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2003-11-06

As Occupation Worsens, White House Tries to Blame CIA For Rejecting Iraqi Offer on Eve of War

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New reports say the U.S. rejected an offer from Iraqi representatives to stop the invasion of Iraq by giving the U.S. rights to Iraqi oil, to hold elections in Iraq, to allow for an intensive search for WMDs and to hand over an Iraqi man who was connected to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript The New York Times and Newsweek are reporting that the Bush administration rebuffed a last minute deal from Saddam Hussein to stop the invasion of Iraq. According to the reports, Iraqi representatives offered to give the U.S. rights to Iraqi oil, to hold elections in Iraq, to allow for an intensive search for weapons of mass destruction and to hand over an Iraqi man who was connected to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Iraq also agreed to support the U.S. so-called war on terrorism and back any U.S.-written Middle East peace proposal.

The offer came about through back-channel negotiations between a Lebanese-American businessman, Pentagon advisor Richard Perle and the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

Perle told The New York Times that he met with the Lebanese-businessman but the CIA refused to pursue the negotiations further.

  • Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: But just before the show began, we reached Michael Isikoff, who is the author of the "Newsweek" piece called "Lost Opportunity." He was at Penn station in New York, just about to get on to a train. We asked him to explain his story.-

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: There was a back channel attempt to avert a war in the months prior to the U.S. invasion.- In which some very unusual characters seemed to have played a role.-The key one seems to have been a Lebanese-American businessman named IMAN Al-Hajj who has been active in Lebanese politics and contacted a friend of his at the pentagon, Michael MALUF, who has a very influential role at the pentagon. He was a co-founder, really, of the secret intelligence team that was reviewing intelligence —- U.S. intelligence on Iraq for the bush administration.— Mr. MALUF set Mr. Hajj up with some pretty powerful people, Richard Perle, members of the defense policy board, and also Paul Wolfowitz —- I’m sorry, a top aide to Paul Wolfowitz, and Mr. Hajj was passing along an offer he said was from senior Iraqi officials, including the chief of Iraqi intelligence, Mr. Habusch and the basic proposal seems to have been we will let, we the Iraqis, will let the Americans station several thousand weapons inspectors into Iraq, even hold free elections to avert a war.— The proposal was not followed up, not taken seriously, in part because there were sort of a lot of questions about who these characters were, particularly Mr. Hajj.-

AMY GOODMAN: The question is, who is this all being told by?- Is this Richard pearl and his people trying to discredit the C.I.A. right now, saying that they thought that these were credible last-minute attempts of Iraq to avoid the invasion and the C.I.A. stopped the whole thing?-

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: You know, there are a lot of games being played on this story and that’s why it has to be murky at this point. It is hard to know. You have various agendas. Mr. Perle and his allies inside the pentagon have been at war with the C.I.A. for some time about this.- You have congressional investigators that are raising questions about the role of Mr. MALUF, who was a member of the secret pentagon intelligence team that was reviewing intelligence and back channel diplomacy that was not going through proper channels, not being reported to Secretary of State Powell and the diplomats who were responsible for this. So, it is —- It is very hard to know what to make of this at this point with a lot of—-perhaps a lot of different agendas being pushed on this one.-

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, also in the Newsweek story, there are reports that Al-Hajj was— F.B.I. and customs agents allowed him to leave on a flight home to Lebanon, but there were certain actions by F.B.I. and customs in relation to him. Can you talk about that a little bit?-

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah. Right after Mr. Hajj met with Jamie Dornan, the aide to Paul Wolfowitz, to present some of these ideas. He goes to Dulles airport and then is detained by custom agents and FBI agents after they discover a Semi-automatic pistol and four stun guns in his luggage.- He says —- and he has failed to declare them.— Mr. Hajj’s account is that this was inadvertent and that he was soon let go— The pentagon’s account was that he was only let go because he was carrying a Liberian Diplomatic passport. Apparently Mr. Hajj was doing a lot of business with the government of former president Charles Taylor in Liberia and had somehow finagled himself a Liberian passport that he was able to use to evade customs. So that does raise some questions about Mr. Hajj and who he was and what his game was.-

AMY GOODMAN: And mike MALUF, the man who was working with Richard Perle?-

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Mr. Maluf has lost his security clearance. He has been petitioning to try to get it back and this incident in his dealings with Mr. Hajj have been — have been cited as a reason for continuing to deny him his security clearance. Mr. MALUF did play a pretty important role in the run-up to the war in Iraq.-He and a colleague, then colleague of his, David Wormser who has since gone on to work for vice president Dick Cheney, were the two people who were sort of culling through intelligence files, looking for evidence of Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and that Intelligence became quite influential.-That analysis, the Maluf-Wormser analysis became quite influential within the pentagon and was being cited by a lot of pentagon officials as evidence to make the case for war.-So you have sort of —- You know, even cross agendas within Mr. Maluf that don’t quite add up here.—

JUAN GONZALEZ: On the issue of the fact that this is coming out now, given that the war in Iraq is —- The occupation is going so badly, it almost seems like within the government now, different groups are trying to point the blame at others for allowing it to develop.—

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yes, there could be some of that.- Although ironically, this is a story that I first became aware of because there was congressional interest, particularly by Democrats who were looking in to these sorts of secret intelligence operations at the pentagon and raising questions as to whether some of these operations became operational. You know, what sort of, all these sorts of secret meetings and back channel diplomacy, what was really going on here. It sort of resonated with some people as having the flavor of Iran contra, although certainly nothing resembling Iran contra operations has been uncovered to date. But that’s sort of where people were going with this originally. And then you sort of have the other —- the other take on it of was there an opportunity here that was blown that could have led to war? I mean, look, my view at this point is the pentagon probably has a point. If the Iraqis really were serious about trying to avert a war, there probably were better ways to go about getting the message to senior American officials than this.—

AMY GOODMAN: That was Michael Isikoff of "Newsweek," talking to us about his latest piece, also piece front page of the "times" today, Iraq said to have tried to reach last minute deal to avert war. Wary C.I.A. rebuffed back channel proposal. It does seem to be a story that Richard Perle and his people are putting out, the question is, is it being put out to discredit the C.I.A.?


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