IRAQ: THE LEGACY OF DECEPTION AND ITS COSTS
By Susan Lindauer, Former CIA Back Channel to Iraq at the United Nations
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.