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Iraq: The legacy of deception
Most Americans are astonished to discover that right up to 9/11, the CIA was developing a "Real Politik" vision of Iraq that recognized the fast approaching collapse of U.N. Sanctions. The CIA was preparing for Peace---with a ruthless determination that the United States would capture the lion's share of spoils from Iraqi Reconstruction contracts in any post-sanctions period.
German pilots transporting medical supplies and doctors into Baghdad International Airport at the end of the Clinton Administration had blasted the myth of invincibility surrounding sanctions. To this day, those pilots are anonymous—but they changed the equation in total. Their courage honoring the Berlin Airlifts in the Cold War was quickly copied. Across Europe and the Arab world, activists began to organize humanitarian flights into Baghdad. On the Security Council, France and Russia argued strenuously that the ban on air travel had been self imposed, and the no-fly zone could not prohibit humanitarian flights.
By this time, UN sanctions had killed over 1.7 million Iraqis; wiped out literacy in a single generation; and created artificial starvation in the world's second most oil-rich nation. Iraq's world class hospitals that once rivaled London and New York had been ravaged. Sick of the misery, the global community refused to stay silent any longer.
The CIA saw the writing on the wall. International loathing for "genocide by sanctions" had reached such a peak of outrage that there was no possibility of re-crafting the hated policy. Secretary of State Colin Powell's vision of "smart sanctions" had come too late.
The CIA was determined to control the agenda for the advantage of the United States, however. And so quietly through my back channel, we undertook a proactive, covert dialogue over exactly what concessions Iraq would offer the United States, in exchange for lifting the sanctions. As a long-time opponent of sanctions myself, I was eager to get results.
That dialogue—even the existence of our back channel to Iraq's Embassy at the United Nations from 1996 to 2003—was strictly covert, kept close and precious— away from Washington pundits and think tanks whose ignorance would have smashed all progress on the rocks. Our dialogue was no less vigorous for that secrecy.
This was the CIA at its best. Nobody got soft on Saddam's government. By any measure, the CIA's demands far exceeded the U.N. mandate to eliminate Iraq's WMDs. If there was going to be peace, it would have to be rock solid, with zero chance that Baghdad would bite the United States in retaliation for those years of misery and death.
A Prosperous Peace for All
What emerged was a dynamic and comprehensive framework hammered out with Iraq's Ambassador Dr. Saeed Hasan and senior diplomats in New York.
The agreement required weapons inspections "with no conditions." But the deal accomplished much more. By February, 2001—nine months before 9/11—Baghdad authorized the FBI to send Terrorism Task Force into Iraq, with permission to conduct investigations and make arrests. After 9/11, Iraq sweetened its contribution with promises to hand over banking and financial documents on Al Qaeda figures. There's no question but that Iraq's cooperation qualified as the most substantial windfall in the War on Terrorism. Notably, it targeted actual terrorists--- not Islamic charities or frightened taxi drivers and plumbers with the wrong accents and ethnic coloring.
Every time Senator John McCain or Dick Cheney pounded the lectern on CNN, and demanded an interview with Al Anai, or other cooperation--- Iraq complied within hours.