. Mr. Perle said, "The message
    was, `Tell them that we will see them in Baghdad.' "A senior United States
    intelligence official said this was one of several contacts with Iraqis or with
    people who said they were trying to broker meetings on their behalf. "These
    signals came via a broad range of foreign intelligence services, other
    governments, third parties, charlatans and independent actors," said the official, who
    spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Every lead that was at all plausible,
    and some that weren't, were followed up."There were a variety of efforts, both
    public and discreet, to avert a war in Iraq, but Mr. Hage's back channel
    appears to have been a final attempt by Mr. Hussein's government to reach American
    officials.In interviews in Beirut, Mr. Hage said the Iraqis appeared
    intimidated by the American military threat. "The Iraqis were finally taking it
    seriously," he said, "and they wanted to talk, and they offered things they never
    would have offered if the build-up hadn't occurred."Mr. Perle said he found it
    "puzzling" that the Iraqis would have used such complicated contacts to
    communicate "a quite astonishing proposal" to the administration.But former American
    intelligence officers with extensive experience in the Middle East say many Arab
    leaders have traditionally placed a high value on secret communications,
    though such informal arrangements are sometimes considered suspect in
    Washington.The activity in this back channel, detailed in interviews and in documents
    obtained by The New York Times, appears to show an increasingly frantic Iraqi
    regime trying to find room to maneuver as the enemy closes in. It also provides a
    rare glimpse into a subterranean world of international networking.The key
    link in the network was Imad Hage, who has spent much of his life straddling two
    worlds. Mr. Hage, a Maronite Christian who was born in Beirut in 1956, fled
    Lebanon in 1976 after the civil war began there. He ended up in the United
    States, where he went to college and became a citizen.Living in suburban
    Washington, Mr. Hage started an insurance company, American Underwriters Group, and
    became involved in Lebanese-American political circles. In the late 1990's, he
    moved his family and his company to Lebanon.Serendipity brought him important
    contacts in the Arab world and in America. An influential Lebanese Muslim he met
    while handling an insurance claim introduced him to Mohammed Nassif, a senior
    Syrian intelligence official and a close aide to President Bashar al-Assad.On
    trips back to Washington last year, Mr. Hage befriended a fellow
    Lebanese-American, Michael Maloof, who was working in the Pentagon as an analyst in an
    intelligence unit set up by Mr. Feith to look for ties between terrorist groups
    like Al Qaeda and countries like Iraq. Mr. Maloof has ties to many leading
    conservatives in Washington, having worked for Mr. Perle at the Pentagon during the
    Reagan administration.In January 2003, as American pressure was building for
    a face-off with Iraq, Mr. Hage's two worlds intersected.On a trip to Damascus,
    he said, Mr. Nassif told him about Syria's frustrations in communicating with
    American officials. On a trip to the United States later that month, Mr. Hage
    said, Mr. Maloof arranged for him to deliver that message personally to Mr.
    Perle and to Jaymie Durnan, then a top aide to the deputy defense secretary,
    Paul D. Wolfowitz. Pentagon officials confirmed that the meetings occurred.Mr.
    Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon, is known in
    foreign capitals as an influential adviser to top administration officials.After Mr.
    Hage told his contacts in Beirut and Damascus about meeting Mr. Perle, Mr.
    Hage's influential Lebanese Muslim friend asked Mr. Hage to meet a senior Iraqi
    official eager to talk to the Americans. Mr. Hage cautiously agreed.In
    February, as the United States was gearing up its campaign for a Security Council
    resolution authorizing force against Iraq, Hassan al-Obeidi, chief of foreign
    operations of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, arrived in Mr. Hage's Beirut
    office.But within minutes, Mr. Hage said, Mr. Obeidi collapsed, and a doctor was
    called to treat him. "He came to my office, sat down, and in five minutes fell
    ill," recalled Mr. Hage. "He looked like a man under enormous stress."After
    being treated, Mr. Obeidi explained that the Iraqis wanted to cooperate with the
    Americans and could not understand why the Americans were focused on Iraq
    rather than on countries, like Iran, that have long supported terrorists, Mr. Hage
    said. The Iraqi seemed desperate, Mr. Hage said, "like someone who feared for
    his own safety, although he tried to hide it."Mr. Obeidi told Mr. Hage that
    Iraq would make deals to avoid war, including helping in the Mideast peace
    process. "He said, if this is about oil, we will talk about U.S. oil concessions,"
    Mr. Hage recalled. "If it is about the peace process, then we can talk. If
    this is about weapons of mass destruction, let the Americans send over their
    people. There are no weapons of mass destruction."Mr. Obeidi said the "Americans
    could send 2,000 F.B.I. agents to look wherever they wanted," Mr. Hage
    recalled.He said that when he told Mr. Obeidi that the United States seemed adamant
    that Saddam Hussein give up power, Mr. Obeidi bristled, saying that would be
    capitulation. But later, Mr. Hage recounted, Mr. Obeidi said Iraq could agree to
    hold elections within the next two years.Mr. Hage said Mr. Obeidi made it
    clear that he wanted to get his message to Washington, so Mr. Hage contacted Mr.
    Maloof in Washington. "Everything I was hearing, I was telling Mike," he said.A
    few days later, Mr. Hage said, he met Mr. Obeidi at a hotel in downtown
    Beirut, and Mr. Obeidi repeated the offers of concessions, which he said came from
    the highest levels of the Iraqi government. Mr. Obeidi seemed even more
    depressed. "The U.S. buildup was clearly getting to them," Mr. Hage said.A week
    later, Mr. Hage said, he agreed to hold further meetings in Baghdad. When he
