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US-Iraq Relations by US President, 1981-Mar. 19, 2003


I. Overview
II. Ronald Reagan Administration 1981 - 1989
III. George H.W. Bush Administration 1989 - 1993
IV. Bill Clinton Administration 1993 - 2001
V. George W. Bush Administration 2001 - Mar. 19, 2003


I. Overview

"What were U.S.-Iraq relations like in the years preceding the 2003 war?

Complicated. For most of the Cold War, Iraq was a socialist dictatorship closely tied to the Soviet Union, and America used Saudi Arabia and Iran as its main partners in the Gulf. However, this 'twin pillars' approach to the Gulf fell apart in 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries deposed the American-backed shah and took U.S. hostages, and Washington began to look elsewhere for friends. America then tried several Iraq policies: engagement during the 1980s, armed confrontation during the 1990-91 Gulf crisis, and containment through much of the 1990s. Finally, in 1998, it adopted an official policy of 'regime change,' which made replacing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein the focus of U.S. policy."

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) "Iraq: U.S.-Iraq Relations," Apr. 29, 2003

II. Ronald Reagan Administration Top
1981 - 1989
1981

"When the Iran-Iraq war began in September 1980... the United States did not have diplomatic relations with either Baghdad or Tehran. U.S. officials had almost as little sympathy for Hussein's dictatorial brand of Arab nationalism as for the Islamic fundamentalism espoused by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. As long as the two countries fought their way to a stalemate, nobody in Washington was disposed to intervene.

By the summer of 1982, however, the strategic picture had changed dramatically. After its initial gains, Iraq was on the defensive, and Iranian troops had advanced to within a few miles of Basra, Iraq's second largest city. U.S. intelligence information suggested the Iranians might achieve a breakthrough on the Basra front, destabilizing Kuwait, the Gulf states, and even Saudi Arabia."

Michael Dobbs "U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup," Washington Post, Dec. 29, 2003

1982

"In 1982, the U.S. gave the world a clear signal that relations with Iraq were improving. It dropped Iraq from its list of states that support terrorism..."

Ted Koppel Nightline, ABC News, Sep. 13, 1991

1983

"A covert American program during the Reagan Administration provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance... [a] highly classified program in which more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq....The American intelligence officers never encouraged or condoned Iraq's use of chemical weapons [against Iran], but neither did they oppose it because they considered Iraq to be struggling for its survival, people involved at the time said in interviews."

Patrick E. Tyler "Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas," New York Times, Aug. 18, 2002



"Among the people instrumental in tilting U.S. policy toward Baghdad during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war was Donald H. Rumsfeld, now defense secretary, whose December 1983 meeting with Hussein as a special presidential envoy paved the way for normalization of U.S.-Iraqi relations...

The Administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague."

Michael Dobbs "U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup," Washington Post, Dec. 29, 2003



"[The US] sent the message that America would not object to U.S. allies offering military aid to Iraq. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait sent howitzers, bombs and other weapons to Iraq. And later that year the U.S. government pushed through sales of helicopters to Hussein's government.

Discovery Channel "Timeline: Helping Hussein" (accessed July 29, 2009)

III. George H.W. Bush Administration Top
1989 - 1993
1989

"President [George H.W.] Bush signed a top-secret National Security Decision, which stated: 'Normal relations between the U.S. and Iraq would serve our long-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East. The U.S. should propose economic and political incentives for Iraq to moderate its behavior and increase our influence with Iraq ...' In line with that doctrine, the Bush Administration supported a series of guaranteed loans to Iraq, plus high-tech sales to the Hussein regime."

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) "Iraq: U.S.-Iraq Relations," Apr. 29, 2003

1990

"On July 25, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq summoned the United States Ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, to his office in the last high-level contact between the two Governments before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2...

I have lived here for years. I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait."

New York Times "Excerpts from Iraqi Document on Meeting with U.S. Envoy," Sep. 23, 1990


"Iraqi troops invade Kuwait. Saddam Hussein justifies the attack by blaming Kuwait for falling oil prices that harm the Iraqi economy (Aug. 2).

The UN imposes economic sanctions on Iraq (Aug 6).

U.S. military forces arrive in Saudi Arabia (Aug. 9).

