Assume the Position

Friday, October 01, 2004
 
Does Kerry Plan to Invade Pakistan?

I could not bring myself to watch the entire debate. I can't stand listening to either Bush or Kerry for long. Bush doesn't lay things out the way I would, missing opportunities to make important points. Kerry's points, on the other hand, strike me as wishful thinking or outright lies. For instance, Bush has yet to put Kerry in his place on the subject of Osama bin Laden. Nobody in the administration has pointedly called Kerry on his overheated rhetoric, which he repeated last night.

Some of the debate (transcript via Lapsus calami) leaving out most of the remarks on Iraq and other issues:

KERRY: I believe in being strong and resolute and determined. And I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are.

But we also have to be smart, Jim. And smart means not diverting your attention from the real war on terror in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden and taking if off to Iraq where the 9/11 Commission confirms there was no connection to 9/11 itself and Saddam Hussein, and where the reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction, not the removal of Saddam Hussein.

This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment. And judgment is what we look for in the president of the United States of America.

I'm proud that important military figures who are supporting me in this race: former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili; just yesterday, General Eisenhower's son, General John Eisenhower, endorsed me; General Admiral William Crown; General Tony Mc[P]eak, who ran the Air Force war so effectively for his father -- all believe I would make a stronger commander in chief. And they believe it because they know I would not take my eye off of the goal: Osama bin Laden.

Unfortunately, he escaped in the mountains of Tora Bora. We had him surrounded. But we didn't use American forces, the best trained in the world, to go kill him. The president relied on Afghan warlords and he outsourced that job too. That's wrong.

LEHRER: New question, two minutes, Senator Kerry.

"Colossal misjudgments." What colossal misjudgments, in your opinion, has President Bush made in these areas?

KERRY: Well, where do you want me to begin?

[…]

And Iraq is not even the center of the focus of the war on terror. The center is Afghanistan, where, incidentally, there were more Americans killed last year than the year before; where the opium production is 75 percent of the world's opium production; where 40 to 60 percent of the economy of Afghanistan is based on opium; where the elections have been postponed three times.

The president moved the troops, so he's got 10 times the number of troops in Iraq than he has in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden is. Does that mean that Saddam Hussein was 10 times more important than Osama bin Laden -- than, excuse me, Saddam Hussein more important than Osama bin Laden? I don't think so.

[…]

LEHRER: New question, Mr. President. Two minutes.

What about Senator Kerry's point, the comparison he drew between the priorities of going after Osama bin Laden and going after Saddam Hussein?

BUSH: Jim, we've got the capability of doing both.

As a matter of fact, this is a global effort.

We're facing a group of folks who have such hatred in their heart, they'll strike anywhere, with any means.

And that's why it's essential that we have strong alliances, and we do.

That's why it's essential that we make sure that we keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of people like Al Qaida, which we are.

But to say that there's only one focus on the war on terror doesn't really understand the nature of the war on terror.

Of course we're after Saddam Hussein -- I mean bin Laden. He's isolated. Seventy-five percent of his people have been brought to justice. The killer -- the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, is in prison.

We're making progress.

But the front on this war is more than just one place. The Philippines -- we've got help -- we're helping them there to bring -- to bring Al Qaida affiliates to justice there.

And, of course, Iraq is a central part in the war on terror. That's why Zarqawi and his people are trying to fight us. Their hope is that we grow weary and we leave.

[…]

KERRY: The president just talked about Iraq as a center of the war on terror. Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it.

The president made the judgment to divert forces from under General Tommy Franks from Afghanistan before the Congress even approved it to begin to prepare to go to war in Iraq.

Bush should have cut Kerry off at the knees on this issue once and for all, but he failed to do so. Here is how Bush should have replied:

LEHRER: New question, Mr. President. Two minutes.

What about Senator Kerry's point, the comparison he drew between the priorities of going after Osama bin Laden and going after Saddam Hussein?

BUSH: Jim, we've got the capability of doing both.

And we have been doing both. We succeeded in removing Saddam Hussein, but we haven't gotten bin Laden, yet. But bin Laden's escape had nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq.

On 7 October, the Taliban controlled more than 80% of Afghanistan, and Anti-Taliban forces were on the defensive. Al Qaida was entrenched in camps and safe houses throughout the country. Afghanistan was, in fact, a terrorist sponsored state.

