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President Bush and Prime Minister Aznar. [Source: Rod Aydelotte/Getty Image]President Bush tells Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar that the US will invade Iraq whether the United Nations Security Council passes a resolution or not (see February 24, 2003). The private conversation takes place at Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch; the transcript of the conversation is not made public until September 26, 2007, when it is published in El Pais, Spain’s highest-circulation news daily; its accuracy will not be challenged by the White House. The transcript is prepared by Spain’s ambassador to the UN, Javier Ruperez, from a secret US transcript of the meeting. According to English translations of Ruperez’s Spanish transcript, Bush says the US will invade Iraq whether there is “a United Nations Security Council resolution or not.… My patience has ended. I’m not thinking of waiting beyond mid-March.… We have to get rid of Saddam [Hussein].… There are two weeks left.” Bush tells Aznar that Hussein’s government will be overthrown with little destruction, and that he is willing to play “bad cop” to British prime minister Tony Blair’s “good cop.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/26/2007; Harper's, 9/26/2007]
Bush Threatens Economic Retaliation If Other Countries Do not Support Invasion - Aznar pleads for patience from Bush, and says that a UN resolution is vital. Aznar notes that public opinion in Spain is heavily against the war. Bush retorts that should certain countries not support the war in the UN, they could face retaliation from the US: “Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola, and Cameroon should know that what’s at stake is the security of the United States.” Bush mentions negative votes could endanger a free trade agreement with Chile and financial support for Angola. [Agence France-Presse, 9/26/2007]
'Chinese Water Torture' - Bush says that Hussein is playing endless games with his “pretenses” towards disarmament. “This is like Chinese water torture,” he says. “We have to put an end to it.… Saddam Hussein will not change and will continue playing.” He says that the US has a package of humanitarian aid already in the works, and has prepared for a post-Hussein Iraq. It is possible, Bush says, that Iraq will be reorganized into a federation, presumably of semi-autonomous ethnic enclaves for the Shi’a, Sunnis, and Kurds. To Aznar’s statement that he is working closely with France’s Jacques Chirac to get a resolution passed in the UN, Bush replies: “Chirac knows perfectly well the reality. His intelligence services have explained. The Arab countries are sending Chirac a clear message: Saddam Hussein must go. The problem is that Chirac thinks he’s Mister Arab and is making life impossible.” [Harper's, 9/26/2007; ABC News, 9/26/2007]
No Exile for Hussein; Bush 'At Peace' With Himself - Bush says that suggestions from Egyptian leaders in touch with Hussein that the Iraqi leader could go into exile with $1 million and documents about Iraq’s weapons programs are not being considered. Hussein is “a thief, a terrorist and a war criminal,” he says. After Hussein is overthrown, the US will prosecute him in the International Criminal Court, Bush says. Bush is well aware of the “destruction and death” that the war will bring, he avers, and he is the one who will have to console “the mothers and the widows” of the dead. He says he is optimistic because he believes he is right: “I am optimistic because I believe I am right. I am at peace with myself.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/26/2007; Editor & Publisher, 9/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Jose Maria Aznar, El Pais, Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), George W. Bush, Javier Ruperez, United Nations Security Council, Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair, Mother Teresa, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
At a town hall meeting with Iraqi-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, says: “First-and this is really the overarching principle-the United States seeks to liberate Iraq, not occupy Iraq…. If the president should decide to use force, let me assure you again that the United States would be committed to liberating the people of Iraq, not becoming an occupation force.” [US Department of Defense, 2/23/2003]
New York Post cover labeling the United Nations ‘weasels.’ [Source: New York Post]When it becomes clear that France will oppose the US resolution at the UN for war with Iraq (see September 28, 2002 and October 26, 2002), Fox News anchor Bob Sellers sarcastically describes France as a member of the “axis of weasels.” The phrase first appeared in the New York Post (both Fox News and the Post are owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch), and over the following days the phrase often appears in a banner at the bottom of the screen. Later in the year, Fox executive Roger Ailes will be asked if he approved of the banner; he answers: “We shouldn’t have done that, if we did. I would call that bad journalism.” The practice will continue. [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]
The United States, Britain and Spain submit a draft to the UN Security Council for a second resolution declaring Iraq in “further material breach” of previous UN resolutions. The draft claims that the declaration Iraq submitted to the UN Security Council on December 7, 2002 (see December 7, 2002) contained “false statements and omissions” and that Iraq “has failed to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of” UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Meanwhile France, Russia and Germany field an alternative plan aimed at achieving peaceful disarmament with more rigorous inspections over a period of five months. China expresses support for the alternative plan despite efforts by Secretary of State Colin Powell to convince its government to support the more aggressive proposal. [Fox News, 2/24/2003; United Nations, 2/24/2003] At this point, it seems that only Bulgaria will support the American-British-Spanish resolution. Eleven of the fifteen council members have indicated that they favor allowing the inspectors to continue their work. Fox News suggests that the US may be able to convince some countries—like Angola, Guinea and Cameroon—to support the resolution since “there is the possibility that supporting the resolution may reap financial benefits from the United States.” [Fox News, 2/24/2003]
An unnamed senior UN diplomat tells the Washington Post that he had been told by US officials: “You are not going to decide whether there is war in Iraq or not. That decision is ours, and we have already made it. It is already final. The only question now is whether the council will go along with it or not.” [Washington Post, 2/25/2003 Sources: Unnamed (non-US) senior U.N diplomat]
Neoconservative Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, has a simple explanation as to why UN inspectors are not finding WMD in Iraq (see February 8, 2003): skullduggery. “UN weapons inspectors are being seriously deceived,” he declares in an essay published on the American Enterprise Institute’s Web site entitled “Take Out Saddam—It’s the Only Way.” Perle’s contentions are similar to those he has extolled in the past (see March, 2001 and November 20, 2002). This time he escalates the rhetoric even farther: “It reminds me of the way Nazis hoodwinked Red Cross officials inspecting the concentration camp at Theresienstadt in 1944.” [American Enterprise Institute, 2/25/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 289]
General Shinseki testifying before the Senate, February 2003. [Source: Representational Pictures]General Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” will be needed to secure post-invasion Iraq. “We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground-force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.” [Associated Press, 3/25/2003; New York Times, 1/12/2007] For his estimate, Shinseki will be publicly derided by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003). [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Wayne Wright, a State Department Iraq analyst and one of the government’s most knowledgeable experts on Middle East affairs, authors a classified report on the likelihood that a US invasion will bring democracy to Iraq. He writes the report on his own initiative believing that it is necessary “to sit down and do some clearheaded thinking about an issue that was emerging.” Citing Middle East polling data, the report argues that Middle Eastern civil societies are far more anti-Western than their respective governments. Invading the country would likely result in severe sectarian-based civil unrest that would hamper efforts to build a democracy in the country. In the event that the US does succeed in establishing a democracy, the Iraqi people would probably elect leaders who are antipathetic toward the US and Israel, and sympathetic toward militant Islamism. The report, titled “Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes,”, is distributed throughout the US intelligence community and is also sent to the White House. [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 192]
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly delivers a threat to Americans who disagree with the administration’s war policies, telling viewers: “Anyone who hurts this country in a time like this—well, let’s just say you will be spotlighted.… I will call those who publicly criticize their country in a time of military crisis, which this is, bad Americans.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly tells his audience on Fox News: “Once the war against Saddam [Hussein] begins, we expect every American to support our military, and if they can’t do that, to shut up. Americans, and indeed our allies, who actively work against our military once the war is underway will be considered enemies of the state by me. Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand, and others who see the world as you do. I don’t want to demonize anyone, but anyone who hurts this country in a time like this, well. Let’s just say you will be spotlighted.” [CounterPunch, 3/3/2003; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), 5/2003]
President Bush gives a speech on the impending invasion of Iraq to a friendly audience at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. In the audience are, among others, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; the wife of Vice President Cheney, Lynne Cheney; and an assortment of cabinet officers.
Direct Accusations of WMD, Terrorist Ties - Bush accuses Saddam Hussein of “building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world,” and promises that “we will not allow it.” He accuses Hussein of having “close ties to terrorist organizations,” and warns that he “could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country—and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted. We hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm, fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed.” Bush states flatly that “[t]he safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat.”
Securing the Freedom of the World - Moreover, he asserts, “[a]cting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world.… A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America’s interests in security, and America’s belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq.” America will ensure that Iraq’s oil resources will be used to “benefit… the owners—the Iraqi people.” Bush evokes World War II when he says: “After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom.” And a democratic Iraq would have a positive influence on its neighbors, Bush says: “A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.”
Resolution of Israeli-Palestinian Dispute - The overthrow of Saddam Hussein “could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state,” Bush states. “Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders. True leaders who strive for peace; true leaders who faithfully serve the people. A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror.” If this comes to pass, Israel must recognize that state “and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end. And the Arab states will be expected to meet their responsibilities to oppose terrorism, to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine, and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel.”
The Road Map for Peace - The occupation of Iraq, and the subsequent creation of a democratic Palestinian state, are the first steps in Bush’s “road map for peace,” he says. “We are setting out the necessary conditions for progress toward the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. It is the commitment of our government—and my personal commitment—to implement the road map and to reach that goal. Old patterns of conflict in the Middle East can be broken, if all concerned will let go of bitterness, hatred, and violence, and get on with the serious work of economic development, and political reform, and reconciliation. America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace. And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity.”
Internationalism at Work - “In confronting Iraq, the United States is also showing our commitment to effective international institutions,” Bush says. “We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We helped to create the Security Council. We believe in the Security Council—so much that we want its words to have meaning.… A threat to all must be answered by all. High-minded pronouncements against proliferation mean little unless the strongest nations are willing to stand behind them—and use force if necessary. After all, the United Nations was created, as Winston Churchill said, to ‘make sure that the force of right will, in the ultimate issue, be protected by the right of force.’” Bush calls for the passage of the second UN Security Council resolution supporting a military strike against Iraq (see February 24, 2003), and notes that if the resolution does not pass, “the United Nations will be severely weakened as a source of stability and order. If the members rise to this moment, then the Council will fulfill its founding purpose.” [White House, 2/26/2003; CNN, 2/27/2003]
'Presidential Seal of Approval' for War - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will later observe, “With these words, the presidential seal of approval was stamped on a war to liberate an oppressed people and to redraw the political map of the Middle East.” Wilson goes on to write: “It was hard to disagree with the president that exporting democracy and freeing people from dictatorial regimes are laudable goals. But I also knew that that is not what we’ve structured the US military to do for our country. Notwithstanding administration promises of a cakewalk in Iraq, I was concerned it would be enormously difficult, costly, and time-consuming to impose democracy there at the barrel of a gun, requiring, above all, a grateful and compliant population. If we didn’t succeed, we would be forever blamed for the havoc we wrought in trying.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 319-320]
Point-by-Point Rebuttal - Author and professor of politics Stephen Zunes will write a lengthy, point-by-point rebuttal to Bush’s speech (see March 8, 2003).
Iraq agrees to destroy all the equipment associated with its Al Samoud missile program, including warheads, SA-2 missile engines, machinery to produce missile motors, fuel, launchers, testing equipment, components as well as all software and documentation. The UN had earlier concluded that the missile program was in violation of UN resolutions because the range of the missiles exceeds the 150km limit imposed in 1991 after the Gulf War (see February 12, 2003). Responding to news of Iraq’s decision, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer dismisses any suggestion that it is an example of Iraqi cooperation. Instead he describes it as “deception.” He says, “This is the deception the president predicted. We do expect that they will destroy at least some of their missiles.” He also says that Iraq’s actions constitute “propaganda, wrapped in a lie, inside a falsehood.” And Donald Rumsfeld offers a similar interpretation of Iraq’s actions. He says: “I don’t see a change in the pattern at all. You know, this is exactly what’s been going to for years…. They refuse to cooperate, don’t cooperate, drag it out, wait until someone finally nails them with one little piece of the whole puzzle and refuse to do anything about it and then finally when they see the pressure building, they say well, maybe we’ll do some of that.” Bush similarly states: “The discussion about these rockets is part of [Saddam’s] campaign of deception. See, he’ll say, ‘I’m not going to destroy the rockets,’ and then he’ll have a change of mind this weekend and destroy the rockets and say, ‘I’ve disarmed.’” And Powell says: “I think it’s just more indication of the reality that we have been trying to convey to the world, that Saddam Hussein is trying to string it out, trying to divert attention, trying to pretend he is cooperating when he is not cooperating, try[ing] to use process as an excuse for not cooperating and not complying with the will of the international community.” [BBC, 1/28/2003; Associated Press, 2/28/2003; Fox News, 2/28/2003; New York Times, 3/1/2003]
Army-issue chemical and biological protective gear. [Source: Approved Gas Masks (.com)]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responds to a request from House member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to certify to Congress that US troops going to Iraq “have the minimum required levels of chem/bio protective equipment” as established by the Pentagon, even as Army units are selling the same equipment on eBay (see Early March 2003). Rumsfeld says that he cannot make such a certification. [Carter, 2004, pp. 58-61] The General Accounting Office has reported that up to 250,000 chem/bio suits are defective. Furthermore, the GAO reported that the Army has been aware of the problem since 1996. When asked by House member Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) about the deficiency in late 2002, Defense Department Inspector General Joseph Schmitz replied, “There is no such thing as perfect safety in warfare.” [United Press International, 10/1/2002]
Appearing before the House Budget Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz publicly contradicts General Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, for saying that it will take “several hundred thousand soldiers” to successfully occupy Iraq (see February 25, 2003).
Greeted as Liberators - Wolfowitz says: “We can’t be sure that the Iraqi people will welcome us as liberators, although based on what Iraqi-Americans told me in Detroit a week ago, many of them—most of them with families in Iraq—I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down. In short, we don’t know what the requirement will be, but we can say with reasonable confidence that the notion of hundreds of thousands of American troops is way off the mark.” Wolfowitz says there’s no “record in Iraq of ethnic militias fighting one another.” [CNN, 2/28/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 194] He restates the opinions of the top civilians at the Pentagon that it will take somewhere around 100,000 troops to secure postwar Iraq. Wolfowitz’s statement is echoed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who says, “The idea that it would take several hundred thousand US forces I think is far off the mark.” Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz mention Shinseki by name, but the connection is clear. A spokesman for Shinseki, Colonel Joe Curtin, says that Shinseki stands by his judgment. “He was asked a question and he responded with his best military judgment,” says Curtin. [New York Times, 2/28/2003] Shinseki will retire shortly after the contretemps with Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz (see June 13, 2003).