The UN issues a Security Council resolution setting Jan. 15, 1991, as the deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, authorizing the use of 'all necessary means' if it does not comply (Nov. 29)."

Infoplease "Iraq Timeline" (accessed July 29, 2009)

1991

"January: The U.S.-led, U.N.-backed coalition launches air strikes against Iraq, after Saddam's forces fail to meet a U.N. deadline to withdraw from Kuwait...

February: U.S. ground troops force Iraq out of Kuwait...

March: Shia Muslims in the south and Kurds in the north revolt against Saddam's weakened regime. The U.S. offers little military support to the Kurds, although President Bush encourages the ouster of Saddam. Iraq brutally crushes the revolution. The U.S. and its allies establish no-fly zones in Northern Iraq to protect the Kurds. Later a southern no-fly zone is established to protect Shia Muslims."

Puibic Broadcasting Service (PBS) "Timeline: Modern Iraq," Online NewsHour (accessed July 27, 2009)


"Formal cease-fire is signed. Saddam Hussein accepts UN resolution agreeing to destroy weapons of mass destruction and allowing UN inspectors to monitor the disarmament (April 6).

UN weapons inspectors report that Iraq has concealed much of its nuclear and chemical weapons programs. It is the first of many such reports over the next decade, pointing out Iraq's thwarting of the UN weapons inspectors (July 30)."

Infoplease "Iraq Timeline" (accessed July 29, 2009)

IV. Bill Clinton Administration Top
1993 - 2001
1993

"Hussein's hostility toward George Bush Sr. carried over into the early months of Bill Clinton's first term. In the spring of 1993, the Iraqi leader sent agents to assassinate Bush during the former president's visit to Kuwait, where he was being hailed as an hero. The plot was aborted, but in response President Clinton ordered warships in the Persian Gulf to fire two dozen Tomahawk missiles at Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad."

Discovery Channel "Timeline: High-Stakes Cat and Mouse" (accessed July 29, 2009)

1994

"Iraq amasses troops on the Kuwaiti border, prompting the United States to respond with its own troops. Iraq withdraws."

Puibic Broadcasting Service (PBS) "Timeline: Modern Iraq," Online NewsHour (accessed July 27, 2009)

1997

"U.N. disarmament commission concludes Iraq is hiding information on biological and chemical weapons. U.N. weapons inspectors are expelled, but after negotiations, are then allowed to return to Iraq."

Puibic Broadcasting Service (PBS) "Timeline: Modern Iraq," Online NewsHour (accessed July 27, 2009)

1998 "In March, in a last-ditch attempt to uncover Saddam Hussein's covert weapons and intelligence networks, the United States used the U.N. inspection team to send a U.S. spy into Baghdad to install a highly sophisticated electronic eavesdropping system. The spy entered Iraq in the guise of a U.N. weapons inspector and left the eavesdropping device behind."

New York Times "U.S. Aides Say U.N. Team Helped to Install Spy Device in Iraq," Jan. 8, 1999


"U.N. negotiates with Saddam Hussein in an attempt to reach a peaceful resolution. Iraq ultimately refuses to cooperate with inspectors. With the inspectors barred from entering any sites, the U.N. withdraws all personnel from the country."

Puibic Broadcasting Service (PBS) "Timeline: Modern Iraq," Online NewsHour (accessed July 27, 2009)



On Oct. 31, 1998, the US Congress passes the "Iraq Liberation Act of 1998" (HR 4655) "Calling for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal for the purpose of indicting, prosecuting, and imprisoning Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi officials who are responsible for crimes against humanity, genocide, and other criminal violations of international law."

"Iraq Liberation Act of 1998" (HR 4655) (94 KB)


"In December, U.S. and Britain began four days of intensive air strikes, dubbed Operation Desert Fox. The attacks focused on command centers, missile factories, and airfields-targets that the Pentagon believed would damage Iraq's weapons stores."

Infoplease "Iraq Timeline" (accessed July 29, 2009)

1999

"Beginning in January, weekly, sometimes daily, bombings of Iraqi targets within the northern no-fly zone begin, carried out by U.S. and British bombers. More than 100 air strikes take place during 1999, and continue regularly over the next years."