By October 20, 2001 US and Coalition forces had destroyed virtually all Taliban air defenses and had conducted a highly successful direct action mission on the residence of Mullah Omar in the middle of the Taliban capital, Qandahar. During this time frame Special Forces detachments linked up with Anti-Taliban leaders and coordinated operational fires and logistics support on multiple fronts. Twenty days later, the provincial capital of Mazar-e Sharif fell. In rapid succession, Herat, Kabul, and Jalalabad followed. By mid- December, US Marines had secured Qandahar Airport and the Taliban capital was in the hands of Anti-Taliban forces. Within weeks the Taliban and Al Qaida were reduced to isolated pockets of fighters. On 22 December Franks traveled to Kabul to attend a ceremony marking the inauguration of the Afghan interim government -- 78 days after the beginning of combat operations.

By mid-March 2002, the Taliban had been removed from power and the Al Qaida network in Afghanistan had been destroyed. -- GlobalSecurity.org

Bush: US forces made up 80 to 90 percent of the international forces in Afghanistan engaged in removing the Taliban and Al Qaida, yet Senator Kerry doesn't refer to that as a "fraudulent coalition." It wasn't, and neither is the coalition in Iraq.

In addition to the Coalition, there were also the Northern Alliance and other Afghan forces that had long been militarily opposing the Taliban. At the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Northern Alliance still held Afghanistan's seat at the UN, though they only controlled a small section of the country. Of course the anti-Taliban Afghan forces took the major role in ground operations -- it was and is their country. Operations in Afghanistan were predicated on supporting anti-Taliban Afghan forces with Coalition airpower, not on the predominate use of Coalition ground forces.

When the major operation began against Tora Bora in early December 2001, it wasn't only because intelligence indicated Osama bin Laden might be there, but because intelligence definitely placed some 1,000-2,000 Al Qaida fighters there after the fall of Jalalabad. The primary objective of the operation was the destruction of the Al Qaida strongholds in the caves at Tora Bora, and that objective was achieved. Now, however, while there are still some who believe Osama bin Laden was not at Tora Bora, and others who believe he died there, the intelligence consensus since shortly after the operation is that bin Laden was there and escaped into western Pakistan before the heavy bombardment began — more than a year before the invasion of Iraq.

Pakistani forces captured some 300 of the estimated thousand or so Al Qaida and Taliban who fled from Tora Bora into Pakistan. Although bin Laden and his lieutenants were not captured at that time, since then many senior Al Qaida leaders have been captured in Pakistan, and there is no good evidence that bin Laden remained in or returned to Afghanistan.

In hindsight, it is easy for some people to describe the reliance on Afghan forces at Tora Bora as a mistake. It's usually the same people who complain bitterly about the US casualties three months later during Operation Anaconda, when the US had significantly more ground forces in Afghanistan than we did in December 2001, and we used them.

In any case, you could put a million US troops in Afghanistan and you would not be one step closer to capturing Osama bin Laden unless you were going to use those forces to invade Pakistan — something I have no intention of doing because President Musharraf has been an invaluable ally in the war on terror.

Senator Kerry just said, "The president relied on Afghan warlords and he outsourced that job too. That's wrong." Well, since bin Laden is probably in Pakistan, maybe he believes "outsourcing" the hunt for him to the Pakistanis is "wrong," too. But, President Musharraf can no more allow US forces to openly conduct military operations against Al Qaida and its supporters in Pakistan than I could allow the Mexican Army to chase Zapatista rebels in the US. And as for the possibility of the US conducting secret military strikes in Pakistan, Senator Kerry has spent 30 years whining about the "secret wars" in Laos and Cambodia and working to make such actions all but impossible for the US.

So, it would be interesting to hear how Senator Kerry actually plans to "hunt down and kill" Osama bin Laden, other than by "outsourcing" the job to the Pakistanis with support from US intelligence, which is what we have been doing since December 2001. A larger US military presence in Afghanistan after that would not have changed the situation, nor did the invasion of Iraq.

Bush has never adequately addressed the falsehoods underlying the Iraq-is-a-distraction-from-the-war-on-terror distortion, and probably will not anytime soon. One of my longstanding gripes has been the routine failure of the Bush administration to fully present its case on various issues, from Operation TIPS to "Why Iraq instead of ...?" His letting Kerry score with that and other fictions is no longer surprising, but it still rankles.


UPDATE: Smash agrees regarding "outsourcing" Afghanistan:

What would [Kerry] have done differently in Afghanistan?

Presumably, he would have used American military forces, instead of “outsourcing” the effort to local warlords. But what forces where available in theater at the time? The first large contingent of conventional forces in Afghanistan, a brigade of 1,000 US Marines, arrived at an airstrip near Kandahar on November 25, 2001. That city, which had been the last stronghold of Taliban leader Omar, didn’t fall to anti-Taliban forces until December 7.

