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Profile: Nizar Hamdun
Nizar Hamdun was a participant or observer in the following events:
The deputy for US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, Joseph Wilson, later writes of the fateful meeting between Glaspie and Saddam Hussein (see July 25, 1990). In his view, Glaspie will become a scapegoat, receiving unfair blame for giving Hussein tacit permission to invade Kuwait. Wilson later writes, “The one-on-one meeting with Saddam was fateful for Ambassador Glaspie. Out of it emerged the charge that she had not been tough enough with him and had somehow given him a green light to invade Kuwait. Nothing could be further from the truth. Glaspie has been made a convenient scapegoat for a more complicated and complex failure of foreign policy.… Her explanation of American policy towards Arab disputes did not waver from our standing instructions. The United States did not take positions on the merits of such quarrels between Arab nations, although the policy was to, in the strongest terms, urge that the parties to a dispute resolve it diplomatically or through international mediation, and not via military threats or action.” During the meeting, Hussein made clear to Ambassador Glaspie that Iraq had no intention of taking any military action against Kuwait so long as there was an ongoing negotiating process. He tells Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the same thing (see July 25, 1990). In later years, Iraqi officials such as Aziz and then-Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Nizar Hamdun will acknowledge that Glaspie did nothing more than reiterate the main points of US policy towards Iraq to Hussein. Wilson, a friend of Hamdun’s, will recall his last conversation with Hamdun before his death in July 2003, where the ailing Hamdun confirmed that, in Wilson’s words, “The Iraqi leadership had not come away thinking she had tacitly indicated that the US condoned the use of force. On the contrary, [Hussein] knew exactly what the American position was—opposition to Iraqi military action, under any and all circumstances.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 99-101]
US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie delivers a letter written by President Bush to Saddam Hussein. The letter reads in part: “I was pleased to learn of the agreement between Iraq and Kuwait to begin negotiations in Jeddah [Saudi Arabia] to find a peaceful solution to the current tensions between you (see August 1, 1990). The United States and Iraq both have a strong interest in preserving the peace and stability of the Middle East. For this reason, we believe that differences are best resolved by peaceful means and not by threats involving military force or conflict. I also welcome your statement that Iraq desires friendship rather than confrontation with the United States. Let me reassure you, as my ambassador (see July 25, 1990), Senator Dole (see April 12, 1990), and others have done, that my administration continues to desire better relations with Iraq. We will also continue to support our friends in the region with whom we have had long-standing ties. We see no necessary inconsistency between these two objectives. As you know, we still have certain fundamental concerns about certain Iraqi policies and activities, and we will continue to raise these concerns with you in a spirit of friendship and candor.… Both our governments must maintain open channels of communication to avoid misunderstandings and in order to build a more durable foundation for improving our relations.”
Positive Tone - According to the later recollections of Glaspie’s deputy, Joseph Wilson, the Iraqi leadership is “startled by the positive tone of the letter.” The letter is overtly conciliatory towards Iraq and its aggression towards Kuwait (see July 22, 1990 and August 2, 1990), and, as then-Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Nizar Hamdun will recall, leaves “the impression that the American desire for good relations with Iraq might override its concerns about Iraqi aggression.” Hamdun believes that the letter “had sent the wrong signal to Saddam by not explicitly warning him against taking any harsh military action, and not threatening harsh retaliation if he did.” Hamdun believes that Hussein “concluded from the positive tone of the letter that the US would not react militarily and that he could survive the political criticism resulting from the aggressive action toward Kuwait.”
Letter Influences Saddam's Thinking - Wilson will conclude, “This letter, much more than any other United States statement (see July 25, 1990), appears to have influenced Saddam’s thinking.” Ultimately, Wilson will note, the US’s influence with Hussein is limited at best, and his perceived reasons to annex Kuwait (see May 28-30, 1990 and July 17, 1990) will override any fears of US disapproval. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 101-104]
In the first few days of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990 and August 2-4, 1990), Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the highest-ranking US diplomat in Baghdad (see July 31, 1990), takes an aggressive stance in handling the crisis. Wilson realizes that he may not hear anything concrete from Washington for days, if not weeks, and any advice from his superiors in Washington might be either useless or counterproductive. Wilson and his colleagues at the embassy know that securing their building is their first objective. He orders a thorough review of security procedures; the painting over of embassy windows to foil potential sniper attacks; the destruction of most classified files and documents, and the preparation for the remaining files to be destroyed at a moment’s notice; the preparation of evacuation plans; and for nonessential staff to make plans to leave Baghdad as quickly as possible. Wilson and his colleagues are concerned about the number of Americans detained in Kuwait, including a 12-year old California girl who had flown alone into the Kuwait City airport on her way to meet her parents in India; she had been taken into Iraqi custody straight off her airliner. Wilson successfully presses his friend, Iraq Deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Hamdun, to release the girl into his custody; he keeps her busy helping out around the embassy until he can get her on a flight out of Iraq, and will later remember her as “a real trouper.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 112-114]
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