Aides say Bush will let Hussein crush rebellions

March 27, 1991|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has decided to let Iraqi President Saddam Hussein put down rebellions in his country without U.S. intervention rather than risk the splintering of Iraq, according to official statements and private briefings yesterday.

The White House said publicly that it would stay out of Iraq's internal strife, despite reports of atrocities by Mr. Hussein's forces, and a senior official said the U.S. military had no plans to act on a warning to Iraq not to use combat helicopters against the insurgents. The United States acknowledges that Iraq has defied that warning.

The assertion that the administration has decided not to make any new moves to protect Iraqi rebel forces at this time reflects a conclusion that the insurgents cannot control all of Iraq and would only succeed in fracturing the country, officials said.

Mr. Bush also thinks that an overt U.S. move to support the rebels would be opposed by Washington's Arab allies, stir up domestic political opposition and spoil hopes for progress on other regional issues, a senior official said.

That policy was reaffirmed yesterday at a meeting of Mr. Bush's seven top military and national security advisers, officials said, during which the president and his aides also completed preparations for a cease-fire resolution that is to be offered to the United Nations Security Council this week.

Although the current draft of that resolution imposes less stringent terms on Iraq than Washington originally wanted, the United States thinks that it will be able to ensure the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and continue a campaign of political and economic pressure aimed at weakening Mr. Hussein's position, the officials said.

Mr. Bush was also informed about the fighting in Iraq, where U.S. officials said Kurdish rebels in the north had seized the oil city of Kirkuk, an important achievement.

But the Pentagon raised doubts about whether the rebels controlled Kirkuk's airfield. Officials said the Baghdad government's military forces had not yet fully engaged the Kurds and were instead protecting important installations and oil fields.

In the south, the Pentagon said, Iraqi forces were continuing to reassert control over areas briefly held by Shiite Muslim rebels backed by Iran.

Concerned by mounting questions about the administration's intentions toward the rebellions in Iraq, Mr. Bush and his advisers sent Marlin Fitzwater, the White House spokesman, into the briefing room after yesterday's meeting to issue a statement intended to dampen speculation that the United States might move to further support the Iraqi insurgents.

Though U.S. spokesmen used imprecise language to describe the policy on Iraq's use of helicopters, it amounted to a decision, at least temporarily, to let Mr. Hussein deal freely with internal dissent.

"We never made any promises to these people," the senior official said, referring to the rebels. "Frankly, there is complete agreement in this government that the American people have absolutely no stomach for a major military operation to dictate the outcome of a political struggle in Iraq. There is no interest in the coalition in further military operations."

The official, who was familiar with yesterday's meeting, said the United States would continue to urge Mr. Hussein's ouster by his own people and would maintain its policy of putting pressure on the Iraqi leader through the United Nations.

The calculation is that if the insurrections fail, as officials here think they will, Mr. Hussein's political organization will remove him.

"We don't want Iraq dismembered, since that would go counter to the reason we fought the war," another official said. "Let Hussein deal with this, then the dust will settle, and he's going to have to pay the piper for the war over Kuwait. Or at least, that is what we are counting on."

Mr. Fitzwater sought to play down the notion that the flights by the Iraqi helicopters against insurgent troops violated any formal agreement between Iraq and the coalition. He said that Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied commander, agreed in a desert meeting on March 3 to Iraq's request to use its helicopters to ferry troops and supplies as "a side oral discussion."

General Schwarzkopf said in a television interview to be broadcast today that he felt fooled by the Iraqi generals with whom he negotiated.

"I think I was suckered because I think they intended -- right then, when they asked that question -- to use those helicopters against the insurrections," he said.

In Iraq yesterday, the insurgents continued to declare advances against the Baghdad government's forces. The Associated Press reported from the town of Zakho that Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, returned yesterday to northern Iraq and proclaimed that "the whole of Iraqi Kurdistan has been liberated."

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