The only other US forces in Afghanistan at the time were Special Forces, and CIA paramilitaries. Their job was to help organize the various militias into a coherent force capable of defeating the Taliban, and to call in Coalition air strikes as required. It was this combination of Special Forces and local militia that had already driven the Taliban from the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the airbase at Bagram, and the capital Kabul.

The only US military on the ground at Tora Bora was a contingent of about two dozen Special Forces who were airlifted in to the area on December 2. Their mission was to coordinate the ground attack and to “laze” targets for US bombers. There is no way that these men could have taken Tora Bora without assistance – And the Marines in Kandahar already had their hands full. In any event, Tora Bora was completely overrun by December 12 – but not before the al Qaeda leadership escaped to Pakistan.

Let’s make one thing clear: outside of this “outsourcing” plan, there would have been no significant military action in Afghanistan prior to November 25 – but by the time those first Marines arrived, the Taliban had already been largely defeated. “Outsourcing” the war in Afghanistan was not Bush’s idea. It was the Pentagon and the CIA that came up with this plan. But President Bush did approve it, and it worked.

Jim Lindgren, who recently joined the Volokh Conspiracy, shares my feelings about watching those two, "I personally find it hard to watch either Bush or Kerry speak, especially when it counts, such as in a debate," though he thinks they both did a bit better than he had thought they would.

Prestopundit, while considering the overall direction of the debate biased against Bush, points to this spot-on Jim Geraghty line on NRO's Kerry Spot (emphasis added):

Prediction Two: The Bushies will be a little down. Every time Kerry opened his mouth, conservatives thought of the eight different responses and attacks that they wanted to see, and Bush mostly didn't use them. Bush focused almost entirely on principles tonight, not policies.
And Geraghty also pours on the heat over Tora Bora.


UPDATE - October 2, 2004: Spoons was on the same wavelength, "Did anyone else watching feel annoyed during the debate because they thought that they could do a better job? … In retrospect, that was probably my dominant reaction. I just kept wanting to jump in there and take over for Bush. …"


UPDATE - October 4, 2004: Mark Steyn, too:

And the President of the United States owes his people a performance - in wartime especially. Churchill didn't just communicate the weight of the burden that he carried but also that he had the strength to bear it.

But who needs Churchill? It's not just that Tony Blair or John Howard of Australia could have done the job much more convincingly. Almost any of us armchair warriors could have put down John Kerry's feeble generalisations better than Bush did.



Sunday, September 26, 2004
 
Kerry's 2001 Idiocy and Lies

Via Hoystory, the latest find comes from Captain's Quarters, part of an apparently legitimate transcript of John Kerry on The O'Reilly Factor, December 11, 2001, where the discussion turns to the uprisings in Iraq after the 1991 liberation of Kuwait:

O'REILLY: So what do you do? Drop heavy weapons to the Kurds in the north and to Muslims who don't like him in the south?

KERRY: Bill, let me tell you, I was all for our following through at the end of the Gulf War with the Kurd uprising. And I thought it was a great betrayal, in a sense, that we encouraged them verbally. We gave them forces. We gave them weapons. We encouraged them and said we were with them. And then we pulled out at the last minute because the Kuwaitis and the Saudis and others were unsure of what might follow.

O'REILLY: Yes, that was a classic mistake. But if you arm the Kurds in the north of Iraq, you're going to alienate one of our most valuable --

KERRY: I didn't say necessarily the Kurds. There are other members of the opposition. There are people who are outside the country prepared to go in. There are others inside the country. And I believe -- I mean, I was in Safwan. I went there when the signing of the armistice took place at the end of the war.

And I remember seeing that land, which lent itself in my judgment, considerably to the creation of almost an enclave, which I thought we should have done then. And I think is one way to begin to approach things now, but there are other possibilities. The important thing is that Saddam Hussein and the world knows that we think Saddam Hussein is essentially out of sync with the times. He is and has acted like a terrorist. And he is engaged in activities that are unacceptable.

It's unfortunate that in their zeal to nail Kerry, Captain Ed and most of the commenters and bloggers mentioning this latch on to the first ambiguous statement they see and miss the real idiocy and outright lies in Kerry's remarks. They are concentrating on "…I was in Safwan. I went there when the signing of the armistice took place at the end of the war," and characterizing it as a "lie" because the congressional visit Kerry went on didn't arrive in Safwan until nearly two weeks after the March 3, 2001 cease-fire signing at Safwan Airfield. Kerry should probably get a pass on the indefinite use of "when" in that statement. If somebody said, 'I went to Libya when the travel restrictions were lifted,' you would think they meant they travelled to Libya sometime after the restrictions were lifted; you wouldn't automatically think they were claiming to have gone to Libya the very day the restrictions were lifted. The same holds for Kerry's statement. By focusing on that part of Kerry's remarks, they completely overlook a couple of blatant lies and a regular helping of Kerry's pretentious idiocy.

