After the Gulf War cease-fire of February 28, 1991, most U.S. war observers turned their attentions away from the hostilities. Bush, however, was still trying to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Some very interesting actions occurred that could have come out of a James Bond novel.
On March 3, 1991, General Schwarzkopf met with eight Iraqi officers, led by General Sultan Hashim Ahmad, to sign the cease-fire agreement. On TV, we saw a gruff-looking Schwarzkopf staring down the Iraqi delegation. There were no socializing formalities: he would dictate the agenda and the Iraqis would listen. His harsh look may have been attributed to the Iraqis not recognizing him. They thought he was an enlisted man because they had never seen a general as obese as Schwarzkopf. This lack of acknowledgement immensely upset the 16-star general.
Shortly after the signing, dual insurrections emerged in Iraq. In the north, various Kurdish factions rose up, while southern Shi’ite hostilities began, with much help from Iranians who crossed the Iran-Iraq border during Desert Storm. At one time, 16 of Iraq’s 18 provinces were in the hands of insurgents. Then, the advantage was regained by the Iraqi government and both uprisings ceased.
The main reason for the Iraqi government’s comeback may have been their use of helicopter gunships. Many analysts attributed the helicopters as the force that turned the tables on the insurgent groups. Then, they elaborated by pointing at Schwarzkopf’s decision at Safwan on March 3, 1991, to allow the Iraqis to use helicopters.
Once again, Schwarzkopf was in the public eye. In interviews, he explained that his decision held a humanitarian base. He told the interviewers that Iraq’s road system was destroyed by U.S. bombing and that he thought it would be okay for the Iraqis to use helicopters for transportation, but they double-crossed him by using them to put down the insurrections in Iraq. He publicly stated, “I was suckered,” making the Iraqis appear to be liars. He came out of this looking like a benevolent victor trying to help Iraq get itself back on its feet. As with much information about Desert Storm, what you saw was not real.
In fact, it appears that Schwarzkopf was a willing partner in allowing the helicopter flights. He thought that Iraqi helicopter forces were going to lead a revolt against Saddam Hussein. In a press conference, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater described the helicopter issue as “a side, oral discussion, nothing in writing.” At the time, the transcripts of the meeting were classified. In 1992, they were declassified and showed that Schwarzkopf’s public accounts of the incident were way off. According to the transcript:
Ahmad: This has nothing to do with the front line. This is inside Iraq.
Schwarzkopf: As long as it is not over the part we are in, that is absolutely no problem. So we will let the helicopters, and that is a very important point, and I want to make sure that’s recorded, that military helicopters can fly over Iraq. Not fighters, not bombers.
Ahmad: So you mean that even the helicopters … armed in the Iraqi skies, can fly. But not the fighters? Because the helicopters are the same, they transfer somebody …
Schwarzkopf: Yeah. I will instruct our Air Force not to shoot at any helicopters that are flying over the territory of Iraq where we are not located. If they must fly over the area we are located in, I prefer that they not be gunships, armed helos, and I would prefer that they have an orange tag on the side, as an extra safety measure.
Schwarzkopf had been tipped off that soon after the signing of the cease-fire agreement an attack against Saddam Hussein would take place in Baghdad. Saudi intelligence passed the information to Washington, who, it seems, gave it to Schwarzkopf. The way the discussion between him and Ahmad took place left little for anyone to question. However, Baghdad knew exactly what had occurred.
Laurie Mylroie pieced the parts together in an article called “Iraq’s Real Coup: Did Saddam Snooker Schwarzkopf?” published on June 29, 1992. She stated:
Iraqi opposition sources told me before Desert Storm began, in January 1991, that Salah Omar Takriti, a London- based Iraqi close to the Saudi leadership, claimed to have a list of Iraqi military officers willing to plot a coup. Among them was Salah’s cousin, Hakam Takriti, head of Iraqi Army Aviation — the helicopter squadrons, which include about 120 gunships among the estimated 350 helicopters.
Saudi intelligence — which cooperates closely with U.S. agencies, could have passed to the Americans Salah’s reports of a possible coup attempt. If the Americans took such reports seriously, Schwarzkopf would have been informed and might have taken steps in the cease-fire talks to make sure that the coup plotters’ helicopters were free to assault Baghdad. But the coup never came, and the helicopters were used crash the revolt.
The U.S. did not check the backgrounds of those supposedly plotting to overthrow Saddam. This lack of knowledge of Iraqis continued for years, hence people like Ahmed Chalabi and his ilk became rich from U.S. dollars by lying to the U.S. government telling the officials what they wanted to hear.
This was the case with Hakam. Knowing nothing about the man, the U.S. took the words of people who stated he would lead a coup against Saddam. In fact, Hakam was a loyal insider in the Iraqi government. According to Mylroie, a source stated, “If the West is depending on people like Hakam, we will have Saddam for the next 1,000 years.”
The U.S. error in this case cost many people their lives and created much destruction, but not for the U.S. The Shi’ite and Kurdish insurrections began at the behest of the Bush administration with promises for help from the American side. No help came. Iraqis of all persuasions fought and killed each other over this U.S. promise. It is doubtful that either revolt would have occurred had the U.S. not promised to intervene.
Norman Schwarzkopf triumphantly marched in New York City in a huge victory parade as the homecoming hero. He then wrote his memoirs. However, the events of March 3, 1991, in which he was easily outsmarted, were never mentioned. Prior to the March 3 signing, the press asked what Schwarzkopf thought of Saddam Hussein’s knowledge of military strategy. Schwarzkopf let out a boisterous laugh. A few days later, Saddam had the last laugh.