Iraqi Reconstruction Chief's Opinion - Reflecting on Shinseki’s public humilation, Iraqi reconstruction chief Jay Garner (see January 2003) will say, “When Shinseki said, Hey, it’s going to take 300,000 or 400,000 soldiers, they crucified him. They called me up the day after that, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld. They called me the next day and they said, Did you see what Shinseki said? And I said yes. And they said, Well, that can’t be possible. And I said, Well, let me give you the only piece of empirical data I have. In 1991 [during the Gulf War], I owned 5 percent of the real estate in Iraq, and I had 22,000 trigger pullers. And on any day I never had enough. So you can take 5 percent—you can take 22,000 and multiply that by 20. Hey, here’s probably the ballpark, and I didn’t have Baghdad. And they said, Thank you very much. So I got up and left.” Garner’s estimate would require some 440,000 troops in Iraq. [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat of 20 years, resigns from his post as a political counselor at the United States Embassy in Athens, citing his opposition to the administration’s Iraq policy. In his faxed letter to Colin Powell—a copy of which is obtained by the New York Times—Kiesling writes, “Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson.” Asked by the New York Times, how others in the State Department feel about Bush’s plans to invade Iraq, he explains: “No one of my colleagues is comfortable with our policy. Everyone is moving ahead with it as good and loyal. The State Department is loaded with people who want to play the team game—we have a very strong premium on loyalty.” After Kiesling’s resignation, two more US diplomats will resign, John Brown, PhD. (see March 10, 2003), and Mary Wright (see March 19, 2003). [New York Times, 2/27/2003; Kiesling, 2/27/2003]
The Pentagon ensures that Marines are sent into combat with pamphlets from an evangelical group titled “A Christian’s Duty in Time of War.” The pamphlet requests that the soldiers pray for George W. Bush, and provides tear-out forms for soldiers to fill in and mail certifying that they have, indeed, prayed for the president. [Carter, 2004, pp. 58-61]
Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix’s 12th quarterly report is circulated among UN Security Council members. The report will be presented orally to the Council on March 7 (see March 7, 2003). The report does not provide any evidence to support the US and British claim that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or that is has any programs to develop such weapons. Blix does however say the Iraqis could do more to assist his team’s work. [Daily Telegraph, 2/28/2003; Associated Press, 2/28/2003; Guardian, 3/1/2003]
In an interview, Secretary of State Colin Powell dismisses any US political interest in the Middle East other than bringing peace and stability. In response to a question about French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin’s comment that “[t]he US strategy on Iraq is sliding from disarmament towards remodeling of the Middle East,” Powell suggests that the US is not intending to remodel the Middle East, but that that could be a positive result of military action. “Well, I disagree categorically with my colleague Dominique de Villepin’s comment.… [I]f Iraq had disarmed itself, gotten rid of its weapons of mass destruction over the past 12 years, or over the last several months since 1441 was enacted, we would not be facing the crisis that we now have before us.… I must say, however, that if we are unable to get Iraq to comply and military action is necessary to remove this regime and to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction, it’s quite clear to me that a new regime would be more responsive to the needs of its people, would live in peace with its neighbors, and perhaps that would assist the region in finding more peace, prosperity and stability for other nations in the region. But the suggestion that we are doing this because we want to go to every country in the Middle East and rearrange all of its pieces is not correct, and I think Minister de Villepin is wrong.” Regarding international support for the US position, Powell says: “Well, we are still contacting nations around the world. And, you know, there is no war yet. We haven’t started a war. We don’t want a war. But I am confident that if it becomes necessary to go into action, the United States will be joined by many nations around the world.” [Department of State Archives, 1/3/2003]
Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), recovering at home from emergency surgery, takes frequent phone calls from Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to discuss US preparations for war with Iraq. “The war drums were beating as he was going in and out of the hospital,” his daughter Maura will later recall. “But he took phone calls all the time from Cheney and Rumsfeld.” Moynihan is lionized by many neoconservatives, and had, in his time, worked closely with Bush administration neoconservatives such as Elliott Abrams and Abram Shulsky, but Moynihan is also a maverick who is not interested in toeing any ideological lines. He will later tell his daughter: “Don’t worry about the war, my dear. The war will last two weeks. It is the ten-year occupation you have to worry about.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 291-292] Moynihan will die shortly after the surgery. [New York Times, 3/27/2003]
On PBS’s NOW with Bill Moyers, former ambassador Joseph Wilson explains why he does not believe the administration’s impending war with Iraq is necessary or warranted. Wilson, as he has said before (see February 13, 2003), is for aggressive, coercive inspections and what he calls “muscular disarmament.” But, Wilson says, President Bush does not want a disarmed Saddam Hussein: “I think he wants a dead Hussein. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.” Bush is giving Iraq no incentives to disarm because he is not interested in disarmament, he wants nothing less than to overthrow Hussein. “I think war is inevitable,” he says. “Essentially, the speech that the president gave at the American Enterprise Institute (see February 26, 2003) was so much on the overthrow of the regime and the liberation of the Iraqi people that I suspect that Saddam understands that this is not about disarmament.”
'Shock and Awe' - Moyers asks Wilson about the US tactic of “shock and awe” that he has heard is being considered for the opening strikes of the US invasion (see March 19, 2003). Wilson says: “From what I understand about shock and awe, it will be a several day air assault in which they will drop as much ordinance in four or five days as they did during the 39-day bombing campaign of the Gulf War.… Missiles, bombs, precision bombs. I believe the president and our military officials, when they say they will do everything to minimize casualties to the civilian population. But it was difficult to imagine dropping that much ordinance on a population of four million people without having a lot of casualties that are unanticipated. A lot of civilian casualties.” Wilson is pessimistic that even such a massive opening assault might, as Moyers asks, touch off a rebellion against Hussein or a mass retreat and exodus of Hussein’s ground forces. While “you might well have a bloody uprising in Baghdad in which pits essentially the Iraqi population against the Republican Guard in Saddam’s palace, I think far more likely, is that most Baghdadis will just simply go into hiding and try and avoid getting hit by this American ordinance and/or getting killed by the Republican Guard.”
Redrawing the Map of the Middle East - Wilson believes that one of the biggest reasons why Bush is invading Iraq instead of working to disarm the Iraqi regime is because Bush is committed to what he calls “re-growing the political map of the Middle East.” He explains: “[T]hat basically means trying to install regimes in the Middle East that are far more friendly to the United States—there are those in the administration that call them democracies. Somehow it’s hard for me to imagine that a democratic system will emerge out of the ashes of Iraq in the near term. And when and if it does, it’s hard for me to believe that it will be more pro-American and more pro-Israeli than what you’ve got now.” Wilson says that Bush is implementing plans drawn up in the 1990s by neoconservatives such as Richard Perle (see July 8, 1996), which provide “the underpinning of the—of the philosophical argument that calls for basically radically changing the political dynamics in the Middle East and… to favor American national security interests and Israeli national security interests which are tied.”
Recipe for Anti-American Demagoguery - Such a grand agenda will be far more difficult to implement than Perle, Bush, and others believe, Wilson says. “I’ve done democracy in Africa for 25 years,” he says. “And I can tell you that doing democracy in the most benign environments is really tough sledding. And the place like Iraq where politics is a blood sport and where you have these clan, tribal, ethnic and confessional cleavages, coming up with a democratic system that is pluralistic, functioning and, as we like to say about democracies, is not inclined to make war on other democracies, is going to be extraordinarily difficult.” Wilson provides the following scenario: “Assuming that you get the civic institutions and a thriving political culture in the first few iterations of presidential elections, you’re going to have Candidate A who is likely going to be a demagogue. And Candidate B who is likely going to be a populist. That’s what emerges from political discourse. Candidate A, Candidate B, the demagogue and the populist, are going to want to win elections of the presidency. And the way to win election is enflame the passions of your population. The easy way for a demagogue or a populist in the Middle East to enflame the passion of the population is to define himself or herself by their enemies. And the great enemy in the Middle East is Israel and its supplier, the United States. So it’s hard to believe, for me, that a thriving democracy certainly in the immediate and near-term and medium-term future is going to yield a successful presidential candidate who is going to be pro-Israel or pro-America.”
Losing Focus on al-Qaeda - Wilson believes that the US has lost its focus on pursuing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. “The game has shifted to Iraq for reasons that are confused to everybody,” he says. “We have been sold a war on disarmament or terrorism or the nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction or liberation. Any one of the four. And now with the president’s speeches, you clearly have the idea that we’re going to go in and take this preemptive action to overthrow a regime, occupy its country for the purposes, the explicit purposes of fostering the blossoming of democracy in a part of the world where we really have very little ground, truth or experience. And, certainly, I hope along with everybody that the president in his assessment is correct. And that I am so wrong that I’m never invited to another foreign policy debate again.… Because if I am right, this could be a real disaster.” [PBS, 2/28/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 320-321]
The US trains between Iraqi exiles at the Taszar military base in Hungary. At the base, dubbed “Camp Freedom,” the exiles, or “Free Iraqi Forces” (FIF), are taught both survival skills and support functions. Most of those trained are believed to be supporters of INC president Ahmed Chalabi. [BBC, 4/1/2003; Associated Press, 4/1/2003; Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003]
As Congress prepares to give the White House its requested $75 billion war supplement for Iraq, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) asks, “Why is there not a single dime for veterans’ health benefits in that $75 billion?” Kucinich also notes that the Bush administration’s cuts in veterans’ benefits will force an estimated 1.25 million veterans out of the system. Not only does the Bush administration not want to provide money for benefits, it attempts to charge veterans for health care. Congress will block the administration’s efforts to charge troops returning from Iraq a $250 fee to enroll in the VA medical plan. The administration also opposes a plan to expand health care for returning reservists and National Guard troops (the White House will drop its opposition after coming to a compromise with Congress). And the administration will implement a charge of $8 per day for each hospitalized soldier for his meals, until Congress votes to block the charge. [Carter, 2004, pp. 61-65]
Of the 35,000 Iraqis detained at one point or another by US forces, only about 1,300 are ever charged with a crime and only half of those are found guilty. The British Liberal Democrat party, which obtained the numbers from US Central Command, argues that the detentions are only serving to fuel the insurgency by creating discontent among the civilian population. [Guardian, 11/15/2005]
Several journalists question a recent White House press conference that was entirely scripted and orchestrated by the White House with the knowing complicity of the reporters present (see March 6, 2003). Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who attends the conference, later says it “might have been the most controlled presidential news conference in recent memory.… The president had a list of 17 reporters who he was going to call on. He didn’t take any questions from reporters raising their hands.” White House communications director Dan Bartlett later retorts, “If you have a message you’re trying to deliver, a news conference can go in a different direction.” However, “In this case, we know what the questions are going to be, and those are the ones we want to answer.” [PRWatch, 4/2003]
'Deferential Reporters' - ABC political reporter and commentator Sam Donaldson, a fixture of the White House press corps during the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations, later recalls “wincing” as he watched “deferential reporters” questioning President Bush during the “scripted” conference. Donaldson will say: “People ask me, ‘Do you wish you were back at the White House?’ And I say, ‘No, not really.’ [But] there are moments like Thursday night when—yeah—I want to be there!” Veteran White House reporter Larry McQuillan of USA Today says Bush’s “call sheet” of preselected reporters “demeaned the reporters who were called on as much as those who weren’t.” Another correspondent at the conference later says: “They completely played us. What’s the point of having a press conference if you’re not going to answer questions? It was calculated on so many different levels.” New York Observer commentator Michael Crowley notes that the press corps itself must share some of the blame: “Although some asked reasonably pointed questions, most did with a tone of extreme deference… that suggested a skittishness, to which they will admit, about being seen as unpatriotic or disrespectful of a commander in chief on the eve of war. Few made any effort to follow up their questions after Mr. Bush’s recitation of arguments that were more speech-like than extemporaneous: Saddam Hussein is a threat to America, Iraq has not disarmed, Sept. 11 must never happen again.… The press corps seemed mainly to serve as a prop, providing Mr. Bush with an opportunity to deliver another pro-war speech while appearing to bravely face the music.” ABC’s Terry Moran reflects that he and the rest of the press corps shirked their duty: “The point is to get [the president] to answer questions, not just to stand up there and use all the majesty of the presidency to amplify his image.” [New York Observer, 3/16/2003]
'Kabuki' Conference - Salon’s Eric Boehlert will later write: “The entire press conference performance was a farce—the staging, the seating, the questions, the order, and the answers. Nothing about it was real or truly informative. It was, nonetheless, unintentionally revealing. Not revealing about the war, Bush’s rationale, or about the bloody, sustained conflict that was about to be unleashed inside Iraq. Reporters helped shed virtually no light on those key issues. Instead, the calculated kabuki press conference, stage-managed by the White House employing the nation’s most elite reporters as high-profile extras, did reveal what viewers needed to know about the mind-set of the [mainstream media] on the eve of war.” [Salon, 5/4/2006]
US National Guard units deployed to Iraq are less well-equipped than their counterparts in the Army.