Where Kerry displays his idiocy is in the next words out of his mouth: "And I remember seeing that land, which lent itself in my judgment, considerably to the creation of almost an enclave, which I thought we should have done then."

Safwan sits just across the Kuwait-Iraq border, with the small civilian airfield a few kilometers to the west of town. It is, like much of southernmost Iraq, basically empty desert unsuited for rebel enclaves (it sits well south and west of the farthest extents of Iraq's marshland at the time). Moreover, the real kicker is that Safwan and the airfield wound up inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ):

United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM)

On 3 April 1991, the Council adopted resolution 687 (1991), setting detailed conditions for a formal ceasefire to end the conflict and establishing the machinery for ensuring implementation of those conditions. Following Iraq's acceptance of the resolution's provisions, the ceasefire became a formal one.

[…]

By resolution 687 (1991) the Council established, among other things, a demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the boundary between Iraq and Kuwait, to be monitored by a United Nations observer unit, and requested the Secretary-General to submit a plan for the unit's immediate deployment. The Secretary-General reported back on 5 April 1991, and on 9 April, by its resolution 689 (1991), the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, established the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) with the strength of 300 military observers.

[…]

The Council gave UNIKOM a mandate to monitor the DMZ and the Khawr 'Abd Allah waterway between Iraq and Kuwait; to deter violations of the boundary; and to observe any hostile action mounted from the territory of one State against the other.

[…]

UNIKOM's concept of operations was based on a combination of patrol and observation bases, observation points, ground and air patrols, investigation teams and liaison with the parties at all levels. The Khawr 'Abd Allah waterway is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) long. The DMZ, which is about 200 kilometres (125 miles) long, extends 10 kilometres (6 miles) into Iraq and 5 kilometres (3 miles) into Kuwait. Except for the oilfields and two towns - Umm Qasr, which became Iraq's only outlet to the sea, and Safwan - the zone is barren and almost uninhabited. UNIKOM enjoys full freedom of movement throughout the DMZ and observes the length and breadth of the zone.

Remember what Zell Miller said about Democrats like Kerry, "It is not their patriotism – it is their judgment that has been so sorely lacking." Right there, "…seeing that land, which lent itself in my judgment, considerably to the creation of almost an enclave…," Kerry demonstrates Miller's point. I don't know if Kerry was making it up as he went along during the O'Reilly interview, or if he really thought back in 1991 that a parcel of empty desert that would be within the official DMZ in another two weeks had considerable value as an enclave for armed insurrectionists to use as base for a rebellion against Hussein. In either case, it is idiotic, though the former could easily be slipped into the discussion as a form of the pretentious I-was-in-Vietnam-so-I'm-a-military-expert-whose-judgment-carries-weight Kerry mantra. [The Kurdish rebels eventually succeeded where the Shi'a failed in part because the land in northern Iraq did lend itself to defensible enclaves, unlike the areas in southern Iraq, especially around Safwan.]

Worse than the above, however, was Kerry's trotting out the Big Lie used by the left (and not a few on the right, including O'Reilly) in discussing the '91 uprisings. Here Kerry goes beyond the pale, "…I was all for our following through at the end of the Gulf War with the Kurd uprising. And I thought it was a great betrayal, in a sense, that we encouraged them verbally. We gave them forces. We gave them weapons. We encouraged them and said we were with them. And then we pulled out at the last minute because the Kuwaitis and the Saudis and others were unsure of what might follow.

Of course, this is the guy who voted against using the US military to free Kuwait in the first place, and there he was in 2001 trying to convince people he "was all for our following through" by using the US military to help the rebels overthrow Hussein. He also presents himself as the big internationalist, the coalition guru, yet faults the US for abiding by the coalition's UN mandate, and blames the "Kuwaitis and Saudis" by name when the biggest naysayers to finishing the job and ousting Hussein were the Europeans, then and now.

"…I thought it was a great betrayal, in a sense, that we encouraged them verbally." Accurate enough, but then the verbal encouragement was directed mostly at the Iraqi military. What the Iraqi's were told was essentially the obvious: If there was ever an opportunity to wrest their country out from under Hussein's tyranny on their own, that was their best chance. But the majority of Iraq's military stuck with Hussein and was used to put down the uprisings, rather than leading them.

