Prospects for Iraq:

US Special National Intelligence Estimate; 1983.


Concerned that Saddam Hussein had blundered into a debilitating and intractable war with Iran, in 1983 the US commissioned an investigation by the CIA and military intelligence. Periodically national intelligence estimates assess developing situations globally, with plausible scenarios and outcomes.

The 1983 NIE concluded Saddam Hussein was in a bind. Iran would concede nothing and was hell bent on forcing Saddam from power. Iraqi oil, its source of wealth, was reduced to a trickle whilst world oil prices fell. The cost of war and imported weapons escalated in the face of fierce Iranian defence of their homeland. The war and Iraq’s economic downturn were increasingly unpopular provoking political dissent. Saddam could not achieve success militarily yet dared not give ground and face certain political suicide.

Saddam’s solution was tyranny. Opponents were disposed of. He surrounded himself with a coterie of tribal and family loyalties. Loyalty was rewarded; dissent punished. The broadcast media projected Saddam as the father of Iraq. His images were everywhere promoting the cult of Saddam Hussein. His popular power base became perilously narrow but the majority populations were kept in line by ruthless brutality and cynical manipulation. According to the 1983 NIE the scene was set for total collapse of Iraq with all out civil war should Saddam be toppled or assassinated: “extreme ethno-sectarian violence … rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political and security consequences”; “… Saddam Husayn’s (sic) removal could usher in an extended period of instability in Baghdad … any post-Saddam regime is almost certain to fall into factional fighting” and “A major upheaval in Iraq … in which the Iranians were a significant influence, would have severe consequences for US interests … The current (Saddam) regime is likely to pursue policies more favourable to the United States than any successor regime …”

The US responded with support for Saddam rather than see Iran win and Iraq collapse.  Tables were somewhat turned when Kuwait was invaded, but certainly the decision of the first Bush administration not to advance to Baghdad was informed by the 1983 NIE - that the UN mandate did not permit invasion was a cover because the US knew of the potential consequences for Armageddon were Saddam deposed.

Since 1983 key characters like Reagan have passed on but Rumsfeld, pictured shaking hands with Saddam at the time, and Chenney were both close to the action. They would have been fully aware of NIE warnings and can’t plead ignorance. Iraqi civilian deaths are currently about 350,000 per year. We knew invasion was wrong. We marched and protested. They were better informed and went ahead and appalling chaos has followed.

What can possibly be said for war as a solution to anything, and what can be said for those who wilfully disregard sound advice and go to war on a whim without concern for the humanitarian consequences of their blundering aggression?

Noel Hamel