The Quartet—Influence and Disharmony Among Saddam’s Lieutenants
Regime Strategic Intent - Annex A
The Quartet comprised four of Saddam Husayn’s most senior lieutenants in the last years of his rule and provided high-level advice to Saddam on challenges facing Iraq. The four were as experienced, committed and loyal individuals as Saddam had available. Nonetheless, little of their advice was taken that did not conform to Saddam’s existing views. That a group as senior as the Quartet had so little influence on the Regime’s strategic policy indicates that the strategic intent of the Regime was Saddam’s alone. The Quartet had differing views on Iraq’s way forward on WMD, but the more cautious preferences within the group had little influence over Saddam’s actions.
This portion of the Report is largely based on testimony from former Regime officials who were active in many of Iraq’s former governing, economic, security and intelligence organizations. While they were critical to our assessment of the former Regime’s WMD strategy, the detainees would often minimize their involvement or knowledge of sensitive issues. The placement of blame or knowledge with individuals, who were not in a position to contradict their statements, such as deceased or fled to another country, was also a common occurrence. Notwithstanding, most detainees were very cooperative and provided insight into the inter-workings of the former Regime. Original documentation captured during Operation Iraqi Freedom has served to confirm, supplement, and reinforce detainee statements.
A Core of Lieutenants
In 1996, Saddam Husayn formed a committee of senior Regime figures, known as the Committee of Four, or Quartet, to advise him on foreign policy and other national issues. For all but the last months of its existence it was comprised of Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan Al Jizrawi, Revolutionary Command Council Vice Chairman ‘Izzat Ibrahim Al Duri, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq ‘Aziz ‘Issa and ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid (aka Chemical ‘Ali).
The Quartet was not a uniform group. Ramadan, in an organizational sense, and ‘Aziz, philosophically, represented old-style Ba’thism. ‘Izzat Ibrahim was increasingly a tribalist as well as an advocate of a more religious complexion for the Regime. ‘Ali Hasan was Saddam’s closest relative in the government before the appointment of Qusay to the Ba’th leadership and he served as the family’s man in the Quartet.
How Much Power and Influence?
The Quartet comprised some of the Regime’s most senior and experienced individuals, but it did not have a significant impact on the Regime’s policy on any critical issue. Instead, the Quartet had only the appearance of power. It did not command its own agenda; instead it advised Saddam only on issues he chose to refer to it. Likewise, the Quartet offered no proactive advice and had no executive power or policy-determining role, and it lacked a dedicated staff to conduct analysis or write assessments.
Personal divisions in the group hindered any attempt to influence Saddam as US pressure on Iraq began to mount, particularly after 2000. Two Quartet members claim to have been private dissenters from the policy of obstructing WMD disarmament, but there is no evidence they attempted to press Saddam on the issue through the Quartet. Quartet members were personally distrustful of colleagues to the point of fear. Mutual distrust and the group’s widely varied experience of the outside world limited its ability to speak decisively on strategic and foreign issues.
Longstanding conflicting lines of communication to Saddam further eroded the Quartet’s effectiveness and solidarity. Backchannel communications to Saddam were a fixture of his rule. Saddam’s growing reclusiveness after the mid-nineties increased this practice and the Quartet was immune neither to its members using backchannels against colleagues nor to disrupting effects of such practices on the body’s effectiveness. ‘Izzat Ibrahim reported his summary of Quartet recommendations, often only to have them contradicted by Tariq in separate discussions with Saddam.
The Quartet, however, was solidly united on issues unrelated to Iraq’s external problems. All Quartet members espoused hate of Shi’a, Kurds, democrats, communists, clerics, monarchists, free markets and most other Arabs. This unity did not transfer to a common coherent view of the wider world or create a common assessment of how to deal with Iraq’s confrontation with the Coalition, or how to manage the crisis.