    arrived, he was driven to a large, well-guarded compound, where he was met by a
    gray-haired man in a military uniform. It was Tahir Jalil Habbush, the director
    of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, who is No. 16 on the United States list of
    most wanted Iraqi leaders. Mr. Hage said Mr. Habbush asked him if it was true
    that he knew Mr. Perle. "Have you met him?"Mr. Hage said Mr. Habbush began to
    vent his frustration over what the Americans really wanted. He said that to
    demonstrate the Iraqis' willingness to help fight terrorism, Mr. Habbush offered
    to hand over Abdul Rahman Yasin, who has been indicted in United States in
    connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mr. Yasin fled to Iraq after
    the bombing, and the United States put up a $25 million reward for his
    capture.Mr. Hage said Mr. Habbush offered to turn him over to Mr. Hage, but Mr. Hage
    said he would pass on the message that Mr. Yasin was available.Mr. Hage said
    Mr. Habbush also insisted that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and
    added, "Let your friends send in people and we will open everything to them."Mr.
    Hage said he asked Mr. Habbush, "Why don't you tell this to the Bush
    administration?" He said Mr. Habbush replied cryptically, "We have talks with
    people."Mr. Hage said he later learned that one contact was in Rome between the C.I.A.
    and representatives of the Iraqi intelligence service. American officials
    confirm that the meeting took place, but say that the Iraqi representative was not
    a current intelligence official and that the meeting was not productive.In
    addition, there was an attempt to set up a meeting in Morocco between Mr.
    Habbush and United States officials, but it never took place, according to American
    officials.On Feb. 19, Mr. Hage faxed a three-page report on his trip to
    Baghdad to Mr. Maloof in Washington. The Iraqis, he wrote, "understand the days of
    manipulating the United States are over." He said top Iraqi officials,
    including Mr. Habbush and Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, wanted to meet with
    American officials.The report also listed five areas of concessions the Iraqis
    said they would make to avoid a war, including cooperation in fighting
    terrorism and "full support for any U.S. plan" in the Arab-Israeli peace process. In
    addition, the report said that "the U.S. will be given first priority as it
    relates to Iraq oil, mining rights," and that Iraq would cooperate with United
    States strategic interests in the region. Finally, under the heading
    "Disarmament," the report said, "Direct U.S. involvement on the ground in disarming
    Iraq."Mr. Hage's messages touched off a brief flurry of communications within the
    Pentagon, according to interviews and copies of e-mail messages obtained by
    The Times.In an e-mail on Feb. 21 to Mr. Durnan, the Wolfowitz aide, Mr. Maloof
    wrote that Mr. Perle "is willing to meet with Hage and the Iraqis if it has
    clearance from the building," meaning the Pentagon.In an e-mail response, Mr.
    Durnan said: "Mike, working this. Keep this close hold." In a separate e-mail to
    two Pentagon officials, Mr. Durnan asked for background information about Mr.
    Hage. "There is some interesting stuff happening overseas and I need to know
    who and what he is," he wrote in one e-mail.Mr. Hage had impressive contacts,
    but there was one blemish on his record: In January he had been briefly
    detained by the F.B.I. at Dulles Airport in Washington when a handgun was found in
    his checked luggage. He said he did not believe it was a security violation
    because it was not in his carry-on luggage, and the authorities allowed him to
    leave after a few hours.Senior Pentagon officials said Mr. Durnan relayed
    messages he received from Mr. Maloof to the appropriate officials at the Pentagon,
    but they said that Mr. Durnan never discussed the Hage channel to the Iraqis
    with Mr. Wolfowitz. (In May, Mr. Maloof, who has lost his security clearances,
    was placed on paid administrative leave by the Pentagon, for reasons unrelated
    to the contacts with Mr. Hage.)Mr. Hage continued to hear from the Iraqis and
    passed on their urgency about meeting Mr. Perle or another representative of
    the United States. In one memo sent to other Pentagon officials in early March,
    Mr. Maloof wrote: "Hage quoted Dr. Obeidi as saying this is the last window
    or channel through which this message has gone to the United States. Hage
    characterized the tone of Dr. Obeidi as begging."Working through Mr. Maloof, Mr.
    Hage finally arranged to meet with Mr. Perle in London in early March. The two
    met in an office in Knightsbridge for about two hours to discuss the Iraqi
    proposals, the men said. Mr. Hage told Mr. Perle that the Iraqis wanted to meet
    with him or someone from the administration.Mr. Perle said he subsequently
    contacted a C.I.A. official to ask if he should meet with the Iraqis. "The answer
    came back that they weren't interested in pursuing it," Mr. Perle said in an
    interview, "and I was given the impression that there had already been
    contacts."Mr. Perle now plays down the importance of his contact with Mr. Hage. He said
    he found it difficult to believe that Mr. Hussein would make serious
    proposals through such a channel. "There were so many other ways to communicate," he
    said. "There were any number of governments involved in the end game, the
    Russians, French, Saudis."Nonetheless, Mr. Hage continued to deliver messages from
    the Iraqis to Mr. Maloof.In one note to Mr. Perle in mid-March, Mr. Maloof
    relayed a message from Mr. Hage that Mr. Obeidi and Mr. Habbush "were prepared to
    meet with you in Beirut, and as soon as possible, concerning `unconditional
    terms.' " The message from Mr. Hage said, "Such a meeting has Saddam Hussein's
    clearance."No meetings took place, and the invasion began on March 20. Mr.
    Hage wonders what might have happened if the Americans had pursued the back
    channel to Baghdad."At least they could have talked to them," he said.Copyright ©
    2003 <A HREF="">The New York Times