Helicopters lack aircraft survivability equipment which allows the helicopters to evade enemy fire. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/27/2003]
Guardsmen complain of shortages of body armor, night vision goggles, ammunition, radar, uniforms, boots, cold weather gear, and two-way radios. Some guardsmen say that the equipment shortage are at times so severe that if they were operating according to Army rules the lack of equipment would have amounted to an “automatic mission-abort criteria.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/27/2003; CBS News, 10/31/2004]
A CIA analyst who is investigating intelligence reports suggesting that Iraq is seeking US mapping software that could be used to guide its drones to the US, interviews the Iraqi procurement agent who placed the order for the software. He concludes from the interview that the Iraqi agent’s purchase order for the mapping software was likely inadvertent, and that he was actually trying to obtain other pieces of equipment from the manufacturer’s online store. The CIA reports in a memo addressed to the House intelligence committee that it now has “no definite indications that Baghdad is planning to use WMD-armed UAVs against the US mainland.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 206]
The US military has drawn up plans three times between June 2002 and January 2003 to launch an air strike against a training camp in northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that is said to be producing chemical weapons (see June 2002, November 2002, and January 2003), but months have passed and the White House has not given any formal reply to any of the attack plans. Finally, several weeks before the start of the US invasion of Iraq in late March 2003, the White House indicates that President Bush has rejected any strike on the camp until after the US invasion of Iraq begins. The camp will be attacked on March 20. Bush administration officials will later say the camp was not targeted for a number of reasons, including uncertain intelligence reports and the difficulties of hitting al-Zarqawi within a large camp area. But Gen. John Keane, the US Army’s vice chief of staff at the time, will later call the camp “one of the best targets we ever had.” He and other officials will claim the intelligence on al-Zarqawi’s location was sound and the risk of collateral damage was small due to the camp’s location in a remote mountain area. But Pentagon spokesperson Lawrence Di Rita will later claim that one reason for not taking action was “the president’s decision to engage the international community on Iraq.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] And CIA official Michael Scheuer will later say, “The reasons the intelligence service got for not shooting al-Zarqawi was simply that the President and the National Security Council decided it was more important not to give the Europeans the impression we were gunslingers.… Mr. Bush had Mr. al-Zarqawi in his sights for almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn’t shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 5/1/2006]
Iraq begins destroying equipment associated with its Al Samoud Weapons program which the UN had determined was in violation of UN resolutions since the range of the missiles exceeds the 150km limit imposed in 1991 after the Gulf War (see February 12, 2003). [BBC, 3/2/2003; CNN, 3/9/2003]
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says during a House Subcommittee on National Security meeting that, according to the General Accounting Office, many US military units are selling their protective chem/bio suits (see Late 2002) on the Internet for three dollars “while other units [are] desperately clamoring for those critical items.” Congressional investigators will find that the Army has sold 429 of the $200 protective suits on eBay for three dollars apiece. The problem goes beyond a few hundred suits. One entire military wing has “only 25 percent of the protective masks required.” The Pentagon’s Inspector General has found that 420,000 protective suits listed on inventory and intended for distribution to troops bound for Iraq cannot be found. In February, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld refused to certify that US soldiers had the proper chem/bio equipment necessary for the invasion (see February 27, 2003). [Set-Aside Alert: Federal Contract News and Information, 9/6/2002; Carter, 2004, pp. 57-58]
US officials admit that imprisioned al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida have said in interrogations that bin Laden vetoed a long term relationship with Saddam because he did not want to be in Hussein’s debt. [Newsweek, 6/25/2003]
In the March 3 issue of the Nation, former ambassador and Washington insider Joseph Wilson writes, “The underlying objective of this war is the imposition of a Pax Americana on the region and the installation of vassal regimes that will control restive populations.” [Nation, 3/3/2003] Explaining his remarks to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Wilson says, “The underlying objective, as I see it,… is less and less disarmament, and it really has little to do with terrorism, because everybody knows that a war to invade and conquer and occupy Iraq is going to spawn a new generation of terrorists. So you look at what’s underpinning this, and you go back and you take a look at who’s been influencing the process. And it’s been those who really believe that our objective must be far grander, and that is to redraw the political map of the Middle East…” When Blitzer asks if “there [is] something fundamentally wrong with that notion,” Wilson questions whether force can really bring democracy to the region. [CNN, 3/2/2003]
State Department officials Ariel Cohen and Gerald P. O’Driscoll update their September 2002 paper titled, “The Road to Economic Prosperity for a Post-Saddam Iraq,” (see September 25, 2002) expanding the section which addresses plans for post-Saddam Iraq’s oil industry. The update is apparently a reaction to the State Department’s opposition to the neoconservatives’ proposal to sell off Iraq’s oil fields. They say that despite Secretary of State Colin Powell’s remarks that the “oil of Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people… [and] will not be exploited for the United States’ own purpose…” the US should still provide “guidance to the future government of Iraq on establishing sound economic and trade policies to stimulate growth and recovery.” [Cohen and O'Driscoll, 3/5/2003]
Leader of House of Commons Robin Cook meets with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and has the “most revealing” discussion about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons arsenal. During the exchange Blair essentially acknowledges that Saddam does not have weapons of mass destruction that could be used against his enemies like the US or Britain. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003] Cook says to Blair: “It’s clear from the private briefing I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities. But he probably does have several thousand battlefield chemical munitions. Do you never worry that he might use them against British troops?” Blair responds, “Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]
ABC’s Nightline hosts a “town meeting” panel discussion with a number of experts and pundits on the subject of the impending invasion of Iraq. The proponents of the war include Senator John McCain (R-AZ), former CIA Director James Woolsey, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. Arguing against the war are the former deputy chief of mission to Iraq, Joseph Wilson; Senator Carl Levin (D-MI); and the Reverend Susan Thistlewaite of the Chicago Theological Seminary. The advocates of the war had prepared for the discussion, even holding a mock debate the night before with Randy Schoeneman of the Iraqi Liberation Front. The anti-war panelists did not discuss their remarks until minutes before the broadcast. “[W]e were disadvantaged by our comparative lack of preparation,” Wilson will later recall in his 2004 book The Politics of Truth. He remembers the panel discussion as “unpleasant,” not the least because, during his remarks about achieving disarmament without occupation (see February 13, 2003 and February 28, 2003), McCain interrupts him and accuses him of “appeasement.” Wilson will later write: “I take great offense at having my patriotism questioned by anyone. John McCain’s service to his country is unimpeachable but that does not give him a monopoly on loyalty, nor is it equatable with wisdom on national security issues.” Woolsey piles on, accusing Wilson of racism when Wilson notes that implementing democracy in Iraq would be “a stiff challenge.” Wilson will write that the accusation, which he will term “an outrageously provocative insult,” angers many of the African-American audience members, including “several members of the House of Representatives who had known me from my White House days managing African Affairs” for the State Department. Wilson will note, “The remark went over with a thud and was subsequently dropped from the standard set of neoconservative talking points spouted against me.” At the end of the debate, host Ted Koppel tells the threesome in favor of war, “You have made some important points, gentlemen, but you have not made your case that war with Iraq now is necessary.” Wilson calls it “a pyrrhic victory,” in part because “the one person whom we would have liked most to influence by our arguments—George W. Bush—was probably already asleep. But then, as he later told Brit Hume of Fox, he gets his information straight from his advisers rather than from newspapers and broadcast outlets.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 321-323]
President Bush holds a press conference—only his eighth since taking office—in which he conflates Iraq and Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terror at least 12 times. For instance, he says: “Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a country that trains terrorists; it’s a country that could arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country.” Perhaps his most alarming statement is, “September the 11th should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.” [White House, 3/6/2003; Salon, 5/4/2006; PBS, 4/25/2007] Bush insists that he has not yet decided to take military action against Iraq (see March 6, 2003). [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Scripted and Orchestrated - Oddly, none of the 94 assembled journalists challenge Bush’s conflations, no one asks about Osama bin Laden, and no one asks follow-up questions to elicit information past the sound bites Bush delivers. There is a reason for that. In 2007, PBS’s Bill Moyers will report that “the White House press corps will ask no hard questions… about those claims,” because the entire press conference is scripted. “Sure enough, the president’s staff has given him a list of reporters to call on,” Moyers will report. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer later admits to giving Bush the list, which omits reporters from such media outlets as Time, Newsweek, USA Today, and the Washington Post. After calling on CNN reporter John King, Bush says, “This is a scripted—” and then breaks into laughter. King, like his colleagues, continues as if nothing untoward is happening. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert will later say: “[Bush] sort of giggled and laughed. And, the reporters sort of laughed. And, I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along after his question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.” Several questions later, Bush pretends to choose from the available reporters, saying: “Let’s see here… Elizabeth… Gregory… April.… Did you have a question or did I call upon you cold?” The reporter asks, “How is your faith guiding you?” Bush responds: “My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance.” Boehlert will later say: “I think it just crystallized what was wrong with the press coverage during the run up to the war. I think they felt like the war was gonna happen and the best thing for them to do was to get out of the way.” [White House, 3/6/2003; Salon, 5/4/2006; PBS, 4/25/2007]
Defending the Press's Complicity - New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, a participant in the conference, will later defends the press corps’ “timid behavior,” in Boehlert’s characterization, by saying: “I think we were very deferential because… it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.” [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Compliant Media Coverage - The broadcast news media, transmitting the live feed of the conference, could not have been more accommodating, author and media critic Frank Rich will later note. “CNN flashed the White House’s chosen messages in repetitive rotation on the bottom of the screen while the event was still going on—‘People of good will are hoping for peace’ and ‘My job is to protect America.’” After the conference, Fox News commentator Greta van Susteren tells her audience, “What I liked tonight was that in prime time [Bush] said to the American people, my job is to protect the American people.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 70]
Follow-Up Coverage Equally Stage-Managed - Boehlert notes that the post-conference coverage is equally one-sided. On MSNBC’s flagship news commentary show, Hardball, host Chris Matthews spends an hour discussing the conference and the upcoming invasion. Matthews invites six guests on. Five are advocates of the war, and one, given a few moments for “balance,” questions some of the assumptions behind the rationale for war. The five pro-war guests include an “independent military analyst,” retired General Montgomery Meigs, who is one of around 75 retired military officers later exposed as participants in a Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Some Criticism Leveled - Several journalists later write harsh critiques of the conference and the media’s complicity (see March-April 2003).
Entity Tags: Montgomery Meigs, USA Today, Washington Post, Time magazine, MSNBC, George W. Bush, Greta Van Susteren, Ari Fleischer, Bill Moyers, CNN, Chris Matthews, Elisabeth Bumiller, John King, Frank Rich, Eric Boehlert, Newsweek
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
UN diplomats debate the text of an amendment to the American-British-Spanish draft resolution that will give Iraq a March 17 deadline to disarm. The amendment, submitted by the British, demands that Iraq demonstrate “full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation in accordance with its disarmament obligations.” Notably, the resolution does not provide any specific means for the UN to measure Iraqi compliance, thus requiring that any judgment concerning Iraq’s level of cooperation be arbitrary. [CNN, 3/7/2003; Guardian, 3/8/2003] A diplomat tells CNN, that he has “a better chance of getting a date with Julia Roberts than Iraq has of complying in 10 days.” [CNN, 3/7/2003] There is significant opposition to the text of this draft and a diplomat tells CNN that the resolution will likely be defeated by a landslide. France, Russia, and China believe that the inspections should be given more time. France’s Foreign minister says he will veto the resolution. “We cannot accept an ultimatum as long as the inspectors are reporting cooperation,” he says, adding: “That would mean war. By imposing a deadline of a few days, would we be reduced to seeking a pretext for war? France will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of force.” [CNN, 3/7/2003; Guardian, 3/8/2003; New York Times, 3/8/2003]
Some of the documents turned over to the UN by Iraq. [Source: CIA]United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission chief arms inspector Hans Blix provides a quarterly report to the UN Security Council on the progress of inspections in Iraq, as required by UN Security Resolution 1284 (1999). It is the twelfth such report since UNMOVIC’s inception. Blix’s report to the Council does not contain any evidence to support US and British claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or the programs to develop such weapons. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 ; CNN, 3/7/2003] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei also reports to the Council and says there are no signs that Iraq has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 ]
UNMOVIC Report by Hans Blix -
There is no evidence that Iraq has mobile biological weapons factories, as was recently alleged by Colin Powell in his February 5 presentation (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. “Several inspections have taken place… in relation to mobile production facilities,” Blix says. “No evidence of proscribed activities has so far been found.” He further explains that his inspectors had examined numerous mobile facilities and large containers with seed processing equipment. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 ; CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003]
The Iraqi government has increased its cooperation with inspectors since the end of January. It is attempting to quantify the biological and chemical weapons that it says were destroyed in 1991. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 ; CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003]
Iraq’s destruction of several Al Samoud II missiles represents a real step towards disarmament. “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament,” he says. “We are not watching the destruction of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed.” [CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003] Blix adds, “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament—indeed, the first since the middle of the 1990s.” Major Corrine Heraud, the chief weapons inspector for UNMOVIC in this operation, calls the level of cooperation from the Iraqis “unprecedented,” something that she never would have expected and did not encounter during the 1996-98 inspections. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Blix says that the UN inspectors needed a few more months to finish their work. “Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude induced by continued outside pressure, it will still take some time to verify sites and items, analyze documents, interview relevant persons and draw conclusions,” he says, concluding, “It will not take years, nor weeks, but months.” [CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003]
Iraqi scientists have recently accepted inspectors’ requests to be interviewed without “minders.” “Since we started requesting interviews, 38 individuals were asked for private interviews, of which 10 accepted under our terms, seven during the past week,” Blix explains. [CNN, 3/7/2003]
Some Iraqi scientists have agreed to interviews without “minders”—but more cooperation is needed. Blix says, “While the Iraqi side seems to have encouraged interviewees not to request the presence of Iraqi officials or the taping of the interviews, conditions ensuring the absence of undue influences are difficult to attain inside Iraq.” [CNN, 3/7/2003] Iraq needs to turn over more documents. “Iraq, with a highly developed administrative system, should be able to provide more documentary evidence about its proscribed weapons. Only a few new such documents have come to light so far and been handed over since we began.” [CNN, 3/7/2003] There is no evidence of underground weapons facilities. Blix says: “There have been reports, denied by Iraq, that proscribed activities are conducted underground. Iraq should provide information on underground structures suitable for the production or storage of weapons of mass destruction. During inspections of declared or undeclared facilities, inspectors examined building structures for any possible underground facilities. In addition, ground-penetrating radar was used in several locations. No underground facilities for chemical or biological production or storage were found.” [CNN, 3/7/2003]
IAEA report by Mohamed ElBaradei -
There is no evidence that the aluminum tubes imported by Iraq in July 2001 were meant for a nuclear weapons program. ElBaradei says: “Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets.… Moreover, even had Iraq pursued such a plan, it would have encountered practical difficulties in manufacturing centrifuges out of the aluminum tubes in question.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 ; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003]
There is no evidence that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Documents provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the US were determined to be forgeries. The documents were a collection of letters between an Iraqi diplomat and senior Niger officials discussing Iraq’s interest in procuring a large amount of uranium oxide (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). “Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that documents which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic,” ElBaradei explains. “We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded”
(see June 12, 2003). [United Nations, 3/7/2003 ; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Guardian, 3/8/2003]
The IAEA has yet to come across evidence of a nuclear weapons program. “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq,” ElBaradei states. “[T]here is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 ; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003]
In a direct response to allegations made by Colin Powell on February 5 (see February 5, 2003) related to the attempted procurement of magnets that could be used in a gas centrifuge, ElBaradei, says: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters, and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings, and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 ]
Iraq’s industrial capacity “has deteriorated” at the inspected sites because of lack of maintenance and funds. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 ]
ElBaradei concludes: “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.… I should note that, in the past three weeks, possibly as a result of ever-increasing pressure by the international community, Iraq has been forthcoming in its cooperation, particularly with regard to the conduct of private interviews and in making available evidence that contributes to the resolution of matters of IAEA concern.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Inspections 'Fruitful,' Say French, Russians - Both sides claim that the reports give further support to each of their respective stances on the issue of Iraqi disarmament. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin tells the Council that the reports “testify to the progress” of the inspections. He states that France will not support another resolution because “we cannot accept any ultimatum, any automatic use of force.” Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says that the reports demonstrate that inspections have been “fruitful.”