"We gave them forces." A lie. The US did not give them any forces. Nor did the US promise if anyone rose up we would send forces to fight alongside them. The US didn't even promise to provide air cover. (Enforcement of the No-Fly Zones came later.)

"We gave them weapons." A lie. The US did not give them any weapons. The US wouldn't even give them captured Iraqi weapons. The weapons they used in the uprisings were those they already had, those they captured from Iraqi police stations and military armories, the weapons the few Iraqi military forces that joined the rebellions brought, and light weapons provided by the Iranians who supported the Shi'a rebellion as a way toward another Islamic republic under the sway of Tehran.

The left has told the lie of Bush 41's "betrayal" so often that it has become the conventional wisdom about the '91 uprisings. Kerry not only repeated it, he added to it.

In 1992, Human Rights Watch put out a report, "ENDLESS TORMENT: The 1991 Uprising in Iraq And Its Aftermath." It is well worth reading in its entirety, but I've extracted the section covering what the US "encouragement" actually consisted of, and it wasn't much. It's important to keep the dates in mind when you read the extract, all of the US statements urging Iraqis to take matters into their own hands came before the ground war in the hope that the battered Iraqi military would turn on Hussein and leave Kuwait without having to be pushed out. The air war began January 16, 1991; the ground war was February 24 - 28, the initial armistice agreement between coalition and Iraq representatives at Safwan was March 3, with the permanent cease fire agreement signed April 6, 1991.

Chapter Two

The March 1991 Uprisings: Introduction

[…]

The 1991 uprising was the most serious internal challenge Saddam Hussein has had to face during his twelve years in power. Every major city in the north and south of the country except Mosul fell into the hands of rebels and their sympathizers. Iraqi soldiers, confronted with a popular uprising immediately after being routed in the Gulf war, deserted or defected by the thousands. The survival of the regime was very much in doubt for about two weeks until loyalist troops, led by the elite Republican Guard, began finally to extinguish the insurrection city by city. By the time it was over, thousands of civilians and government forces had been killed[74] and countless atrocities had been committed by both sides.

Three northern and three southern cities that rose up in rebellion are the focus of this report. Testimony gathered from residents of other cities suggests that the abuses documented here are representative of what took place elsewhere, although the magnitude of the abuses and the level of casualties varied considerably. Among the cities covered in this report, al-Najaf, Karbala, and Kirkuk were particularly devastated by the uprising and government counter-offensive.

The turmoil began in Basra on March 1, one day after the Gulf war cease-fire, and spread within days to Karbala, Najaf, Hilla, al-Nasiriyya, al-Amara, Samawa, Kut, and Diwaniyya — that is, to all of the largest cities of southern Iraq. Smaller cities, such as Suq al-Shuyoukh near al-Nasiriyya, and al-Zubayr near Basra, were also swept up in the revolt.

The rebellion in the north erupted on or about March 4 in the town of Rania, northwest of Suleimaniyya. Within ten days, the Kurds controlled every city in the north except Kirkuk and Mosul. Their greatest triumph — the capture of Kirkuk — came on about April 20 [sic - should be March 20].

The Kurdish uprising collapsed even more quickly than it began. After ousting the pesh merga from Kirkuk on March 28 and 29, the Iraqi army rolled into Dahuk and Irbil on March 30, Zakho on April 1, and Suleimaniyya, the last important town held by the rebels, over the next two days.

In the south, the government had quelled all but scattered resistance by the end of March. On April 5, Iraq's ruling Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) announced "the complete crushing of acts of sedition, sabotage, and rioting in all towns of Iraq."

[…]

U.S. Policy: "You Broke Saddam's Leg and Told Us To Break His Head"[91]

With bewilderment and bitterness, many of the refugees asked [Middle East Watch] MEW interviewers why the U.S. administration failed to support the uprising after having incited Iraqis to rise up against Saddam. The answer remains a matter of speculation. The contradictions of U.S. policy may have reflected a lack of sufficient concern for the consequences of the call to rebel; it may have been due to miscalculation; or it may be attributable to a preoccupation with political considerations unrelated to the well-being of the residents of Iraq. Whatever the reasons, the Bush Administration contributed to the making of a tragedy that left thousands of civilians massacred by Saddam's troops and nearly two million forced to flee their homes.