Despite a limited ability to shape policy, the Quartet still carried considerable prestige among more junior levels of the Regime. The Quartet’s existence reassured Regime supporters that Saddam’s decisions had the benefit of the best minds in the leadership. Conversely, the individual networks of subordinates and followers of Quartet members meant that there was some transmission of Saddam’s intentions through government. The Quartet was seen from below as powerful, even though—as the Regime evolved—senior lieutenants such as the Quartet members were personally little more than reflections of Saddam’s own authority.
Chains of Command
Saddam was formerly an able administrator within standard civil service and military structures, but starting in the mid-1990s, his methods changed dramatically. Saddam duplicated his mastery of formal administration with increasing resort to a network of family and personal relationships, using verbal instructions heedless of formal chains of command. His motives appear to have been a combination of increasing obsession with personal security and a prioritization of personal interests.
This development blurred Iraq’s formal mechanisms for developing state policy. Saddam had always retained the prerogative of final policy determination, but the process by which he formed policy became progressively less clear, even to senior participants in the system.
As Saddam became less wedded to formal processes, the Quartet—an advisory body to begin with—was poorly placed to lock into formal chains of command and determine outcomes.
Perceptions of Threat and Challenge
The striking feature of the Quartet’s members was their inward focus. They were not cosmopolitan and their insularity hurt their ability to appreciate or assess what other countries saw as their interests and how Iraq’s behaviour might create conflict. The Quartet, including ‘Aziz, had a mindset of Iraq versus the world, rather than Iraq as part of the world. Even the globetrotting ‘Aziz remained focused on Saddam’s will and his exclusive power to determine Iraq’s course.
With the partial exception of Tariq ‘Aziz, the Quartet had only a limited and hazy view of the United States, its interests and how policy was formed and driven in Washington. At no stage did the Quartet demonstrate a strategic concept of what the US wanted with Iraq, where common ground and differences really lay, and the nature of the challenge the US or Coalition presented. Nor did they have a strategy for dealing with the West, apart from tactical games at the UN.
Saddam shared this myopic view. Saddam had a view of US goals, but it was wide of the mark: he said he believed the US had achieved all it wanted in the Gulf after Desert Storm and that a continuing “Vietnam syndrome” about casualties precluded a full invasion of Iraq. Only in very late 2002 did Quartet members Ramadan and Tariq come to profoundly disagree with Saddam’s view of US intentions and conclude that Iraq’s ability to manage Coalition pressure was collapsing. But Ramadan and Tariq have since been concerned to portray themselves as, by then, too frightened and powerless to avert Saddam’s collision with Washington.
Saddam may have been closer to the mark in his sense that ultimate US policy in Iraq was Regime change. According to ‘Aziz, Saddam decided at the time of Irangate (the covert supply of missiles to Iran in 1987) that the United States could not be trusted to support Baghdad. ‘Ali Hasan said that in the 1990s Congressional calls for the overthrow of Saddam meant that there was no prospect of a strategic dialogue with Washington.
The Quartet had little appreciation of global change since the end of the Cold War or how it affected Iraq’s interests and options. Instead, they focused unilaterally on Iraq’s deteriorating relationship with the West, which was coincidental with such change. They did not seek to capitalize on Iraq’s potential significance in global trade through its place in the oil market. The Quartet never deliberated over globalization as a concept and how to position Iraq within it.
The Quartet’s view of the rest of the Arab world was almost as limited. Most members of the Quartet had negotiated for Iraq with other Arab states, but the Quartet had no strategy for building an Arab constituency from 1996 to 2003. The Arab world was not considered a resource for Iraq, either to bolster efforts against Iran or to act as intermediaries with the West. Instead, the Quartet seems to have shared Saddam’s aversion to some Arab states, Saudi Arabia, in particular, and to some extent Egypt. The Quartet was not pan-Arabist like Nasser or Ghaddafi. Yet ‘Ali Hasan was surprised in 2003 that no Arab state protested against the attack on Iraq.