Inspections Not Working, US Claims - The Bush administration does not alter its position, despite statements by the two inspectors that Iraq is cooperating with inspections and complying with demands to disarm. Colin Powell, responding to the inspectors’ reports, reiterates the administration’s position that the inspections are not working and that Saddam is not cooperating. “We must not walk away,” Powell says. “We must not find ourselves here this coming November with the pressure removed and with Iraq once again marching down the merry path to weapons of mass destruction, threatening the region, threatening the world.” He claims that Iraq’s behavior is a “a catalog still of noncooperation” and repeats the administration’s allegation that the “Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” Back at the White House, Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “As the president has said, if the United Nations will not disarm Saddam Hussein, it will be another international organization, a coalition of the willing that will be made up of numerous nations that will disarm Saddam Hussein.” [CNN, 3/6/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003; Independent, 3/7/2003; US Department of State, 3/7/2003 ]
Bush: Missile Destruction 'Meaningless' - Bush himself will call the destruction of Iraqi missiles “meaningless” and nothing more than an Iraqi “campaign of destruction,” shocking UNMOVIC inspectors: “We didn’t know what to make of [his words],” one inspector says afterwards. Former State Department official Patrick Lang will write: “In the final weeks of the countdown to war, the administration’s actions resembled nothing so much as some of the madder scenes from Alice in Wonderland. The fact that the documents the administration had used to ‘prove’ that Iraq was working on nuclear weapons were forged only led to greater insistence that Iraq was a danger. The absence of discovery of WMD by the UN inspectors was only further evidence that the Iraqis were the greatest deceivers in history and that they had succeeded in concealing their location. The destruction of the Al Samoud missiles was just more evidence of a ‘grand deception.’” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Uranium Allegations 'Outrageous,' Says Former Ambassador - The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times do give the story front-page coverage, and on CNN, former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003) calls the uranium allegation “outrageous,” adding that the claim “taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq.” The US government is “simply stupid” for not finding out the truth sooner: “a couple of phone calls” could have proven that such a deal between Iraq and Niger could not have happened: “All this stuff is open,” Wilson says. “It’s a restricted market of buyers and sellers.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 71]
IAEA Report 'Widely Ignored' - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later note, “With America’s March 17 deadline for war (see March 17, 2003 and March 17, 2003) dominating the news, ElBaradei’s pronoucements were widely ignored. The news of the forged uranium documents did not make any of the three network evening newscasts and did not appear in the following day’s New York Times. (It would turn up a day later, in a four-hundred word story on page A13.)” [Rich, 2006, pp. 71]
Entity Tags: Corrine Heraud, Ari Fleischer, Colin Powell, Dominique de Villepin, Patrick Lang, Frank Rich, Mohamed ElBaradei, International Atomic Energy Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Igor Ivanov, Hans Blix
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Representative Curt Weldon. [Source: H. Rumph Jr / Associated Press]Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) becomes embroiled in a plot by Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar to contrive a secret uranium exchange between Iran and Iraq. According to Ghorbanifar’s story (see January 11, 2006), just before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a team of Iranian intelligence agents infiltrated Iraq and stole enriched uranium for use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The story is later proven to be false, and based on a desire for money and to embroil Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. After first being contacted by a mysterious Iranian source through a friend and a colleage on March 7, Weldon repeatedly flies to Paris to meet with the source he later calls “Ali,” who is later shown to be Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister in the Shah’s Iran who now works as a secretary for Ghorbanifar. Mahdavi has already tried, and failed, to interest several Western intelligence agencies in the stolen uranium tale. He finds Weldon to be far more credulous than the intelligence agencies. According to an intelligence source interviewed in 2006, “Ali provided information that indicated Iranian intelligence had sent a team to Baghdad to extract highly enriched uranium from a stockpile hidden by Saddam Hussein.” Ali tells Weldon that an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq and stole the uranium for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. According to the story, “the team successfully extracted the stockpile but on the way back to Iran contracted radiation poisoning.” Weldon immediately informs CIA Director George Tenet. Weldon will later write in his book Countdown to Terror: “Tenet appeared interested, even enthusiastic about evaluating Ali and establishing a working relationship with him. He agreed to send his top spy, Stephen Kappes, the deputy director of operations, along with me to Paris for another debriefing of Ali.… On the day of our scheduled second meeting with Ali in Paris, Kappes bowed out, claiming that ‘other commitments’ compelled him to cancel. Later, the CIA claimed to have met with Ali independently. But I discovered this to be untrue.… Incredibly, I learned that the CIA had apparently asked French intelligence to silence Ali.” Weldon is wrong; the CIA’s Paris station chief, Bill Murray, investigates the claims and finds Ghorbanifar (whom either he or the agency mistakenly believes to be “Ali”) to be what the agency calls a “fabricator.” Murray goes so far as to take either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi to Iraq to have them retrace the route of the Iranian intelligence mission. “Ali” is unable to do so, and Murray learns that the entire story was concocted in hopes of a large payoff: “Soon it became apparent that Ali and his sources were fabricators and were trying to extract large sums of money,” one intelligence source will say. (Murray will later deny going to Iraq with either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi, but will call “the source” “not credible.… The sensational charges that the source made could not be substantiated.” Weldon, not to be denied, takes his story to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who pressures the CIA to investigate further. One former CIA officer later says, “CIA reluctantly, after pressure from Rumsfeld, followed up by detaching one of their weapons experts from the team that was hunting WMD in Iraq.” Again, this effort proves that Ghorbanifar’s story is completely false. In 2006, reporter Larisa Alexandrovna will call Weldon an “innocent bystander taken in by an internationally known con man and the lure of spook-like activities than an inside player with an agenda or material participant in these events. The Ali composite seems to have used Weldon as a conduit by which to provide the CIA with information.” One intelligence official will observe, “If you were going to launder intel to make up a war, you could easily send some fool on an errand.” [Raw Story, 1/11/2006] Weldon will meet again with Mahdavi, and will write about a lurid Iranian terror plot, the “12th Imam” scheme, based on his tales (see June 8, 2005 and Mid-July 2005). He will claim that the CIA has “routinely” ignored “credible” information about these and other plots.
After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that the Niger documents (see March 2000) are not authentic (see March 7, 2003), the US and British governments stand behind their claim that Iraq had sought uranium from an African country. The two countries maintain that they have additional evidence—from multiple sources—but do not elaborate. Pressed by journalists and inspectors to reveal their evidence, the two governments refuse. The IAEA tells Reuters that when it asked the US and Britain whether or not they have additional evidence that Iraq had tried to procure uranium, the answer was “no.” [Reuters, 3/26/2003]
'Information Blackout' - Additionally, an informed UN official tells the Washington Post that the US and Britain were repeatedly asked for more information. Neither government, the official explains, “ever indicated that they had any information on any other country.” [Washington Post, 3/22/2003] An unnamed Western diplomat tells the Independent: “Despite requests, the British Government has provided no such evidence. Senior officials at the agency think it is involved in an information black-out.” [Independent, 7/17/2003]
British Stick With Story Even after US Backs Away - The British will hold to their story even after top US officials admit (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) that Bush should not have included the claim in his State of the Union speech.(see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) [New York Times, 7/8/2003; Independent, 7/20/2003]
Additional Evidence Initially Believed to be French Intel Reports - The London Times will later suggest that Britain’s additional evidence consisted of reports provided by the French in 1999 alleging that Iraqi diplomat Wissam al-Zahawie’s visit to Niger (see February 1999) was aimed at securing a deal to purchase uranium. [Sunday Times (London), 11/6/2005] As one British foreign official explains to the Independent: “Niger has two main exports—uranium and chickens. The Iraqi delegation did not go to Niger for chickens.” But Al-Zahawie disputes this. “My only mission was to meet the president of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq,” he tells the Independent. “The invitation and the situation in Iraq resulting from the genocidal UN sanctions were all we talked about. I had no other instructions, and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium…. I have been cleared by everyone else, including the US and the United Nations. I am surprised to hear there are still question marks over me in Britain. I am willing to cooperate with anyone who wants to see me and find out more.” [Independent, 8/10/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003]
Actual Evidence Provided by Italian Reports Based on Forged Documents - Later reporting will reveal that the main source for Britain’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that traced back to the forged Niger documents. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005] “I understand that it concerned the same group of documents and the same transaction,” an unnamed Western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency later tells the Daily Mail. [Agence France-Presse, 7/15/2003]
The US Army Corps of Engineers awards Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), a sole-source monopoly contract to repair and operate Iraq’s oil infrastructure. The contract is awarded in secrecy without any competing bids from other qualified companies. Halliburton will eventually charge the government $2.4 billion for its work. The Defense Contract Audit Agency will find that about $263 million of these costs are either questionable or unsupported. Despite this, the US Army will pay Halliburton all but $10.1 million, or 3.8 percent, of the disputed costs. [New York Times, 2/27/2006; US Congress, 3/28/2006, pp. 3-4 ]
Dr. Stephen Zunes. [Source: Mother Jones]Author and professor of politics Stephen Zunes writes a lengthy, point-by-point rebuttal to President George Bush’s February 28 speech, in which Bush claimed that overthrowing Saddam Hussein will bring peace and democracy to the Middle East (see February 26, 2003). Zunes calls the speech “sanctimonious and highly misleading,” and decries the fact that while it received plenty of media attention, it garnered little critical response in the press.
No Proof of Iraqi WMD Nor Terrorist Ties - Zunes notes that Bush offered no proof of Iraqi WMD, nor how, if Iraq indeed has such weapons, it could dominate the Middle East, as Bush said. And, if Bush knows where the Iraqi WMD are, Zunes asks, why hasn’t he told the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), “which has a mandate to destroy them?” Neither has Bush submitted any evidence of Iraq’s ties to terrorist organizations.
Food, Medicine Shortages Due to US-Led Sanctions - Bush’s sympathy towards the privations and misery of the Iraqi people are undermined, Zunes writes, by the fact that “[t]he scarcity of basic food and medicines are a direct result of the US-led sanctions against Iraq.” He calls Bush’s promises of assistance “woefully inadequate.”
US Has Long Record of Exerting Control over Middle Eastern Oil - Bush’s reassurances that Iraq’s oil will be used to benefit its people are hard to swallow, Zunes says, given the US’s long record of exerting its own control over Middle Eastern oil reserves (see August 19, 1953).
Comparison between Iraq, World War II Axis Historically Invalid - Zunes finds Bush’s comparison of Iraq to World War II-era Japan and Germany completely without historical basis.