    Roger Stroope
    Northern Arizona University
    Flagstaff USA

    In response to reporters and critics queries during the first Gulf War;
    "I firmly believed we should not march into Baghdad ...To occupy Iraq would
    instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and
    make a broken tyrant, into a latter-day Arab hero …" George H. W. Bush (41)

    "...assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched
    dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban
    guerrilla war." George H. W. Bush (41)

    In response to reporters query relating to attacks against US service people;
    "Bring 'em on!" George W. Bush (43) July 3, 2003

  • #2
    Technically, Iraq ran out of time in January 2003. There were a number of back channel offers from a number of sources. However, each must be analyzed and weighed. Given the political timetable, Bush could not wait for these negotiations to develop. The President had less than six weeks to depose Saddam before it really began to interfere with his chances for re-election. (Bitter irony huh?) Computers projected as many as 2,000-4,000 Coalition soldiers and upwards of 100,000 Iraqi civilians KIA. It would take a long time for the effects of that to wear off.

    I can't stress how critical the time matrix for this war was. It was either go before April 2003, or not at all. Everyone knew that, and based their strategy on it. Had we not invaded in March 2003, the US would not be able to act until at least late November 2005, even if the inspectors found WMDs, in Saddam's office on his desk while he was sitting at the table.

    Those who opposed the war, sought to use diplomacy as a means to runout the clock. Maybe had they actually decided upon a less fatalistic strategy, things might have turned out different.

    In the end though, Saddam was his own worse enemy. He did nothing to try to detract from his image as a ruthless dictator. This coupled with his own insecurity, helped faciliate his demise.
    "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942


    • #3
      Only a person as naive as Marko could believe that Saddam's deal was a genuine offer. Marko keeps on making the impression of somebody who thinks the Second Gulf War was launched because one day, for unknown reasons, Bush woke up angry at Saddam.

      What about the previous ten years? What about all the last minute deals (Iraq vs. UN) that have been struck in the last decade?

      Last minute deals is an old, proven trick used in politics when a war hangs in the balance. It costs somebody like Saddam nothing and with luck it can buy him some last-minute bonus, such as better positioning of troops for the first phase of hostilities.

      "Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a ugly brawl."
      --Frederick II, King of Prussia


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