Instead, the Quartet’s concept of who were Iraq’s ‘friends’ harked back to Baghdad’s perception of the different circumstances of the Cold War (Russia); of the UN as the pivotal player (France and Russia) and (very rarely) Malaysia, which was at the time Chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Regime Strategic Goals
The Quartet had a common set of strategic goals, which were driven by Saddam. All Quartet members prioritized security against Iran before all else. They saw Iran as bigger, hostile and that it had in the years since the Iran-Iraq war overtaken Iraq in WMD development. The Quartet recognized no progress toward containing Iran would be possible without first getting out of sanctions.
The Quartet did not publicly advocate a particular strategic role for Iraq. Privately, it was not a proponent of regional hegemonism, whether over Kuwait, or the region, nor did it consider the use of WMD to that end. Ramadan and ‘Aziz had thought the attack on Kuwait was folly and Ramadan opposed it in the RCC.
Opposition to Israel was ritualistic. Quartet members saw Israel as a secondary threat compared to Iran. Israel had no land border with Iraq and was unlikely to mount a sustained attack on Iraq.
Shaping Regime Intent—Saddam, WMD and the Lieutenants
All Quartet members were convinced that WMD had saved Iraq in the war against Iran. ‘Ali Hasan and ‘Izzat Ibrahim were personally involved in the use of chemical weapons (CW) in securing the Regime during the Shi’a Intifada by virtue of having held area commands in the region of unrest, although much of the physical organization of CW use lay with Husayn Kamil. But none saw the Quartet as an originator of WMD policy, nor saw themselves as promoters of WMD.
Nuclear weapons (rather than WMD generically) were not a Quartet issue. Among the leadership, nuclear weapons as a goal appears to have been a particular priority of Saddam himself. ‘Aziz believes Saddam was ‘fully committed to obtaining a nuclear weapon’ throughout his career, but there is no evidence that Quartet members were enthusiastic about a nuclear program and no hint of Saddam referring the issue to the Quartet at any stage.
Ramadan said that he, and to a lesser extent Tariq, opposed WMD in the later sanctions period because it created more problems than benefits. Ramadan during UNMOVIC tried to rid Iraq of WMD, in particular by pursuing an untrammeled access policy, but alleges he was frustrated by Saddam and his relatives.
Indeed, it was on the cost/benefit analysis of WMD in terms of Iraq’s economy and diplomatic relations that the most distinct policy cleavage in the Quartet emerged. Ramadan, and to a lesser extent Tariq, believed strongly that Iraq’s advantage lay in getting rid of WMD. Such a move would lift sanctions, normalize relations with the West and then allow reassessment of how to deal with Iran. Ramadan and ‘Aziz would not have ruled out a return to WMD, but they were more focused on the outcome of containing Iran rather than the means. ‘Ali Hasan and ‘Izzat Ibrahim were more motivated by catering to Saddam’s views, and neither advocated any alternative thinking about WMD and containing Iran. Therefore, there was a divergence of ends versus means, with Saddam having a totemic attachment to WMD despite the costs, a view not shared by all Quartet members.
The ever present danger of Iran was the most important long term factor in Quartet thinking. The Quartet thought Iraq was losing an arms race with a hostile larger neighbor. To the extent that there was support for WMD development among Saddam’s subordinates, Iran was the most important driver. Those prepared to support WMD disarmament to achieve peace with the UN, would probably not have ruled out WMD rearmament if it was necessary subsequently to counter Iran.
There was also some acceptance of Saddam’s notion that WMD was the right of all nations and his opposition to multilateral counterproliferation. Quartet thinking was influenced by a belief that WMD is inseparable from industrialization and that dual use is inevitable.
Fear and Loathing in Baghdad
Saddam did not trust the Quartet in a personal security sense. Only ‘Izzat Ibrahim was allowed to drive himself to meetings with Saddam (the others were collected and driven in darkened limousines), though his mobility seems to have been curtailed toward the end. Quartet members were physically frightened of Saddam. Ramadan recalls a continuing fear of incarceration and that his son-in-law was jailed for two years. ‘Aziz’s son Zayyid had also been jailed for a period. ‘Ali Hasan also was seen by his peers as fearful, despite his blood relationship and toadying.