Unlikely Overthrow Will Bring Peaceful Palestinian Autonomy - He finds no more validity in Bush’s assertion that overthrowing Hussein will lead to peaceful Palestinian autonomy, noting that as long as the US supports Israel’s harsh policies against the Palestinians, peace and autonomy are unlikely outcomes, and also noting that Bush blocked the publication of the “road map for peace” brokered by the US, the UN, Russia, and the European Union for fear that it might lead to the election loss of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Bush's Concern for UN, International Relations Hard to Believe - And Zunes will not be convinced of Bush’s internationalist leanings, given his administration’s penchant for sabotaging, ignoring, and breaking international treaties (see March 7, 2001, March 27, 2001, July 9, 2001, July 23-25, 2001, November 19, 2001-December 7, 2001, December 13, 2001, December 31, 2001, August 28, 2002, and September 20, 2002). As for the UN “fulfill[ing] its founding purpose” by accepting the resolution for war, Zunes will note, “The founding purpose of the UN Security Council is to protect international peace and security, not to legitimize the invasion of one country by another.” If people around the world are truly interested in freedom, Zunes will conclude, they “must work even harder to stop President Bush from invading Iraq.” [Foreign Policy In-Focus, 3/8/2003]
While many in the Bush administration continue to insist that the claims of Iraq attempting to buy uranium from Niger are valid (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003), even in the face of a thorough debunking by the International Atomic Energy Agency (see March 7, 2003), some officials are quietly admitting that the administration was duped. “We fell for it,” says one unnamed State Department official who reviewed the documents. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the administration has “new information” suggesting that Iraq continues to try to get nuclear weapons components such as the suspicious aluminum tubes (see October 6, 2002). David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security retorts, “Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the administration persists in making misleading arguments about the significance of the tubes.” [Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will note that the administration “had chosen to ignore three reports that had been in their files for nearly a year: mine (see March 4-5, 2002) as well as two others—one submitted by the American ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick (see November 20, 2001) and the other by four-star Marine Corps General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), who had also traveled there. Instead, the administration chose to give credence to forgeries so crude that even Panorama, the Italian weekly magazine that first received them, had declined to publish (see October 9, 2002). The administration had ample evidence that there was nothing to the uranium charge but went ahead and placed the inflammatory claim in the State of the Union address anyway.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 2-3]
One day after the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issue a report debunking the allegations that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see March 7, 2003), a State Department spokesman says of the forged documents at the heart of the allegation, “We fell for it” (see March 8, 2003). Former ambassador Joseph Wilson is “astounded” at the State Department’s reaction, as he will recall a year later. Wilson had himself debunked the allegations more than a year earlier (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). He tells CNN national security reporter David Ensor that the State Department spokesman “had not spoken accurately.” Wilson does not tell Ensor about his own trip to Niger, nor of the other reports debunking the uranium claims (see February 24, 2002). He does not tell Ensor that “nobody in the management chain of command” at State’s African Bureau “had ever believed there was anything to the story that a spokesman was now claiming they ‘fell for.’” Wilson decides to expose the administration’s duplicity to the public. Appearing on CNN, Wilson is asked a question provided to the interviewer by Ensor, and replies that the State Department knows far more than it is telling about the Iraq-Niger claim. The government should check its files, Wilson says (see March 8, 2003). “We know a lot about the uranium business in Niger,” he says, “and for something like this to go unchallenged by US—the US government is just simply stupid. It would have taken a couple of phone calls. We have had an embassy there since the early ‘60s. All this stuff is open. It’s a restricted market of buyers and sellers. The Nigerians [sic] have always been very open with us. For this to have gotten to the IAEA is on the face of it dumb, but more to the point, it taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq.” Wilson adds that when one such piece of evidence is found to be false, “it casts doubt on every other bit of evidence.” Worse, “I think it’s safe to say that the US government should have or did know that this report was a fake before [the IAEA’s Mohamed] ElBaradei mentioned it in his report at the UN yesterday.” Wilson is openly dismissive of the State Department official who said, “We fell for it” (see March 8, 2003). He says: “That’s just not good enough. Either he’s being disingenuous, or he shouldn’t be drawing a government paycheck.” Wilson later learns that it is this CNN appearance that prompts the White House to produce a “workup” on him for the office of the vice president (see March 9, 2003 and After). [CNN, 3/8/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 325-326]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice goes on to speculate on CBS Face the Nation that Hussein may eventually decide to “enlist” al-Qaeda to attack the United States. “Now the al-Qaeda is an organization that’s quite disbursed and—and quite widespread in its effects, but it clearly has had links to the Iraqis, not to mention Iraqi links to all kinds of other terrorists. And what we do not want is the day when Saddam Hussein decides that he’s had enough of dealing with sanctions, enough of dealing with, quote, unquote, ‘containment,’ enough of dealing with America, and it’s time to end it on his terms, by transferring one of these weapons, just a little vial of something, to a terrorist for blackmail or for worse.” [Face the Nation, 3/9/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004]
Neoconservative and Defense Policy Board (DPB) member Richard Perle calls journalist Seymour Hersh a “terrorist” to a CNN audience. Hersh has published an article speculating that Perle’s investments in firms providing homeland security services put him in the position of profiting off of an invasion of Iraq, and subject to conflict of interest charges (see March 17, 2003). Perle retorts that Hersh is “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.” Host Wolf Blitzer twice asks Perle why he calls Hersh a terrorist, giving Perle the chance to call Hersh “widely irresponsible” and say, “[T]he suggestion that my views are somehow related for the potential for investments in homeland defense is complete nonsense.” Perle continues, “[Hersh] sets out to do damage and he will do it by whatever innuendo, whatever distortion he can…” Blitzer concludes the interview by saying: “All right. We’re going to leave it right there.” [CNN, 3/9/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 256] Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest as detailed by Hersh (see March 27, 2003).
A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 326-327]
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. [Truthout (.org), 2/9/2006] Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 441-442]
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, David Albright, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, John Hannah, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, CNN, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Newt Gingrich, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars conference, says: “The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator. They know that America will not come as a conqueror. Our plan, as President Bush has said, is to remain as long as necessary, and not one day more. And the Iraqis also recognize that the economic and political reconstruction of their country will be difficult. It will take their best efforts with the help of the United States and our coalition partners. But they are driven by the dream of a just and democratic society in Iraq.” [Washington Post, 3/29/2003; US Congress, 6/25/2004]
General Jay Garner, the head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA—see January 2003), admits to reporters, “We started very slowly” in preparing for handling the reconstruction of post-Saddam Iraq. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 126]
Garner Knew Problems Would Arise - Garner will later say: “When I went to see [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld at the end of January , I said, OK, I’ll do this for the next few months for you. I said, you know, Let me tell you something, Mr. Secretary. George Marshall started in 1942 working on a 1945 problem. You’re starting in February working on what’s probably a March or April problem. And he said, I know, but we have to do the best with the time that we have. So that kind of frames everything.”
'Never Recovered' - Sir Jeremy Greenstock, currently Britain’s special representative to Iraq, will add: “The administration of Iraq never recovered [from the failure to plan]. It was a vacuum in security that became irremediable, at least until the surge of 2007. And to that extent, four years were not only wasted but allowed to take on the most terrible cost because of that lack of planning, lack of resources put in on the ground. And I see that lack of planning as residing in the responsibility of the Pentagon, which had taken charge, the office of the secretary of defense, with the authority of the vice president and the president, obviously, standing over that department of government.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
In a response to a recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency debunking the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see March 7, 2003), and a report from the Defense Intelligence Agency that claims the allegations are true, a CIA senior-level report concludes, “We do not dispute the IAEA director general’s conclusion—last Friday before the UN Security Council—that documents on Iraq’s agreement to buy uranium from Niger are not authentic.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 4/3/2003 ; Central Intelligence Agency, 5/30/2003 ]
An outraged Richard Perle, the neoconservative chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board (DPB), says he is suing journalist Seymour Hersh over an article Hersh wrote that implied Perle is using his position as a Pentagon adviser to profit from a US invasion of Iraq (see March 17, 2003).
Filing Planned for Britain - Interestingly, Perle plans to sue Hersh in British courts, not US courts, because the burden of proof on plaintiffs is far less in Britain than America. “I intend to launch legal action in the United Kingdom. I’m talking to Queen’s Counsel right now,” Perle says. Perle says of Hersh’s article, “It’s all lies, from beginning to end.”
Perle Defended - Stephen Bryen, a former deputy undersecretary of defense, defends Perle, saying: “It’s pretty outrageous for a leftwing columnist to make accusations like this with no factual basis. Most of the many hours he works each day are pro bono to help the administration with its policy on Iraq. He should get a medal of honor.”
Editor Defends Hersh - David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, the publisher of Hersh’s article, says his magazine stands by the story. “It went through serious reporting, with four members of the board talking to Sy [Hersh], and rigorous factchecking, legal-checking, and all the rest.” Remnick takes issue with Perle’s recent characterization of Hersh as a “terrorist” (see March 9, 2003), saying, “I would have thought after all this many years, Mr. Perle would be a bit more refined than that.” [New York Sun, 3/12/2003]
Journalists Defend Hersh - Many journalists defend Hersh, with one, Slate’s Jack Shafer, calling Perle a “grandstanding pantywaist,” “double-dar[ing]” him to sue Hersh, and accusing Perle of “venue-shopping” by planning to file the lawsuit in Britain. “As a public figure and government official,” Shafer explains, “Perle would be laughed out of court in the United States. If he got a settlement in the UK, he could raid the substantial British assets of the New Yorker’s parent company, Conde Nast.” [Slate, 3/13/2003]
Perle Resigns, Does Not File Lawsuit - Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest (see March 27, 2003). A year later, after much blustering in the media and promises of “dossiers” and “revelations” about Hersh, Perle will decide not to sue Hersh after all, saying he cannot meet the burden of proof that a court would impose. [New York Sun, 3/12/2004] Months later, the dossiers and information Perle promised to release about Hersh remain unrevealed. [Slate, 6/17/2004]
In 2007, Newsweek will claim that still-classified portions of a CIA cable reveal that some White House officials wanted to mention an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague in a speech President Bush was scheduled to give on March 14, 2003. But after learning of the proposed speech, the CIA station in Prague sent back a cable explaining why the CIA believed the meeting never took place. Accounts differ, but one source familiar with the cable will claim that the cable was “strident” and expressed dismay the White House would try to fit the dubious claim into Bush’s speech only days before the US begins a planned invasion of Iraq. There is no proof that Bush ever saw the cable and he ultimately does not mention the claim in his speech. A senior intelligence official at the time will later claim that the White House proposed on multiple occasions to mention the claim in speeches by Bush and Vice President Cheney. While Bush never mentioned it, Cheney did on several occasions before the Iraq war began. For instance, in December 2001, Cheney claimed, “It’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service…” (see December 9, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/13/2006]
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, writes a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller. Rockefeller asks for an FBI investigation of the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), because “the fabrication of these documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq.” An FBI inquiry, Rockefeller writes, “should, at a minimum, help to allay any concerns” that the Bush administration itself created the documents to build support for the war. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) refuses to sign the letter [Washington Post, 3/22/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 292] , saying he believes it would be inappropriate for the FBI to launch such an inquiry. Secretary of State Colin Powell denies any role by the US government in creating the documents. [Associated Press, 3/14/2003] The FBI will not respond to Rockefeller’s request. [Future of Freedom Foundation, 9/2003]
51 percent of the respondents to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll believe that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 attacks. 32 percent of those supporting an attack say that Saddam’s alleged support of terrorists is the “main reason” for endorsing invasion. Another 43 percent indicate that it is “one reason.” [Editor & Publisher, 3/26/2003]
During an appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press, Vice President Dick Cheney says: “[Saddam Hussein has] had years to get good at [deceiving weapons inspectors] and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong [about rejecting US claims concerning Iraq’s nuclear weapons program—see March 7, 2003] ]. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past.” Cheney also insists that the US invasion force will be welcomed by the Iraqis. “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators,” he says. “The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.” [Meet the Press, 3/16/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003]
A suspicious substance is discovered in a train station locker at the Gare de Lyon in central Paris. Agents find two vials of powder, a bottle of liquid, and two other vials with liquid. The Interior Ministry says the contents of the vials are “traces of ricin in a mixture which has proven to be a very toxic poison.” [Newsday, 4/12/2003] Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy calls for greater public vigilance and says there could be a connection with a network of Islamic extremists who were detained around the capital in December. Officials have in the past linked ricin production to al-Qaeda and Iraq. On January 5, British police claimed to find traces of ricin in a raid on a London flat during which five men of North African origin with alleged al-Qaeda connections were arrested (see January 5, 2003). [BBC, 4/11/2003]
Terrorism Scare - The discovery sparks widespread terrorism concerns just two days before the invasion of Iraq. French authorities double the number of soldiers in the streets to 800 and order increased surveillance in train stations and ports. Flights are temporarily banned over nuclear power plants, chemical, petrochemical and other sensitive facilities. [Newsday, 4/12/2003] Ricin, which is derived from castor beans, is relatively easy to make and stockpile. If added to food or drinks, or injected into a victim, it causes severe and rapid bleeding to the stomach and intestines. If the poison gets into the bloodstream, it can attack the liver, kidneys and spleen, often leading to death. It may be inhaled, ingested or injected. There is no treatment or antidote. [New York Times, 4/12/2003]
Alleged al-Qaeda link - US officials said in August that the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Islam tested ricin along with other chemical and biological agents in northern Iraq, territory controlled by Kurds, not Saddam Hussein. The group is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. UN weapons inspectors, who left Iraq in 1998 after a first round of inspections, listed ricin among the poisons they believed Saddam produced and later failed to account for. [Newsday, 4/12/2003]
False alarm - The ministry soon downgrades the assessment, saying the traces of suspected ricin are too minute to be lethal. In fact, the substance later proves to be entirely harmless. Further Defense Ministry laboratory tests show the vials contain a mixture of ground barley and wheat germ. “Preliminary tests pointed towards ricin but they were not confirmed by more complete analysis,” an official says. [BBC, 4/11/2003] They said the grain was mistakenly identified as ricin because it consists of protein whose structure is similar to that of ricin. [New York Times, 4/12/2003] However, French officials are still not entirely satisfied that the substances found are not in some way related to a planned terrorist attack. A senior Interior Ministry says the substances may be “the product of an experiment” or the remains of an effort to produce a toxic weapon. Antiterrorism police agents will continue to investigate the incident, the officials says. [New York Times, 4/12/2003]
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh publishes a scathing portrayal of Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, who Hersh alleges is using his position in the Pentagon to profiteer on the upcoming Iraq war. Hersh does not accuse Perle of breaking any laws, but he does show that Perle is guilty of conflicts of interests. The article, which is released days before its official March 17 publication date, prompts outrage from Perle and his neoconservative defenders, with Perle saying any questions of his potential conflicts of interest would be “malicious,” calling Hersh a “terrorist” (see March 9, 2003), and threatening to sue Hersh, a lawsuit that is never filed (see March 12, 2003). Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest as detailed by Hersh (see March 27, 2003).
Dealings with Corrupt Saudis in Violation of Federal Conduct Guidelines - Hersh provides readers with details of Perle’s business dealings with the notoriously corrupt Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi (perhaps most famous in the US for his involvement in Iran-Contra—see July 3, 1985) and his activities as a managing partner of the venture capital firm Trireme Partners LP. Trireme is involved in investments that will make large profits if the US actually invades Iraq. Perle, as chairman of the DPB, is subject to the Federal Code of Conduct that bars officials such as himself from participating in an official capacity in any matter in which he has a financial interest. A former government attorney who helped write the code says, “One of the general rules is that you don’t take advantage of your federal position to help yourself financially in any way.” The point is to “protect government processes from actual or apparent conflicts.”
'Off the Ethical Charts' - One DPB member says that he and his fellows had no idea about Perle’s involvement with either Trireme or Khashoggi, and exclaims: “Oh, get out of here. He’s the chairman!… Seems to me this is at the edge of or off the ethical charts. I think it would stink to high heaven.” The DPB member is equally disturbed that fellow board member Gerald Hillman, Perle’s partner in Trireme, was recently added to the board at Perle’s request. Hillman has virtually no senior policy or military experience in government before joining the board. Larry Noble, the executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, says of Perle’s Trireme involvement: “It’s not illegal, but it presents an appearance of a conflict. It’s enough to raise questions about the advice he’s giving to the Pentagon and why people in business are dealing with him.… The question is whether he’s trading off his advisory-committee relationship.”