Infoplease "Iraq Timeline" (accessed July 29, 2009)

V. George W. Bush Administration Top
2001 - Mar. 19, 2003
2001

"President [George H.W.] Bush signed a top-secret National Security Decision, which stated: 'Normal relations between the U.S. and Iraq would serve our long-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East. The U.S. should propose economic and political incentives for Iraq to moderate its behavior and increase our influence with Iraq ...' In line with that doctrine, the Bush Administration supported a series of guaranteed loans to Iraq, plus high-tech sales to the Hussein regime."

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) "Iraq: U.S.-Iraq Relations," Apr. 29, 2003

2002

"January 29, 2002: In his State of the Union address, President Bush identifies Iraq as part of the 'axis of evil'...

September 12, 2002: President Bush urges the U.N. General Assembly to "hold Iraq to account" for its defiance of past U.N. Security Council resolutions and says that the United States is prepared to move alone against Iraq to enforce resolutions if necessary...

December 7, 2002: One day in advance of Security Council deadline, Iraq delivers 12,000 pages of information about its chemical, biological and nuclear programs to U.N. inspectors. The documents, which deny that Iraq has developed weapons of mass destruction, focus primarily on civilian materials that could have military applications."

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) "Iraq Timeline 2002" (accessed July 30, 2009)


"May 14, 2002: The U.N. Security Council revamps the sanctions against Iraq, now eleven years old, replacing them with 'smart sanctions' meant to allow more civilian goods to enter the country while at the same time more effectively restricting military and dual-use equipment...

"Dec. 21, 2002: President Bush approves the deployment of U.S. troops to the Gulf region. By March [2003] an estimated 200,000 troops will be stationed there."

Infoplease "Iraq Timeline" (accessed July 29, 2009)


"November 8, 2002: UN security council votes unanimously to back a US-British resolution requiring Iraq to reinstate weapons inspectors after a four year absence...

December 19, 2002: The United States accuses Baghdad of being in 'material breach' of the U.N. resolution after the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, says the Iraqi arms declaration contains little new information about its weapons of mass destruction capability."

Guardian Unlimited "Iraq Timeline: July 16, 1979 to January 31, 2004" (accessed July 30, 2009)

2003

"Jan. 16, 2003: UN inspectors discover 11 undeclared empty chemical warheads in Iraq.

Jan. 27, 2003: The UN's formal report on Iraqi inspections is highly critical, though not damning, with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix lamenting that 'Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it'...

Feb. 14, 2003: In a February UN report, chief UN inspector Hans Blix indicated that slight progress had been made in Iraq's cooperation. Both pro- and anti-war nations felt the report supported their point of view....

Feb. 22, 2003: Hans Blix orders Iraq to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles by March 1. The UN inspectors have determined that the missiles have an illegal range limit. Iraq can have missiles that reach neighboring countries, but not ones capable of reaching Israel...

Mar. 1, 2003: Iraq begins to destroy its Al Samoud missiles."

Infoplease "Iraq Timeline" (accessed July 29, 2009)


"Mar. 7, 2003: Hans Blix gives another ambivalent report to the U.N. security council on Iraqi compliance, which is followed by a tense debate that further deepens the divide within the council. The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, proposes the U.N. sets an ultimatum that Iraq will be invaded unless the country demonstrates 'full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation' by March 17. France makes a clear threat that it will veto such a resolution."

Guardian Unlimited "Iraq Timeline: July 16, 1979 to January 31, 2004" (accessed July 30, 2009)


Mar. 17: "Bush will demand that Saddam yield power and leave the country, the White House said. A 72-hour ultimatum 'is in the right ballpark,' the administration official said...

With diplomatic efforts ending, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered all U.N. weapons inspectors, humanitarian staff and border monitors out of Iraq."

CNN "Bush to Address Nation on Iraq," Mar. 17, 2003


"February 24, 2003: France, Russia, and Germany propose a program of stepped-up weapons inspections to extend for 120 days...

March 19, 2003: Operation Iraqi Freedom begins, with U.S. and coalition forces striking a target in Baghdad where, intelligence reports indicated, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his top deputies had gathered in underground bunkers.

President George Bush addresses the nation and says the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq have begun."

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) "Iraq Timeline 2003" (accessed July 30, 2009)