Zinni Stand Shows Pentagon, State Differ on Iraq Strategy: Experts Fear Mishandled Rebellion May Drag U.S. into Strife

By Scarborough, Rowan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 30, 1999 | Go to article overview

Zinni Stand Shows Pentagon, State Differ on Iraq Strategy: Experts Fear Mishandled Rebellion May Drag U.S. into Strife


Scarborough, Rowan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The U.S. Persian Gulf commander's strong public expressions of doubt about aiding Iraqi opposition groups militarily reveals a deep split between the Pentagon and State Department on how to defeat Saddam Hussein, policy experts say.

Gen. Anthony Zinni, who commands U.S. forces confronting Iraq, characterized Saddam's foes as "very fragmented." "They have very little, if any, viability to exact a change of regime in and of themselves. Their ability to cooperate is questionable," Gen. Zinni said.

His candid assessment Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee came as Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright was in the Middle East trying to garner support for aiding the opposition.

"It calls into question the seriousness of the administration's commitment to the Iraq Liberation Act," said James Phillips, a Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation. "It also must be embarrassing to Secretary of State Albright. It kind of throws into question whether one hand knows what the other hand is doing inside the administration."

Senate Republicans, weary of spending billions of defense dollars over seven years to contain Saddam after the 1991 Gulf war, enacted an aid package last fall.

The State Department outwardly has shown it wants to try to make the law work. The department selected seven of some 90 opposition groups this month to receive aid. A special diplomat met with some of the groups in London yesterday.

But Gen. Zinni, whose support would be critical to making the program work, has never liked the idea.

In October, while the bill was being debated, he told reporters, "I don't think these questions have been thought through or answered. If they have, no one's asked me about it. I'll be honest with you, I don't see the parts that make it sensible. …

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