Lining up Investors, Overthrowing Saddam - According to Khashoggi, Perle met with him in January 2003 to solicit his assistance in lining up wealthy Saudi investors for Trireme. “I was the intermediary,” Khashoggi says. Together with Saudi businessman Harb Zuhair, Perle hoped to put together a consortium of investors that would sink $100 million into his firm. “It was normal for us to see Perle,” Khashoggi says. “We in the Middle East are accustomed to politicians who use their offices for whatever business they want.” But Khashoggi says Perle wanted more than just money—he wanted to use his position in both Trireme and the DPB to, in Perle’s words, “get rid of Saddam” Hussein. Perle admits to meeting with Khashoggi and Zuhair, but says that money never came up in conversation, and as for Hussein, Perle says he was at the meeting to facilitate a surrender bargain between Hussein and the US.
Khashoggi Amused - Khashoggi is amused by Perle’s denials. “If there is no war, why is there a need for security? If there is a war, of course, billions of dollars will have to be spent.… You Americans blind yourself with your high integrity and your democratic morality against peddling influence, but they were peddling influence.” Hillman sent Zuhair several documents proposing a possible surrender, but Zuhair found them “absurd,” and Khashoggi describes them as silly. (Hillman says he drafted the peace proposals with the assistance of his daughter, a college student.) Perle denies any involvement in the proposals. When the proposals found their way into the Arabic press, Perle, not Hillman, was named as the author.
Blackmailing the Saudis? - Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the influential Saudi ambassador to the US and a close friend of the Bush family, says he was told that the meeting between Perle and the Saudi businessmen was purely business, but he does not believe the disclaimers. He says of Perle, who publicly is a vociferous critic of Saudi Arabia (see July 10, 2002): “There is a split personality to Perle. Here he is, on the one hand, trying to make a hundred-million-dollar deal, and, on the other hand, there were elements of the appearance of blackmail—‘If we get in business, he’ll back off on Saudi Arabia’—as I have been informed by participants in the meeting.” Iraq was never a serious topic of discussion, Bandar says: “There has to be deniability, and a cover story—a possible peace initiative in Iraq—is needed. I believe the Iraqi events are irrelevant. A business meeting took place.” [New Yorker, 3/17/2003]
Robin Cook. [Source: BBC]House of Commons leader and former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook resigns from British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet, in protest over the imminent invasion of Iraq. Cook announces his decision as the cabinet holds an emergency meeting at Downing Street. Cook says after his resignation is announced: “It is with regret I have today resigned from the cabinet. I can’t accept collective responsibility for the decision to commit Britain now to military action in Iraq without international agreement or domestic support.” Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett says she respects Cook’s decision to resign, and that everyone in the cabinet, including Blair himself, has anxieties about the upcoming invasion. However, Beckett says, “[N]one of the rest of us feel that they are enough to make us judge that the government is doing the wrong thing.” [BBC, 3/17/2003]
Resignation Speech - Cook retains his seat in the House of Commons. In his resignation speech to the House, Cook says in part, “I cannot support a war without international agreement or domestic support.” France, Russia, and Germany, who are battling to give UN inspectors more time to operate inside Iraq, cannot be blamed for stirring up what Cook calls “the degree of international hostility” towards the invasion. “The reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading partner—not NATO, not the European Union and, now, not the [UN] Security Council. To end up in such diplomatic weakness is a serious reverse.” Unlike the US, Britain cannot “afford to go it alone” in the international community. “Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules,” he says. “Yet tonight the international partnerships most important to us are weakened: the European Union is divided; the Security Council is in stalemate. Those are heavy casualties of a war in which a shot has yet to be fired.”
Containment Worked - For himself, Cook says: “For four years as foreign secretary I was partly responsible for the western strategy of containment [of Saddam Hussein and Iraq]. Over the past decade that strategy destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf war, dismantled Iraq’s nuclear weapons program and halted Saddam’s medium and long-range missiles programs. Iraq’s military strength is now less than half its size than at the time of the last Gulf war. Ironically, it is only because Iraq’s military forces are so weak that we can even contemplate its invasion.”
If Iraq Is a Danger, Why Would an Invasion Be So Easy? - It would be a mistake to assume that an invasion will be an easy and relatively bloodless affair: “Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam’s forces are so weak, so demoralized and so badly equipped that the war will be over in a few days. We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat.”
No Weapons of Mass Destruction - “Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term,” Cook says, “namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target. It probably still has biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s when US companies sold Saddam anthrax agents and the then British government approved chemical and munitions factories. Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years, and which we helped to create? Why is it necessary to resort to war this week, while Saddam’s ambition to complete his weapons program is blocked by the presence of UN inspectors?”
Comparing Iraq to Israel - Some have said Iraq has had 12 years to comply with UN resolutions demanding disarmament, Cook notes, but goes on to say that Israel has had over 30 years to comply with UN resolutions demanding its withdrawal from Palestinian territories, and has not yet done so. “We do not express the same impatience with the persistent refusal of Israel to comply,” he says. “Britain’s positive role in the Middle East does not redress the strong sense of injustice throughout the Muslim world at what it sees as one rule for the allies of the US and another rule for the rest. Nor is our credibility helped by the appearance that our partners in Washington are less interested in disarmament than they are in regime change in Iraq. That explains why any evidence that inspections may be showing progress is greeted in Washington not with satisfaction but with consternation: it reduces the case for war.”
Different Outcome under President Gore - Cook says, “What has come to trouble me most over past weeks is the suspicion that if the hanging chads in Florida had gone the other way and [2000 US presidential candidate] Al Gore had been elected, we would not now be about to commit British troops.”
Conclusion - “The longer that I have served in this place, the greater the respect I have for the good sense and collective wisdom of the British people,” Cook says. “On Iraq, I believe that the prevailing mood of the British people is sound. They do not doubt that Saddam is a brutal dictator, but they are not persuaded that he is a clear and present danger to Britain. They want inspections to be given a chance, and they suspect that they are being pushed too quickly into conflict by a US administration with an agenda of its own. Above all, they are uneasy at Britain going out on a limb on a military adventure without a broader international coalition and against the hostility of many of our traditional allies.” Cook is troubled that the House of Commons has never voted on whether or not to commit troops to Iraq, and he calls on Parliament to “stop the commitment of troops in a war that has neither international agreement nor domestic support.” [BBC, 3/18/2003]
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan orders all UN weapons inspectors, peacekeepers, and humanitarian aid workers to withdraw from Iraq. [Washington File, 3/17/2003] UN inspectors have been in Iraq since November 18 (see November 18, 2002). During their four months of work in Iraq, they inspected hundreds of sites (some of them more than once) and found no evidence of ongoing WMD programs. Their work was reportedly obstructed, not by the Iraqis, but by the US, which refused to provide inspectors with the intelligence they needed to identify sites for inspection (see February 12, 2003, December 5, 2002, December 6, 2002, December 20, 2002, and January 11, 2003). Of the 105 sites identified by US intelligence as likely housing illicit weapons, 21 were deliberately withheld from inspectors. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 344] Reflecting on the inspections in 2009, Hans Blix, the chief of the UN weapons inspection team, will say: “In March 2003, when the invasion took place, we could not have stood up and said, ‘There is nothing,’ because to prove the negative is really not possible. What you can do is to say that we have performed 700 inspections in some 500 different sites, and we have found nothing, and we are ready to continue. If we had been allowed to continue a couple of months, we would have been able to go to all of the some hundred sites suggested to us, and since there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction, that’s what we would have reported. And then I think that, at that stage, certainly the intelligence ought to have drawn the conclusion that their evidence was poor.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
In a televised address to the nation, shortly before the US officially begins its invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush justifies the need to use military force. He asserts that the US has “pursued patient and honorable efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime without war,” but that Iraq “has uniformly defied Security Council resolutions demanding full disarmament.” He maintains that Iraq “continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised” and “has aided, trained, and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaeda.… Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed.” Bush then gives Saddam Hussein an ultimatum, warning the Iraqi leader that if he and his sons do not leave Iraq within 48 hours, the US will use military force to topple his government. The choice is his, Bush says. “Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it.” He assures Iraqis that the US will liberate them and bring them democracy and warns Iraq’s military not to destroy its country’s oil wells or obey orders to deploy weapons of mass destruction. As to the issue of war crimes, Bush says: “War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders.’” [US President, 3/24/2003]
After the US Department of Defense publishes several reports linking al-Qaeda to Iraq, CIA Director George Tenet orders CIA researchers and analysts—who have maintained that there are no such links—to go through all the agency’s records on Iraq and al-Qaeda and search for evidence of the alleged relationship. CIA researcher Michael Scheuer leads the effort, which combs through about 19,000 documents going back nine or 10 years. Scheuer will later say, “there was no connection between [al-Qaeda] and Saddam. There were indications that al-Qaeda people had transited Iraq, probably with the Iraqis turning a blind eye to it. There were some hints that there was a contact between the head of the intelligence service of the Iraqis with bin Laden when he was in the Sudan, but nothing you could put together and say, ‘Here is a relationship that is similar to the relationship between Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah,’ which was what Doug Feith’s organization was claiming. There was simply nothing to support that.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/24/2004; PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006; PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006 Sources: Michael Scheuer]
Britain’s House of Commons votes overwhelmingly to approve a resolution authorizing the British government to take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq. The resolution affirms its endorsement of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002), affirms its belief that Iraq possesses “weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles” which “pose a threat to international peace and security,” accuses Iraq of not cooperating with UN weapons inspections, and is in violation of 1441 and other Security Council resolutions. [Public Whip, 3/18/2003]
President George Bush sends a “formal determination” on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to Congress in the form of a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate President Robert Byrd (D-WV). Congress had required, in its October 2002 authorization of military force (see October 10, 2002), that Bush affirm that diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraq WMD crisis were no longer possible, and that Iraq had tangible ties to the 9/11 attackers or similar terrorists. The letter provides neither. Instead, it merely reiterates the language of the statute itself, using that language as the determination. The determination says that Congress itself had found evidence of Iraq’s diplomatic intransigence and of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 terrorists, when Congress has found neither. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will comment: “Bush, like a dog chasing his tail who gets ahold of it, relied on information the White House provided Congress for its draft resolution; then he turned around and claimed that this information (his information) came from Congress. From this bit of sophistry, he next stated that these congressional findings were the basis of his ‘determination.’” The only additional information Bush provides is a citation from Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003), where Powell noted the supposed existence of a terrorist training camp in the Salman Pak military facility (see April 6, 2003), a training camp that does not exist. Bush also cites “public reports” indicating that Iraq is harboring al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (see October 2, 2002), and that Iraq has “provided training in document forgery and explosives to [al-Qaeda].” Bush provides no evidence of his claims. Dean writes that the law has stringent requirements for such “presidential determinations,” mandating solid evidence, legal citations, and so forth, but Bush’s “determination” contains none of this. “If there is a precedent for Bush’s slick trick to involve America in a bloody commitment, where the Congress requires as a condition for action that the president make a determination, and the president in turn relies on a whereas clause… and a dubious public report… I am not aware of it and could not find anything even close.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 148-152]
Entity Tags: United Nations, Robert C. Byrd, Reagan administration, John Dean, H.L. Mencken, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Dennis Hastert, George W. Bush, Lyndon B. Johnson
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
President Bush sends a letter to Congress justifying the invasion of Iraq. The letter is addressed to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Ted Stevens (R-AK). In the letter, Bush declares that he has determined that further diplomacy will not “adequately protect the national security of the United States.” Therefore, he is acting to “take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” [US President, 3/24/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 293] This mimics language from a bill passed by Congress in October 2002 (see October 11, 2002), which granted Bush the power to declare war against Iraq if a link with the 9/11 attacks is shown and several other conditions are met. [US Congress, 10/2/2002] But there is no evidence linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, a fact that Bush has previously acknowledged (see January 31, 2003).
