Who's Who in the Iraq Crisis

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

From al-Sahaf to Wolfowitz

by Beth Rowen

Who's Who

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John Abizaid, U.S. general, replaced Tommy Franks in July as the commander of allied forces in the Persian Gulf. Days after he assumed the post, Abizaid said coalition troops in Iraq are confronting "a classical guerrilla-type campaign" by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein and terrorist groups. The statement departed from defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's earlier assessments, which said the attacks were random and unorganized.

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Iraq Information Minister, gained a cult following for his bravado and often outrageous proclamations about the status of the war in Iraq and the capabilities of the Iraqi army during his daily news conferences. As coalition troops stormed Baghdad, he declared, "The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad." He frequently unleashed unabashed invective against President Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair, calling them "an international gang of criminal bastards," "blood-sucking bastards," and "ignorant imperialists, losers and fools." Al-Sahaf disappeared in April.

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the UN, criticized the decision by the U.S. and Britain to attack Iraq without a UN mandate. Once the war was underway, he turned his focus to the plight of the Iraqi citizens and urged member nations to promptly respond to Iraq's pressing humanitarian needs.

Tariq Aziz, deputy prime minister of Iraq, acted as Saddam Hussein's spokesman in the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, repeatedly denying that Iraq possessed—or was developing—weapons of mass destruction. In April, he turned himself over to U.S. officials in Baghdad.

José María Aznar, prime minister of Spain, stood firm as an important ally to the United States in its march toward a war in Iraq. Spanish public opinion was overwhelmingly against its conservative prime minister's stance. Aznar met with President Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair in the Azores in March to try one final time to devise a strategy to persuade the UN Security Council to vote in favor of military action against Iraq. The effort failed, and the three countries withdrew the UN draft resolution seeking authorization for the use of force in Iraq. Days later, the U.S. led an attack on Iraq. Spain, however, did not commit troops to the invasion.

Tony Blair

Tony Blair, prime minister of the United Kingdom, jeopardized his political career by offering the Bush administration unwavering support for pre-emptive military action in Iraq. Blair paid dearly, however. Three members of his cabinet resigned in protest in March 2003. The prime minister boldly attempted to sway public opinion, debating the issue in the House of Commons and in a televised forum with staunch opponents of his policy. During the summer the press accused Blair of exaggerating Iraq's weapons capabilities to justify his case for war. Blair stood by his intelligence reports, including one that stated Hussein could launch biological and chemical weapons in 45 minutes. The prime minister faced mounting criticism in July, after David Kelly, a former weapons inspector in Iraq, committed suicide shortly after testifying before the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs about whether he told a BBC reporter that the British government had "sexed up" intelligence documents about Iraq's arsenal. In his August testimony in the inquiry into Kelly's death, Blair said he would have resigned if the BBC report had been true.

Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector, delivered several reports to the UN Security Council on his team's search for chemical and biological weapons inside Iraq. In his first report, Blix said, "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it." In February, he ordered Iraq to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles, which he determined had an illegal range limit; Iraq began complying in its typically foot-dragging manner. Once Iraq began to show signs of cooperation, Blix urged the members of the Security Council to give the inspectors more time to complete the task. President Bush was repeatedly angered by Blix's measured, circumspect reports that failed to provide the president with a "smoking gun" that justified an invasion of Iraq. He retired in June 2003.

L. Paul Bremer, former diplomat and counterterrorism official, took over as the top civilian administrator of Iraq in May, replacing Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. He oversaw the selection of the Iraqi Governing Council, and faced the daunting task of restoring order to an Iraq mired in unrest and lawlessness.

George W Bush

George W. Bush, U.S. president, started planning the ouster of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He feared that Hussein, if left unchecked, could pass on weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. In his 2002 state the of the union speech, in which he called Iraq part of an "axis of evil," Bush vowed that the U.S. "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." Over the course of the year he introduced the new foreign policy strategy of preemption, maintaining that United States could no longer wait by merely defensively until a potential threat to its security grew into an actual one, but must strike first in such instances: "Our security will require all Americans . . . be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives."

The UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1441 in Nov. 2002, which called for thorough weapons inspections and said Iraq would face "serious consequences" if it violated the resolution. When the first report by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix did not provide the administration with a "smoking gun" to justify an invasion, Bush announced in his Jan. 2003 state of the union address that the U.S. would act with or without a UN mandate. His unilateralist stance outraged France, Russia, and China—permanent members of the Security Council, as well as Germany. British prime minister Tony Blair emerged as Bush's staunchest ally. In a televised address to the nation on March 17, Bush told Saddam Hussein and his sons that they had 48 hours to leave the country or face an attack. On March 20, the war began.

By April 9, Baghdad had fallen, and by May 1, combat was officially declared over.

Months of searching for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction—one of the prime reasons the Bush and Blair administrations cited for launching the war—yielded no hard evidence, and both administrations and their intelligence agencies came under fire. There were also mounting allegations that the existence of these weapons and their imminent threat to American security was exaggerated or distorted as a pretext to justify the war. In the summer of 2003, the Bush administration admitted that its repeated assertion that Iraq had purchased uranium from Africa to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program was discredited. With the continued absence of weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration began emphasizing that the justification for war was bringing democracy to the Middle East, which would ultimately defeat terrorism. Continued difficulties in Iraq led to the president's announcement in September that $87 billion in additional military and construction spending is needed—in addition to the $79 billion that Congress approved in April.

Ahmed Chalabi, leading Iraqi opposition leader and former banker, returned to his native soil in February, after 45 years in exile. Based in Kurdish-held northern Iraq until April, when U.S. troops escorted him to Nasiriya, Chalabi established the Free Iraqi Forces, a group of about 600 fighters. Many contend he's more popular in the United States—specifically among the ranks of the Defense Department—than he is in Iraq. His role in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq has not yet been defined. But he has said he has no political ambitions. "I want to take part in the reconstruction of the civilian society," he said. Chalabi, a leader of the Iraqi National Congress, was convicted of bank fraud in absentia by a Jordanian court in 1992 after the collapse of Petra Bank, which he opened in 1977.

Dick Cheney, U.S. vice president, drew on his experience as secretary of defense during the 1991 Persian Gulf War as the Bush administration prepared for war in Iraq. While Cheney remained holed up in an undisclosed location during planning sessions, he remained a key behind-the-scenes player. In a March appearance on Meet the Press, he argued that diplomacy had run its course and that the U.S. should attack Iraq before Saddam Hussein launched his own preemptive strike.

Jacques Chirac, president of France, remained steadfast in his opposition to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq. Throughout the diplomatic process in late 2002 and into 2003, France repeatedly called for more weapons inspections before resorting to war. France's refusal to vote for a UN resolution authorizing war in Iraq contributed to Bush's decision to act without a UN mandate. The U.S. was infuriated by what it saw as France's obdurate obstructionism, and relations between the countries plummeted.

Dominique de Vilepin

Dominique de Villepin, French foreign minister, emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of President Bush's pursuit of war in Iraq. He earned rare applause at a UN Security Council meeting in February, when he urged council members to give weapons inspectors and diplomacy more time. "No one can say today that the path of war would be shorter than the path of inspections. No one can claim either that it might lead to a safer, more just, and more stable world," he said. He infuriated many in the Bush administration, who considered his protestations inflexible and arrogant.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, delivered several reports to the UN Security Council on his team's search for nuclear weapons inside Iraq. ElBaradei reported in February that although Iraq had not cooperated fully, his team had "found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear activities in Iraq." He urged the members of the Security Council to give the inspectors more time to complete the task. President Bush refused, however, and expressed skepticism about the accuracy of ElBaradei's report. In March ElBaradei told the Security Council that documents that said Iraq tried to procure uranium from Niger were forged. The Bush administration had used the evidence to justify preemptive strike against Iraq. "Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents—which form the basis for reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger—are in fact not authentic," he said.

Tommy Franks, the commander of allied forces in the Persian Gulf, directed the war in Iraq from the high-tech U.S. Central Command (Centcom) near Doha, Qatar. President Bush called on the four-star army general in early 2002 to begin planning the ouster of Saddam Hussein. He worked closely with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld throughout 2002 and during the 2003 offensive, aimed at removing Saddam Hussein from power and destroying Iraq's cache of weapons of mass destruction. Franks retired in July and was succeeded by John Abizaid.