The strongest signal of U.S. support for a popular rebellion came toward the end of the air war, when President Bush declared on February 15; "[T]here's another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside."[92] This remark was heard by Iraqis on the Voice of America.[93]

Soon after the uprising began, however, fears of a disintegrating Iraq led the Administration to distance itself from the insurgents. Officials downplayed the significance of the revolts and spelled out a policy of nonintervention in Iraq's internal affairs. On March 5, Rear Admiral Mike McConnell, director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that "chaotic and spontaneous" uprisings were under way in thirteen Iraqi cities, but stated the Pentagon's view that Saddam would prevail because of the rebels' "lack of organization and leadership."[94] White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater appeared to discount the insurgents when he stated the same day, "It's not clear to us what the purpose or extent of the fighting is."[95]

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said on March 5 that "it would be very difficult for us to hold the coalition together for any particular course of action dealing with internal Iraqi politics, and I don't think, at this point, our writ extends to trying to move inside Iraq."[96] Marine Major General Martin Brandtner, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added the same day, "There is no move on the [part of] U.S. forces...to let any weapons slip through [to the rebels], or to play any role whatsoever in fomenting or assisting any side."[97] State Department spokesman Richard Boucher explained on March 6: "We don't think that outside powers should be interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq."

On March 7, when the rebels in the south were in control of several cities and the revolt in the north was gathering momentum, Secretary of State James Baker was asked if the United States preferred continued Baath Party rule to an Islamic revolution in Iraq. Baker replied: "I'm not going to make a choice because I'm not sure that's what the choices are necessarily. I will say this C we do not want to see any changes in the territorial integrity of Iraq and we do not want to see other countries actively making efforts to encourage changes."

Consequently, U.S. occupation forces who were stationed only a few miles from al-Nasiriyya, Samawa and Basra did nothing to help the rebels who rose up in these cities. Soldiers watched helplessly as Iraqi troops devastated the cities, and wounded civilians fled on foot to U.S. bases nearby telling of the atrocities that were taking place. Thomas Isom, a U.S. Army lieutenant, described what he saw from his post at the edge of Samawa:

They fired at the hospital twice. We were watching them shell the train station and other small houses. This was simply designed to kill civilians or terrorize them, which it did. It did not have a military purpose, just artillery impacts on large concentrations of civilians.

An officer at the same post said of Iraq's Soviet-made H-18 helicopters that were firing rockets at Samawa residents: "We could have used our own helicopters to take them out. We could hear them come over our heads."[98]

The Administration did sternly warn Iraqi authorities on March 7 against the use of chemical weapons during the unrest,[99] but equivocated about Iraq's use of helicopter gunships against civilians. President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker stated in mid-March that helicopter gunships should not be used, but other Administration officials gave conflicting signals. In the end, the aircraft were employed with impunity to attack rebels and civilians alike, and proved instrumental in quelling the insurrection. Inquiries to Administration spokespersons about why the warnings had not been enforced met with equivocation.

The decision to permit Iraq to use helicopters in suppressing the revolt has been the subject of lively debate. Some believe that the rebels would have triumphed had helicopters been included in the Allies' cease-fire ban on flights by Iraqi aircraft. Others believe that a ban on helicopters would have merely prolonged the bloodshed without altering the outcome.

The question of helicopters was ignored in the March 3 cease-fire agreement, which clearly prohibited Iraq's use of fixed-wing aircraft. According to The Washington Post, "officials had said [on March 14] that, so far as they knew, there was nothing in the provisional cease-fire that explicitly prevents Iraq from using its helicopters in combat against rebellious forces." The Post reported:

[White House spokesman Marlin] Fitzwater said the use of helicopters was not specifically addressed in the written agreement secured by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf....According to Fitzwater, Schwarzkopf, when he met with Iraqi military leaders March 3, did discuss informally their intentions to use helicopters for transportation purposes. That was before the large-scale uprisings throughout Iraq had begun. Fitzwater characterized those discussions as outside the written agreement governing the provisional cease-fire and said the reason that U.S. officials concerned themselves at all with Iraqi aircraft was to protect U.S. troops.[100]

The administration commented disapprovingly on the use of helicopters but refused to issue stern warnings. President Bush said on March 13 that Iraqi helicopter gunships "should not be used for combat purposes inside Iraq."[101] On March 17, Secretary Baker discussed an allied meeting with ten Iraqi officers in Safwan that day: "We've also said that helicopters should be used for logistical purposes, not for the purpose of shooting and dropping bombs on your own people."[102] According to a Pentagon official, Major General Robert Johnston, General Schwarzkopf's chief of staff, had warned at the meeting in Safwan that the use of helicopters against the rebels was a "threat to coalition forces" and could lead to U.S. military action against the helicopters.[103]

But on March 21, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams acknowledged that U.S. policy regarding the use of helicopters was not clear. While admitting that "dozens" of helicopters were being used against the rebels, Williams declined to say whether U.S. forces would fire at these aircraft. He answered affirmatively when asked: "Is our policy somewhat ambiguous?"