President Bush’s parents, George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush, appear on ABC’s Good Morning America. Bush had called them the night before, his mother says, “just to see how we were, and tell us he was fine. He was tired, but he was wonderful. I’m not sure that we’re any different than any other parents in a lot of ways.… But it’s better to stay, you know, stay off the stage.” Former president Bush agrees: “Yeah. That’s the… that’s the key point. What I say is we support the president without reservation.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 293-294] Barbara Bush tells interviewer Diane Sawyer that she does not intend to watch any war coverage. “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it’s gonna happen?” she asks rhetorically. “It’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 76]
Former Marine colonel and convicted felon Oliver North (see May-June, 1989), now a conservative radio host, is embedded with a Marine unit by Fox News. North reports “rumors” that French officials at the Embassy in Baghdad are destroying documents proving French complicity in Iraq’s chemical—and biological—weapons programs. The report is quickly proven false. Fox spokeswoman Irena Steffen tells a newspaper that North is “a military contributor to Fox. He is neither a reporter nor a correspondent.” [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]
Numerous US and British, current and former, intelligence, military, and other government officials who have inside knowledge say that there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein’s regime has chemical or biological weapons or that he is currently developing them. [CBS News, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 8/10/2003]
Peter Jennings. [Source: ABC / Pop Stars Plus]While CBS and NBC begin covering the US strikes against Iraqi targets almost from the outset (see March 19, 2003), ABC News delays its coverage for 11 minutes after its broadcast competitors, leading Washington Post media correspondent Lisa de Moraes to mockingly declare ABC to be the “first victim” of the war. In a March 21 analysis, de Moraes will note that ABC waits while its show The Bachelor: Where Are They Now? completes its broadcast. ABC news anchor Peter Jennings shows up to lead the network’s coverage almost a half hour later than his colleagues at NBC and CBS, leading de Moraes to ask if Jennings was not aware of the “scheduled” 8 p.m. deadline laid down by President Bush. “[W]asn’t anyone at ABC News watching that MSNBC countdown clock?” she asks. It is NBC that officially breaks the news of the military strike, with correspondent Peter Arnett informing NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw of the attack at 9:32 p.m. Jennings, whom de Moraes speculates “was at a dinner party,” finally takes to the air at 10:05 p.m, just a few minutes before, de Moraes writes, “President Bush went on the air to formally cut the ribbon on the war.” An ABC News spokesman later confesses that when the war broke, “our correspondent was out of position.” De Moraes is equally bemused that Jennings left the news desk at 11:01 p.m, surprising some local affiliates who plan to continue running ABC’s national news transmission instead of their own local programming. One affiliate’s news director later says, “There was a sense that the coverage was going to continue for some time, and when it ended so abruptly it caught all of us off guard.” The next day, ABC officials Alex Wallau and David Westin issue a joint statement: “We decided around 10:55 p.m. ET last night to end Special Report coverage.… We felt that we had covered this story in Iraq to that point and that we should allow for your late local news broadcasts. We were not aware that there had been Network Alert System communications sent to your stations saying that there would not be a local news opportunity last night.” [Washington Post, 3/21/2003; New York Times, 3/30/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 73]
Entity Tags: MSNBC, Dan Rather, CBS News, Alex Wallau, ABC News, David Westin, Lisa de Moraes, Peter Arnett, Peter Jennings, NBC News, Tom Brokaw, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
A building in Baghdad is bombed during the US invasion of Iraq. [Source: Reuters]The US begins its official invasion of Iraq (see (7:40 a.m.) March 19, 2003). While most observers expect a traditional air assault, the US planners instead launch what they call a “Shock and Awe” combination of air and ground assaults designed to avoid direct confrontations with Iraqi military forces and instead destroy Iraqi military command structures. [CNN, 3/20/2003; CNN, 3/20/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 302] The initial invasion force consists of 250,000 US forces augmented by 45,000 British troops and small contingents from Poland, Australia, and Denmark, elements of the so-called “coalition of the willing.” [BBC, 3/18/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 302]
Neoconservative Michael Ledeen, in an op-ed entitled “One Battle in a Wider War,” echoes the thinking of other neoconservatives when he writes that other Middle Eastern countries, specifically Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, must also be invaded by the US. “Once upon a time, it might have been possible to deal with Iraq alone, without having to face the murderous forces of the other terror masters in Tehran, Damascus, and [Riyadh], but that time has passed,” he writes. “Iraq is a battle, not a war. We have to win the war, and the only way to do that is to bring down the terror masters, and spread freedom throughout the region.” [New York Sun, 3/19/2003]
Rand Beers, the National Security Council’s senior director for counterterrorism, resigns from his post. Administration sources say Beers is resigning for personal reasons, but intelligence sources say Beers’s resignation is triggered by his concern that the administration’s looming war with Iraq is drawing critically needed resources away from the war on terror (see February 2003). “Hardly a surprise,” says one former intelligence official. “We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don’t blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel resources and the relationships with our allies.” A Senate Intelligence Committee staffer adds, “Randy said that he was ‘just tired’ and did not have an interest in adding the stress that would come with a war with Iraq.” Beers’s supervisor, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, asked Beers twice during his exit interview if his resignation was a protest against the war with Iraq. Beers told her that it was not. Author and intelligence expert James Bamford says, “This is a very intriguing decision” for Beers to resign. “There is a predominant belief in the intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq will cause more terrorism than it will prevent. There is also a tremendous amount of embarrassment by intelligence professionals that there have been so many lies out of the administration—by the president, [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [Secretary of State Colin] Powell—over Iraq” (see January 24, 2008). One administration official says: “If it was your job to prevent terror attacks, would you be happy about an action that many see as unnecessary, that is almost guaranteed to cause more terror in the short-term? I know I’m not [happy].” [United Press International, 3/19/2003] Beers, who will soon join the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry as a foreign policy adviser, will tell an interviewer in late 2006 that “I’m sorry to say that the reason that I resigned from the National Security Council staff and the government has turned out to be true, and that is that I was concerned then, and we see now, that our entry into Iraq, the way in which we entered with a small, rather than a large, coalition, without UN approval, without Arab support, has ended up making Iraq a recruiting poster for al-Qaeda. It has made our job more difficult around the world.” [Democracy Now!, 10/4/2006]
The CIA’s Iraq Operations Group discusses several ideas for discrediting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the eyes of his people using fake videos. One video would purport to show Hussein having sex with a teenage boy, according to two former CIA officials familiar with the project. “It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera,” one of the former officials will say. “Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session.” The idea is to then “flood Iraq with the videos,” the former official will add. Another idea is to interrupt Iraqi television programming with a fake special news bulletin. An actor playing Hussein would announce that he is stepping down in favor of his son Uday, who is unpopular with the Iraqi people. “I’m sure you will throw your support behind His Excellency Uday,” the fake Hussein would say. The agency’s Office of Technical Services collaborates on the ideas, which also include inserting fake “crawls”—messages at the bottom of the screen—into Iraqi newscasts. At the same time as these discussions, the agency makes a video with an Osama bin Laden impersonator (see (2003)). According to another former officer, the projects grind to a halt as nobody can come to an agreement on them. In particular, they are opposed by Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who keeps “throwing darts at it.” The officer will say that the ideas are ridiculous and, “They came from people whose careers were spent in Latin America or East Asia,” and do not understand the cultural nuances of the region. “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East—nobody cares,” a third former official will say. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.” After the CIA abandons the projects, they are apparently revived by the military. “The military took them over,” one former official will say. “They had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg,” at the Army’s Special Warfare Center. The projects will be revealed in the Washington Post in 2010. [Washington Post, 5/25/2010]
US broadcast and cable news outlets begin covering the first US strikes against Iraqi targets (see March 19, 2003 and March 19-20, 2003), but, as author and media critic Frank Rich will later note, their coverage often lacks accuracy. News broadcasts report “a decapitation strike” (see March 20, 2003) that lead US viewers to believe for hours that Saddam Hussein has been killed. CNN’s title card for its strike coverage reads, “Zero Hour for Iraq Arrives”; during its initial coverage, CNN features New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who credits “a slew of information from defectors” and other “intelligence sources”—those who had provided the foundation for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s “impressive speech to the United Nations” (see February 5, 2003)—with the imminent discovery and destruction of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles. “One person in Washington told me that the list could total more than 1,400 of those sites,” Miller says. Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke, who had created both the Pentagon’s “embed program” of reporters going into battle with selected military units (see February 2003) and the “military analysts” program of sending carefully selected retired flag officers to the press and television news programs to give the administration’s views of the war (see Early 2002 and Beyond), has overseen the construction of a briefing room for press conferences from US CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar: the $200,000 facility was designed by a production designer who had worked for, among others, Disney, MGM, and illusionist David Blaine. Clarke and the Pentagon marketing officials succeed in having their term to describe the initial assault, “shock and awe,” promulgated throughout the broadcast and cable coverage. (Fox and MSNBC will soon oblige the Pentagon by changing the name of their Iraqi coverage programming to the official administration name for the invasion, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”) During the assault, as Rich will later write, “the pyrotechnics of Shock and Awe looked like a distant fireworks display, or perhaps the cool computer graphics of a Matrix-inspired video game, rather than the bombing of a large city. None of Baghdad’s nearly six million people were visible.” Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon later says, “If you had hired actors [instead of the network news anchors], you could not have gotten better coverage.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 73-75]
The militant Sunni group, Asbat al-Ansar, begins sending fighters to Iraq. The group is based in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. A deputy commander of the group later tells the New York Times, “The US is oppressing a lot of people. They are killing a lot of innocents, but one day they are getting paid back.” [New York Times, 3/16/2007] The Bush administration, which has repeatedly called Iraq the new front in the war on terrorism, will reportedly begin funneling funds through the Lebanese government to Asbat al-Ansar and other militant Sunni groups in late 2006 and early 2007 in an effort to rollback the influence of Iran and the Shiites in Iraq (see Late 2006).
President Bush calls British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his central ally in the US’s “coalition of the willing.” After speaking to Blair, Bush goes to the White House Situation Room, where a videoconference with his field commanders in the Persian Gulf is set up. Bush asks if they are ready to commence hostilities against Iraq; each one answers in the affirmative. Bush then says: “For the peace of the world and the benefit and freedom of the Iraqi people, I hereby give the order to execute Operation Iraqi Freedom. May God bless our troops” (see March 19, 2003). He later goes for a walk outside his office. He will recall: “I prayed as I walked around the circle. I prayed that our troops be safe, be protected by the Almighty, that there be minimal loss of life.… I was praying for strength to do God’s will.… I’m surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 294-295]
President George Bush issues an executive order transferring frozen Iraqi assets held in US banks to a US Treasury Special Purpose Account (TSPA) that has been established at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The secretary of the treasury, currently John W. Snow, is given authority over the funds. [US President, 3/20/2003 ]
On the second day of a US invasion of Iraq, the US military conducts an airstrike against the training camp in Northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The camp is territory controlled by Kurdish rebels and it is believed that a chemical weapons lab is there. Prior to the start of the war, the US drew up three separate plans to attack the camp with air strikes, but each time the plans were rejected by the White House. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] More than 40 cruise missiles hit the camp near the town of Khurmal, destroying what Gen. Tommy Franks calls a “massive terrorist facility.” But Saddam Hussein had been given an ultimatum before the start of the war, which meant the timing of the start of the war had been announced several days in advance. Not surprisingly, by the time the camp is hit, al-Zarqawi and many of his followers had already left it. One of al-Zarqawi’s top lieutenants, Abdul Hadi Daghlas, a.k.a. Abu Taisir, is killed. Al-Zarqawi will release an audio message several months later lamenting his death. [Wall Street Journal, 2/10/2004] Former National Security Council member Roger Cressey will later claim, “Here’s a case where they waited, they waited too long and now we’re suffering as a result inside Iraq.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004]
US forces fire more than 40 Tomahawk missiles at the Dora Farms compound on the Tigris River, where intelligence intercepts have indicated that Saddam Hussein may be holed up in an underground bunker. The Tomahawks are accompanied by “bunker-buster” bombs from F-117 Stealth fighters. The strike is an attempt to “decapitate” Iraq’s military and government by killing the dictator in the first hours of the assault (see March 19, 2003). The missile barrage destroys all of the building in the compound except the main palace. Unfortunately for the US military planners, Hussein is not at the compound; later intelligence learns that Hussein has not been at the Dora Farms complex since 1995. Hussein is at a safe house in Baghdad, watching the international television coverage of the strike and drafting a message to the Iraqi people. Hussein will remain in Baghdad for weeks, moving from safe house to safe house; though American forces will strike at numerous targets in Baghdad, none will come close to Hussein’s locations. [CBS News, 5/28/2003; New York Times, 3/12/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 295]
As enthusiasm for the war in Iraq permeates the US business community as well as mainstream television news outlets (see March 19-20, 2003), billionaire Donald Trump predicts on Fox News that because of the war, “I think the market’s going to go up like a rocket!” [New York Times, 3/30/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 75]
A study by George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs examines the 600 hours of war coverage by the nation’s broadcast news organizations between the coverage of the first strikes (see March 19, 2003) and the fall of Baghdad (see April 9, 2003). The study shows that of the 1,710 stories broadcast, only 13.5 percent show any images of dead or wounded civilians or soldiers, either Iraqi or American. The study says that television news coverage “did not differ discernibly” from the heavily sanitized, Pentagon-controlled coverage of the 1991 Gulf War (see August 11, 1990 and January 3, 1991). “A war with hundreds of coalition and tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties” is transformed on US television screens “into something closer to a defense contractor’s training video: a lot of action, but no consequences, as if shells simply disappeared into the air and an invisible enemy magically ceased to exist.” A similar study by Columbia University’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that “none of the embedded stories (see February 2003 and March-April 2003) studied showed footage of people, either US soldiers or Iraqis, being struck, injured, or killed by weapons fired.” In fact, only 20 percent of the stories by embedded journalists show anyone else besides the journalist.
Focus on Anchors - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The conveying of actual news often seemed subsidiary to the networks’ mission to out-flag-wave one another and to make their own personnel, rather than the war’s antagonists, the leading players in the drama.… TV viewers were on more intimate terms with [CNN anchor] Aaron Brown’s and [Fox News anchor] Shep Smith’s perceptions of the war than with the collective thoughts of all those soon-to-be-liberated ‘Iraqi people’ whom the anchors kept apothesizing. Iraqis were the best seen-but-not-heard dress extras in the drama, alternately pictured as sobbing, snarling, waving, and cheering.”