Jay Garner, retired U.S. Army general, was appointed in January by President Bush to serve as civil administrator in charge of reconstruction and humanitarian aid in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. L. Paul Bremer, a former State Department counterterrorism official, replaced Garner in May, when it became clear that Garner had failed to stem the rise of civil unrest and restore order in Iraq.

Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser, took some of the blame in July for the unsubstantiated claim in President Bush's State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger. Bush used the information to push for a preemptive attack in Iraq. The CIA had warned Hadley twice in October 2002 that intelligence did not back up the claim.

John Howard, prime minister of Australia, outraged many constituents with his decision to send 2,000 troops to Iraq to participate in a war not sanctioned by the UN.

Qusay Hussein, second son of Saddam Hussein, was killed in July by U.S. troops after a brutal firefight in Mosul. His brother Uday also died in the battle. Qusay, Saddam's heir apparent, served as supervisor of the Republican Guard and the head of the powerful Iraqi Special Security Organization, which oversees domestic security and intelligence. Though less flamboyant than his father and brother Uday, Quasay was considered equally diabolical.

Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein, despotic president of Iraq, was captured in December 2003 by U.S. troops on an isolated farm near Tikrit, his hometown. He was hiding in an 8-foot hole. He surrendered to soldiers without a fight. Hussein brought war upon his country in March with his arrogant refusal to cooperate with the international community and disarm. He also stirred bitter discord in the UN, a role he clearly relished. After the war, troops discovered several mass graves and torture chambers, evidence of rampant human rights abuses at the hands of Hussein.

Uday Hussein, eldest son of Saddam Hussein, was killed in July by U.S. troops after a brutal firefight in Mosul. His brother Qusay also died in the battle. Uday had earned a reputation inside Iraq and beyond as a reckless thug. He served a prison sentence in 1988 for murdering one of his father's bodyguards. Eight years later he was nearly crippled in an assassination attempt. In the U.S.-led war against Iraq, Uday commanded a group of fedayeen fighters, militia troops that often wear black civilian clothes and fight independently of the military.

David Kelly, British weapons inspector, committed suicide in July, shortly after testifying before the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs about whether he been the source for a BBC story that asserted the British government had "sexed up" intelligence documents about Iraq's arsenal. The committee relentlessly grilled Kelly, who acknowledged that while he did meet with BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, who wrote the story, he didn't think he was the "main source." The report led to a major dispute between the BBC and the government.

Pfc. Jessica Lynch, American prisoner of war, was rescued in April from a hospital in Nasiriya, Iraq. She was one of 12 members of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company captured by Iraqi troops in March. She suffered several broken bones and other injuries in the ordeal. The U.S. military was criticized for exaggerating the heroism involved in Lynch's rescue, and the BBC called its presentation "one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived." The Pentagon countered that the BBC report was "void of all facts and absolutely ridiculous." Lynch returned to her home in rural West Virginia in July to an onslaught of offers from television networks, book publishers, and movie companies, all seeking exclusive rights to her story. In September, she signed a $1 million book deal with Knopf.

Abid Hamid Mahmoud al-Tikriti, Iraqi official, was captured near Tikrit in June 2003. He was Saddam Hussein's personal secretary and No. 4 on the list of most-wanted Iraqi leaders. U.S. troops intensified their search for Hussein after Mahmoud told U.S. officials that Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay, survived attacks in March and April. Following the detention of Mahmoud, U.S. troops also attacked an Iraqi convoy near the Syrian border. Officials said they thought Hussein may have been in the convoy.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, played a key role in the planning of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. As the top military adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Myers serves as a go-between for the field commanders and the leadership in Washington.

Richard Perle, government adviser, resigned in March as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an independent, bipartisan committee that counsels the Pentagon, after being widely criticized for a glaring conflict of interest. Perle was hired as a consultant to Global Crossing, a bankrupt telecommunications company that owns fiber optics networks, for advice on how to gain Defense Department and FBI approval for its joint-venture sale to companies in Hong Kong and Singapore. The U.S. government had signalled a reluctance to greenlight the deal, calling it a potential threat to national security. He remained a member of the board, however. Perle served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and is among the hawks in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's inner circle who have long argued for a foreign policy of preemption and regime change in Iraq.

