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Context of 'March 24, 2003: Antiwar Critics ‘Foolish’ to Predict Sectarian Violence in Iraq, Says Columnist'

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In a column exploring the idea of US-led regime change in Iraq and advocating the support of Iraqi opposition groups to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland calls Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996) “a dedicated advocate of democracy” in Iraq. (Hoagland lauds Chalabi’s advanced college degrees, his success as a Jordanian banker (see August 2, 1989), and what he calls Chalabi’s exposure of the CIA’s “gross failures” in Iraq (see (1994)). Hoagland decries “15 years of failed US policy toward Saddam,” and writes that Chalabi is a fine choice to lead Iraq in the place of Hussein. “Mr. Chalabi is a dedicated advocate of democracy who does fight against enormous military odds and deep religious and social divisions in the Arab world,” he writes. Lambasting those in the CIA and State Department who are determined to prove that Chalabi is a fraud (see January 1996), Hoagland writes, “A policy review dedicated to trashing him and other exiles is a shameful and self-defeating way to begin anew on Iraq. It is a phony way to argue that nothing can or should be done to oust the predatory psychopath who holds Iraq hostage.” (Hoagland 4/9/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 206)

The Defense Policy Board (DPB) meets in secret in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon conference room on September 19 and 20 for 19 hours to discuss the option of taking military action against Iraq. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001) They also discuss how they might overcome some of the diplomatic and political pressures that would likely attempt to impede a policy of regime change in Iraq. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001) Among those attending the meeting are Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Princeton academic Bernard Lewis, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), Chalabi’s aide Francis Brooke, and the 18 members of the DPB. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 236; Mayer 6/7/2004) Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later call the DPB “a neocon[servative] sanctuary,” boasting such members as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former arms control adviser Ken Adelman, former Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle, and former Vice President Dan Quayle. (Lang 6/2004)
Powell, State Officials Not Informed of Meeting - Secretary of State Colin Powell and other State Department officials in charge of US policy toward Iraq are not invited and are not informed of the meeting. A source will later tell the New York Times that Powell was irritated about not being briefed on the meeting. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001)
Chalabi, Lewis Lead Discussion - During the seminar, two of Richard Perle’s invited guests, Chalabi and Lewis, lead the discussion. Lewis says that the US must encourage democratic reformers in the Middle East, “such as my friend here, Ahmed Chalabi.” Chalabi argues that Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists and asserts that Saddam Hussein’s regime has weapons of mass destruction. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 232; Lang 6/2004) He also asserts “there’d be no resistance” to an attack by the US, “no guerrilla warfare from the Ba’athists, and [it would be] a quick matter of establishing a government.” (Mayer 6/7/2004)
Overthrow of Hussein Advocated - Attendees write a letter to President Bush calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. “[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack [of 9/11], any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism,” the letter reads. The letter is published in the Washington Times on September 20 (see September 20, 2001) in the name of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank that believes the US needs to shoulder the responsibility for maintaining “peace” and “security” in the world by strengthening its global hegemony. (Project for the New American Century 9/20/2001; Lobe 7/19/2003) Bush reportedly rejects the letter’s proposal, as both Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell agree that there is no evidence implicating Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001)
Woolsey Sent to Find Evidence of Hussein's Involvement - As a result of the meeting, Wolfowitz sends Woolsey to London to find evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks and the earlier 1993 attack on the World Trade Center (see Mid-September-October 2001). (Lang 6/2004)

The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Schwartz celebrates the success of the Iraq invasion and mocks antiwar critics, writing, “In recent weeks, anti-Shi’a propaganda has emerged as a staple of the liberal media, full of dire predictions that the fall of the Butcher of Baghdad will result in Iraq’s being torn apart, as Shi’as, Sunnis, and Kurds fight each other for power.” Schwartz continues, “Incompetent voices at the State Department proclaim the need to back old, exhausted politicians, who will presumably serve as pliable tools, in preference to Shi’a leaders like Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi National Congress.” Schwartz seems to suggest that Iraq’s Shi’as, presumably under the leadership of Chalabi, are ready and willing to ally with the US against their Shi’a brethren in Iran, and establish a Western-style democracy. (Schwartz 3/24/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 303)


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