In justifying its distinction between helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, the administration cited the differing threats they posed to U.S. forces, ignoring the use of helicopters to perpetrate atrocities against civilians. White House spokesman Fitzwater explained that "the planes pose a far more serious threat to U.S. personnel because they fly faster and higher."[104] Fitzwater also stated on March 26: "We made it clear that we do not believe that they should be flying helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft over the country, that we intended to shoot down fixed-wing aircraft because of the direct threat that they posed to our forces."[105]

Deputy White House spokesman Roman Popadiuk, when asked on March 29 about Kurdish requests for U.S. attacks on the helicopters, responded as if the matter concerned only which side prevailed in the conflict, not whether the matter was one of preventing gross human rights abuses: "The issue of internal unrest in Iraq is an issue that has to be settled between the government and the people of Iraq. It's a decision for the people of Iraq to make."[106]

After Iraqi military forces crushed the uprising, the U.S. continued to stress the limits of its role in Iraq.[107] Secretary Baker, on April 7 in Turkey, condemned Saddam's "crimes against the Iraqi people," but stated "We are not prepared to go down the slippery slope of being sucked into a civil war [sic]. We cannot police what goes on inside Iraq, and we cannot be the arbiters of who shall govern Iraq....We repeatedly said that could only be done by the Iraqi people."

On April 13, when more than one Iraqi in ten had fled his or her home, President Bush pledged relief and denounced "in the strongest terms continued attacks by Iraqi government forces against defenseless Kurdish and other Iraqi civilians." But he reiterated the policy of noninterference:

Internal conflicts have been raging in Iraq for many years, and we're helping out, and we're going to continue to help these refugees. But I do not want one single soldier or airman shoved into a civil war in Iraq that's been going on for ages....We will not interfere in Iraq's civil war. The Iraqi people must decide their own political future.

While eschewing military intervention, the U.S. and its allies responded quickly to the desperate plight of hundreds of thousands of fleeing Kurds. In April 1991, the Allies conducted a massive airlift to deliver food, tents and blankets to families on snow-covered mountains and in refugee camps, and established a 3,600-square-mile "safe haven" in northern Iraq to encourage the Kurds to come down from the mountains to obtain shelter, food and medical care. To persuade Kurds of their security, the Allies also forbad Iraq to fly any aircraft C including helicopters C north of the thirty-sixth parallel, a ban that continues to the present day.

Meanwhile, the administration moved to counter the accusation that it had encouraged the uprising that led to the humanitarian disaster. In a carefully crafted statement, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said on April 2 that the Bush Administration had "never, ever stated as either a military or a political goal...the removal of Saddam Hussein." She said that although the United States had said that normal relations with Iraq were "next to impossible" while Saddam Hussein was in power, it did not "cal[l] on [the] Iraqi people to put their lives on the line to overthrow the current leadership."

President Bush insisted three days later,

I have not misled anybody about the intentions of the United States of America. I don't think the Shiites in the south, those who are unhappy with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad or the Kurds in the north, ever felt that the United States would come to their assistance to overthrow this man.

The president also claimed, "I made clear from the very beginning that it was not an objective of the coalition or the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein."

These protestations rang hollow to many of the Shi'a and Kurds interviewed by MEW after the uprising who had clearly expected to receive U.S. help once they rose up against Saddam. A young Kurdish refugee in Iran told MEW, "You [the U.S.] broke Saddam's leg, and told us to break his head. And then?" He stretched out his hands and raised his eyebrows, as if to answer his own question.


[74] Middle East Watch does not have an independent estimate of the number of casualties that occurred during the uprising. Iraq has not released any official statistics or estimates, in keeping with apparent government policy of not disclosing such data. An independent French organization called The Truth About the Gulf War reported in June 1991 after a trip to Iraq that authorities were vague about the toll of the uprising, but "the figures given for those killed, most of them in southern Iraq and the overwhelming majority of them civilians, ranged from 25,000 to 100,000 dead." ("Violence Increasing in N. Iraq," Washington Post, June 4, 1991.)

The U.S. administration, for its part, has not issued any figures on Iraqi casualties, either during the war or the uprising. A three-volume Pentagon report on the Gulf war released on April 9, 1992 omitted all references to Iraqi casualties.

