Charles Duelfer: In Iraq, Done in by the Lewinsky Affair

Roundup: Talking About History

Charles Duelfer, who was a U.N. weapons inspector in the 1990s and led the Iraq Survey Group’s search for WMD after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, is the author of Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq.

This week’s public-television documentary on the Clinton presidency has focused attention anew on the scandal involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Overlooked is the important role this affair played in the confrontation of Iraq in 1998.
As the story was breaking, I happened to be in Baghdad as the deputy chairman of the U.N. weapons inspection group called UNSCOM. These were critical times for Iraq, the United Nations and Washington. In the 1990s I was virtually the only senior U.S. official who met regularly with top Iraqi officials, due to my role at the United Nations.
Our countries had no diplomatic relations. Understanding on the part of both sides was extremely limited — Washington had a cartoonish image of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and he had an equally simplified image of Washington. Consequently, my meetings with senior Iraqis often drifted into topics beyond weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In one conversation with Hussein’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, he asked me a question unrelated to the U.N.: “What is an intern?”..

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