Fox News - Rich will say that Fox News is the most egregious of the lot, reporting what he mockingly calls “all victory all the time.” During the time period analyzed, one Fox anchor says, “[O]bjectively speaking [it is] hard to believe things could go more successfully.” Another Fox anchor reports “extraordinary news, the city of Basra under control” even as that city is sliding into guerrilla warfare and outright anarchy. Neoconservative Fred Barnes, one of Fox’s regular commentators, calls the competition “weenies” for actually reporting US casualties. [Rich, 2006, pp. 78]
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, gives a speech to the National Newspaper Association in which he discloses classified information about the impending US invasion of Iraq. Roberts tells the audience that he has “been in touch with our intelligence community,” and reveals that the CIA has informed President Bush and the National Security Council “of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad.” Roberts then tells the audience that Bush, after conferring with his top military advisers, has “authorized a pre-emptive surgical strike with 40 Tomahawk Missiles launched by ship and submarines and so-called bunker bombs by F-117 stealth aircraft. I do not have a damage assessment. The Iraqis report 14 killed and one wounded and are reporting damage in residential areas.” The initial US strikes against an Iraqi governmental complex, Dora Park, missed Hussein. In 2006, four former intelligence officials tell a news reporter that Roberts’s disclosure hampered US efforts to capture Hussein. They will note that Roberts, who is a staunch defender of the Bush administration’s attempts to keep sensitive information out of the press, is never held accountable for what they term a serious security breach; there is no investigation, and his remarks are widely ignored by the press. According to the intelligence officials, Roberts’s disclosure alerts others, including hostile Iraqis, that the US has human intelligence sources close to Hussein. Roberts “had given up that we had a penetration of [Saddam’s] inner circle,” one official will say. “It was the worst thing you could ever do.” The officials will say it is unclear what effect, if any, Roberts’s disclosure has on Hussein’s efforts to escape the US. A Republican Congressional aide familiar with the incident will later call Roberts’s remarks “a mistake” and a “dumb act,” but not one “done with bad intent.” The aide will say that Roberts may have disclosed the information out of an urge for “self-aggrandizement.” [National Journal, 4/25/2006]
Trade between Iraq and Iran grows at an estimated annual rate of 30 percent after the US and British invasion. “The economies of Iraq and Iran, the largest Shiite-majority countries in the world, are becoming closely integrated, with Iranian goods flooding Iraqi markets and Iraqi cities looking to Iran for basic services,” the New York Times will report in early 2007. After the invasion, Iraq begins importing electricity and a wide variety of consumer items like Peugeot sedans, carpets, construction materials, fish, and spices. Iraqis are also going to Iran to obtain medical services. Trade between the two nations grows the fastest in the Shiite-dominated south. By 2007, Basra is importing $45 million worth of goods from Iran each year with some 100 to 150 commercial trucks crossing into Iraq from Iran each day. The trend causes concern in the White House, which accuses Iran of having a nuclear weapons program and claims that the Iranians are fueling the insurgency. According to Asaad Abu Galal, the governor of Najaf, “the Americans don’t want to bring Iranians to Najaf. The Americans want to control the sky.” Iranians are also vying for a market in the financial sector, with at least one bank applying for a license to open a branch in Baghdad. [New York Times, 3/17/2007]
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says during his daily press briefing, “Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological
and chemical particularly. This was the reason that the president felt so
strongly that we needed to take military action to disarm Saddam Hussein, since
he would not do it himself.” [White House, 3/21/2003]
The United States admits to using Mark 77 firebombs, an incendiary weapon that has virtually the same effect as napalm (see 1942), in Iraq. The weapon is so similar in fact that troops commonly refer to it as napalm. [CNN, 3/21/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 3/22/2003] In August 2003, Marine Colonel Mark Daly will confirm that Mark 77 bombs were dropped by Marine jets around the Kuwait-Iraq border at the start of the war. A senior Pentagon official confirms that the bombs have “similar destructive characteristics” to napalm. Early reports of “napalm” being used in an attack on Iraqi troops at Safwan Hill, near the Kuwait border, by an Australian journalist were denied by US officials, who claimed that the military destroyed its last batch of napalm in April 2001. However, only the Vietnam-era Napalm-B was actually destroyed. [Sunday Mirror, 8/10/2003] According to Marine Colonel Randolph Alles, “The generals love napalm—it has a big psychological effect.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/5/2003] A Pentagon official says: “It is like this: you’ve got an enemy that’s hard to get at. And it will save your own lives to use it.” The Mark 77 is loaded with 44 pounds of gelling compound and 63 gallons of jet fuel. The use of incendiary weapons on civilian populations is banned by Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (see October 10, 1980-December 2, 1983), which also restricts the use of these weapons against military targets that are located within a concentration of civilians. The UN’s ban, passed in 1980, has never been signed by the US. [Sunday Mirror, 8/10/2003]
Gen. Tommy Franks says during a news conference in Qatar: “There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. As this operation continues, those weapons will be identified, found, along with the people who have produced them and who guard them.” [Washington Post, 3/23/2003] The four-star general says he gets information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction every day, noting he has “no doubt” that Iraq possesses them. He states some of this information is good intelligence while other is speculation. Franks also says he knows that more than two dozen Iraqi SCUD missile launchers are unaccounted for since the end of the last Gulf War. [American forces Press Services News Article, 3/22/2003]
Victoria Clarke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, says during a televised briefing at the Pentagon that the administration knows about “a number of sites” where Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Clarke refuses to provide any estimate of how many sites the US knows of. [Washington Post, 3/23/2003, pp. A27]
Kenneth Adelman. [Source: Public domain]Kenneth Adelman, a former Reagan arms control official who is close to top Bush military officials and serves on a Pentagon advisory panel, says, “I have no doubt we’re going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction.” Adelman claims these weapons are likeliest to be found near Tikrit and Baghdad, because they’re the most protected places with the best troops. Adelman acknowledges some surprise that they have not been used yet. “One thing we may find is Saddam Hussein ordered them to be used and soldiers didn’t follow the orders. The threat of use goes down every day because adherence to orders goes down.” [Washington Post, 3/23/2003, pp. A27]
Privates Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa. [Source: CNN]US Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a supply clerk, is injured in a Humvee crash in the city of Nasiriyah. Lynch’s convoy had become separated from its mates and wound up lost in Nasiriyah, where it came under attack. An Army investigation later shows that Lynch and her colleagues were lost due to exhaustion, several wrong turns, and faulty communications (see July 10, 2003), all of which contribute to the convoy’s misdirection. Eleven US soldiers die in the ambush; Lynch and five others, including her close friend Private Lori Piestewa, are taken captive (see October 24, 2003). Piestewa is mortally wounded and will die within a few hours. Besides Lynch and Piestewa, the others taken prisoner are Sergeant James Riley; Specialists Edgar Hernandez, Joseph Hudson, and Shoshana Johnson; and Private First Class Patrick Miller. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; POW Network, 6/22/2006]
Photos of five US captives broadcast by Al Jazeera. The soldiers are, clockwise from the left: Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Spc. Edgar Hernandez, Spc. Joseph Hudson, Pfc. Patrick Miller, and Sgt. James Riley. [Source: Al Jazeera / CNN]The Arab television network Al Jazeera broadcasts graphic close-up shots of dead US soldiers taken during the same ambush that saw the capture of Private Jessica Lynch (see March 23, 2003). The bodies are sprawled on a concrete floor; a smiling Iraqi fighter points out the individual bodies for the camera. At least two of the soldiers appear to have been shot, one between the eyes. In the same broadcast, four exhausted and shaken captured US soldiers, also members of Lynch’s unit, are shown giving short and uninformative answers to their captors. Still photos of five soldiers are shown by the network. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] The still images of the prisoners are shown on at least one US news show, NBC’s “Dateline.” [New York Times, 3/28/2003] The parents of one of the captives, Shoshana Johnson, learned of their daughter’s capture from a Spanish-language news broadcast on Telemundo before they were informed by the Pentagon. Joseph Hudson’s mother learned of her son’s capture from a Filipino television broadcast. Johnson’s sister, Army Captain Nikki Johnson, says that it is not necessarily wrong for footage of American POWs to be broadcast because “[y]ou get to see the condition the soldiers are in now. It’ll be very hard for them to mistreat them and try and say, ‘Oh, we found them that way.’” Johnson’s father, Claude, who fought in the 1991 Gulf War as an Army sergeant, says, “The instant we found out they were prisoners, we should have been talking to the people in the Red Cross and ensuring that somebody got out there. We can’t turn the clock back. What is done is done. Now is the time to get the people from the Red Cross or whatever organization is available to go in and make a true assessment, and then we can go from there.” Miller’s half-brother Thomas Hershberger says, “We are glad he wasn’t killed. We hope he makes it back. We all love him, and we hope he is treated humanely.” Hudson’s mother Anecita says tearfully, “I just would like [to say] to the president of United States of America [to] do something about it—to save my son. And I want him to come home.” [CNN, 5/25/2003] Excluding Lynch, the US soldiers will be freed 22 days later; Lynch will be rescued from a Nasiriyah hospital nine days later (see June 17, 2003).
Entity Tags: Patrick Miller, Jessica Lynch, International Committee of the Red Cross, Claude Johnson, Anecita Hudson, Al Jazeera, Joseph Hudson, Nikki Johnson, Thomas Hershberger, Shoshana Johnson, NBC, Telemundo
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Saddam Hussein, proclaimed as most likely dead by the US media for nearly four days (see March 19-20, 2003), makes a 25-minute televised speech from an undisclosed location inside Iraq. Much of the speech is given over to taunting the US. [Rich, 2006, pp. 80]
A photo of a slain US soldier as broadcast on Al Jazeera. [Source: Al Jazeera / TheWE (.cc)]With the first broadcast of graphic, disturbing images from the Iraq war on Al Jazeera television news shows, the media coverage of the US strike begins turning away from what media critic Frank Rich will later call “cheerleading” (see March 19-20, 2003) to a more somber assessment of the events taking place in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, is embarrassed when host Bob Schieffer shows part of an Al Jazeera film clip of US troops being killed. (The Pentagon is also denying media reports that around ten US soldiers were either captured or missing. The juxtaposition is inopportune for Rumsfeld and the “shock and awe” story he and the Defense Department wish to tell.) The Pentagon will quickly decide that for the US media to show such images violates “the principles of the Geneva Conventions” and attempt to stop them from being shown in the American press. The Pentagon’s proscription of such images being published and broadcast is only partially successful. ABC news anchor Charles Gibson engages in an on-air discussion of the propriety of airing such images with reporter Ted Koppel. Gibson says to broadcast such disturbing images would be “simply disrespectful,” a point with which Koppel, embedded with the Third Infantry Division, disagrees. The news media is “ginning up patriotic feelings” in covering the war, Koppel says: “I feel that we do have an obligation to remind people in the most graphic way that war is a dreadful thing.… The fact of the matter is young Americans are dying. Young Iraqis are dying. And I think to turn our faces away from that is a mistake.… To sanitize it too much is a dreadful mistake.” However, Koppel’s is not a popular argument. CNN decided at the onset of the war to minimize its broadcast of graphic imagery in deference to “the sensibilities of our viewers.” The other US television news outlets make similar decisions, leaving it to the BBC and other non-American news organizations to show what Rich calls “the savagery and blood of warfare.” Ex-Marine Anthony Swofford, who wrote the bestseller Jarhead about his experiences during the 1991 Gulf War, later says the television coverage is so sanitized that he quickly shut off his TV “and stayed with the print.… [T]he actual experience of combat doesn’t make it to the other side of the screen.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 76]
The New York Times reveals that CIA analysts acknowledge being pressured to shape their intelligence reports on Iraq to conform to Bush administration policies. In particular, they were pressured to find or create evidence that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 3/23/2003] In 2004, Times editor Daniel Okrent will admit that the story was “completed several days before the invasion (see March 19, 2003) and unaccountably held for a week,” not appearing until three days after the war began, when it “was interred on Page B10.” [New York Times, 5/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 192] For months, some CIA analysts have privately expressed concerns over the forcible shaping of their reports to colleagues and Congressional officials, but until now have not revealed those concerns to reporters. “A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-al-Qaeda case has been handled,” a senior intelligence official says. The revelation that the claims of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 7, 2003) sparked some analysts to come forward. One government official says, “The forgery heightened people’s feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled.” The intelligence official says: “As we have become an integral component informing the debate for policy makers, we have been asked a lot of questions. I’m sure it does come across as a pressured environment for analysts. I think there is a sense of being overworked, a sense among analysts that they have already answered the same questions. But if you talk to analysts, they understand why people are asking, and why policy makers aren’t accepting a report at face value.” Other analysts have discussed leaving the agency over their frustration with the way intelligence is being manipulated by the Bush administration. Another government official says, “Several people have told me how distraught they have been about what has been going on.” A CIA official says no analysts have resigned in protest over the management of Iraqi intelligence. [New York Times, 3/23/2003]
Tornado fighter plane similar to the one shot down by a US Patriot battery. [Source: Army-Technology (.com)]The Patriot missile defense system, so famous from iconic video footage shot during the 1991 Gulf War (see Mid-1991), destroys a British Tornado jet fighter in mid-flight, killing both of its crew members. The Tornado is in friendly airspace, is alone, and had already completed its mission and released its weapons, when the Patriot mistakes the Tornado for an enemy missile and destroys it. US military spokesmen explain the incident as due to a “computer glitch.” Originally built to shoot down aircraft, its manufacturer, Raytheon, modified it just before the 1991 Gulf War to shoot down tactical ballistic missiles. When the Army deployed Patriot batteries in Iraq, the crews quickly realized there were problems with the system. The Tornado is just the first of an array of problems manifested by the Patriot. The Tornado’s mission should have gone smoothly, according to retired Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason, who will advise an upcoming British Parliamentary inquiry into the shoot down. “They had fulfilled their mission and they were returning without weapons back to base.”
US Officials Misleading British? - Mason does not believe the Army’s “computer glitch” story. “If the system is confusing missiles with planes, that is just not just a minor glitch. The two are so different, that it’s difficult really to imagine a system could do that.” One of the biggest problems with the Patriot system is that it is completely automated: it tracks airborne objects, identifies them, decides whether or not to fire, and, if its operator does not override the machine in a very few seconds, fires. Reporter Robert Riggs, embedded with a Patriot battery, will recall, “This was like a bad science fiction movie in which the computer starts creating false targets. And you have the operators of the system wondering is this a figment of a computer’s imagination or is this real. They were seeing what were called spurious targets that were identified as incoming tactical ballistic missiles. Sometimes, they didn’t exist at all in time and space. Other times, they were identifying friendly US aircraft as incoming TBMs.” A US Army report will find that “various Patriot locations throughout the theater” routinely identify “spurious TBMs”—tactical ballistic missiles that didn’t exist. Most of the time, the Patriot computers correct the mistake on their own. Sometimes, they do not. Riggs will recall, “We were in one of the command posts. And I walked in and all the operators and officers are focused intently on their screens. And so you know something’s going on here. And suddenly the door flies open, and a Raytheon tech representative runs in and says, ‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!’ Well, that got our attention real quick.”
Systematic Problems - Two days later, a US F-16 destroys a Patriot battery that mistakenly targeted it (see March 25, 2003). Eight days after that, a US Navy pilot dies when Patriot missile fire destroys his plane (see April 2, 2003). Reporters find that the Patriot has had systematic problems in identifying friendly and hostile targets since 1991 (see June 27, 2003). [Carter, 2004, pp. 52; CBS News, 6/27/2004]
Halliburton issues a press release declaring that it has won a contract from the US Army Corps of Engineers to extinguish oil well fires and do emergency repairs to Iraq’s oil infrastructure in post-invasion Iraq. The firefighting work will be subcontracted to Houston-based companies Boots & Coots International Well Control, Inc. and Wild Well Control, Inc. [Halliburton, 3/24/2003]
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