The environmental organization Greenpeace estimates that 30,000 Iraqi civilians, including rebels, and 5,000 Iraqi soldiers died during the uprisings as a result of the clashes and killings, while acknowledging that "little authoritative information is available." "Iraqi Deaths from the Gulf War as of April 1992," Greenpeace, Washington, D.C. A demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau, Beth Osborne Daponte, also arrived at the figure of 30,000 civilian deaths during the uprising. "Agency Reinstates Tabulator of Iraqi War Deaths," The New York Times, April 13, 1992.

[91] This section is adapted from a more detailed account of U.S. policy toward Iraq in the Human Rights Watch World Report 1992, pp. 692-709.

[92] President Bush was responding to an Iraqi statement, broadcast earlier the same day on Radio Baghdad, hinting at a possible willingness to withdraw from Kuwait. The president dismissed the statement as a "cruel hoax" and said there was "nothing new" in the various Iraqi demands included in the statement. ("Baghdad's Offer and Conditions for Ending War Over Kuwait" and "Excerpts From 2 Statements by Bush on Iraq's Proposal for Ending Conflict," The New York Times, February 16, 1991.)

[93] As early as August 11, 1990, the president had hinted of his desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted: "No, we're not prepared to support the overthrow, but I hope that these actions that have been taken will result in an Iraq that is prepared to live peacefully in a community of nations. And if that means Saddam Hussein changes his spots, so be it. And if he doesn't, I hope the Iraqi people do something about it so that their leader will live by the norms of international behavior that will be acceptable to other nations." ("Excerpts from Statements by Bush on Strategy in Gulf," The New York Times, August 12, 1990.) The president added on August 30, 1990: "Well, it wouldn't disappoint me if the Iraqis got up and said, 'Look, this man is our problem.'" ("Excerpts From President's News Conference on Gulf Crisis," The New York Times, August 31, 1990.)

There are allegations that the U.S. further encouraged the rebellion by launching in January 1991 the Voice of Free Iraq, a clandestine radio station that preached sedition against Saddam in clear terms. While administration officials, including spokespersons for the CIA, State Department and Pentagon all denied or declined to confirm U.S. involvement in the station, its programming and language bore the marks of CIA sponsorship. See Barton Gellman, "'Voice of Free Iraq' at Heart of Debate over U.S. Backing of Rebels," The Washington Post, April 9, 1991; and Tony Hurwitz, "After Heeding Calls To Turn on Saddam, Shiites Feel Betrayed," The Wall Street Journal, December 26, 1991.

[94] Nora Boustany, "Republic Guard Reported Battling Insurgents in Iraq," The Washington Post, March 6, 1991.
[95] Ibid.
[96] Ibid.
[97] Ibid.

[98] Nora Boustany, "U.S. Troops Witness Iraqi Attack on Town in Horror, Frustration," The Washington Post, March 31, 1991.

[99] A senior Administration official told The New York Times that Iraqi military communications had been intercepted, revealing the imminent use of chemical weapons: "We got an intercept on [March 7] indicating that they were going to drop a gas bomb on a specific place at a specific time....We told them in very explicit terms that this was something that would not be countenanced." The Times reported that "[s]enior Iraqi diplomats in Washington and New York were summoned [on March 7] by State Department officials and warned that the United States would not tolerate chemical attacks on rebellious Iraqi civilians." (Patrick E. Tyler, "U.S. Said To Plan Bombing of Iraqis If They Gas Rebels," March 10, 1991.)

[100] David Hoffman and Barton Gellman, "U.S. Threatens to Down Any Iraqi Combat Aircraft," The Washington Post, March 16, 1991.

[101] Dan Balz, "Bush Issues Warnings To Iran, Iraq on Turmoil," The Washington Post, March 14, 1991.

[102] Eric Schmitt, "Allies Tell Iraq Not To Fly Planes," The New York Times, March 18, 1991.

[103] Patrick E. Tyler, "Copters A Threat, U.S. Warns Iraqis," The New York Times, March 19, 1991.

[104] Ann Devroy and R. Jeffrey Smith, "Neutrality in Iraq Reaffirmed by U.S.," The Washington Post, March 27, 1991.
[105] Ibid.

[106] R. Jeffrey Smith, "Administration Officials Still Debate Striking Iraqi Copters Strafing Rebels," The Washington Post, March 30, 1991.

[107] See, e.g., Ann Devroy and Al Kamen, "Bush, Aides Keep Quiet on Rebels," The Washington Post, April 3, 1991; and Thomas L. Friedman, "Decision Not to Help Iraqi Rebels Puts U.S. in an Awkward Position," The New York Times, April 4, 1991.


UPDATE - September 26, 2004: Added and fixed some links, caught some typos.




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