Ret Gen Colin Powell

Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state, was one of the only doves and committed multilateralists in the Bush administration—he successfully lobbied for approval of UN resolution 1441 imposing tough new arms inspections on Iraq and supported seeking a UN Security Council mandate before taking military action in Iraq. But in January 2003, he shifted to a more hawkish, unilateral stance in keeping with the rest of the Bush administration. The shift occurred as France, Germany, China, and Russia refused to coalesce around the U.S.'s plan to abandon weapons inspections in favor of military action. In February, he presented the Security Council with what he said was evidence that Iraq was indeed concealing weapons of mass destruction, and thus in violation of UN resolution 1441. Both France foreign minister Dominique de Villepin and chief weapons inspector Hans Blix challenged his assertions. Powell's attempts to win support from Security Council members in February and March for an invasion of Iraq proved ineffective.

As the post-war violence surged and the projected cost of the occupation of Iraq increased, Powell resumed his multilateralist stance, trying—with limited success—to win support at the UN for broader international aid in Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, maintained her role as one of President Bush's closest and most trusted advisers as the U.S. prepared for a preemptive strike against Iraq. One of the hawks in Bush's inner circle, Rice advocated against giving weapons inspectors additional time before launching a preemptive attack on Iraq.

Donald H Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. secretary of defense, maintained—and strengthened—his role as one of the Bush administration's most fervent hawks during preparations for war in Iraq. He argued aggressively for a preemptive strike against Iraq intended to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and signaled that the U.S. was prepared to act unilaterally if necessary. The war, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, began on March 19. Blunt and outspoken, he repeatedly undermined diplomacy, alienating what he called "old Europe" as well as causing difficulties for the U.S.'s staunchest ally, Tony Blair. Rumsfeld and a group of about 24 close advisers began planning the U.S.-led assault on Iraq in early 2002. When significant post-war difficulties arose in Iraq, Rumsfeld argued against sending more troops, in keeping with his reformist vision of a streamlined, efficient military.

Gerhard Schröder, chancellor of Germany, was an outspoken foe of an attack on Iraq without the backing of the UN Security Council. He said he considered the weapons inspections to be effective, and favored using diplomacy to disarm Iraq. On the eve of war, Germany, France, and Russia issued a joint declaration urging the U.S. to allow inspections to continue rather than rushing to war. His stance severely strained relations with Washington.

George Tenet, director of the CIA, came under fire for his agency's handling of intelligence concerning Iraq as well as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A Congressional report released in June revealed that the CIA and the FBI grossly underestimated warnings of an imminent terrorist attack against the U.S. in 2001. In July, he took responsibility for allowing unsubstantiated claims about Iraq's pursuit of uranium to be included in President Bush's State of the Union address. President Bush, however, continued to support Tenet—and the intelligence generated by his agency.

Sérgio Vieira de Mello, diplomat, was appointed UN special representative to Iraq in May. Vieira de Mello was charged with coordinating aid from the UN and nongovernmental organizations, returning refugees to their homes, and overseeing human rights. He was killed in August when a suicide bomber demolished UN headquarters in Baghdad. Prior to assuming the post in Iraq, Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian, had been UN high commissioner for human rights and oversaw East Timor's development into a fledgling democracy.

Joseph Wilson, former ambassador, discredited President Bush's claim—and a justification for war in Iraq—that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a nuclear weapons program by seeking to obtain uranium from Niger. Wilson visited Niger in February 2002 to investigate the accusation, and he reported back that it was unsubstantiated. He went public with his findings in July, after months of silence by the Bush administration. In July, columnist Robert Novack identified Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent who specializes in weapons of mass destruction. Wilson believes the Bush administration leaked his wife's name as retribution. In September, the Justice Department announced an investigation into the leak.

Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary, began making a case for an invasion of Iraq shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the U.S. He said Saddam Hussein should be ousted before he could pass on weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Known for his sharp intelligence and his hawkish views, Wolfowitz has worked for every U.S. president since 1973, except President Clinton. In 1992, he recommended to the first President Bush that the U.S. launch unilateral, preemptive military strikes against hostile countries seeking to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction. The proposal was then deemed reckless and overly aggressive, but in the context of the war against terrorism, the strategy of preemption has gained currency in the U.S. In fact, it is exactly the course President George W. Bush has charted with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

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