possible negotiated peace deal was laid out
in a heavily guarded compound in Baghdad in
the days before the war, ABCNEWS has been
told, but a top former Pentagon adviser says
he was ordered not to pursue the deal." Imad
Hage, a prominent businessman and an emerging
political leader in Lebanon, said the U.S.
missed a chance to avert war with Iraq.
prominent Lebanese-American businessman said
he secretly met with Iraqi intelligence officials
just days after Secretary of State Colin Powell
laid out the U.S. case for war at the United
Nations in February.
Imad Hage, the president of the American Underwriters
Group insurance company and known in the region
as having contacts at the Pentagon, told ABCNEWS
he was first approached by an Iraqi intelligence
official who arrived unannounced at his office
A week later, according to Hage, he and an
associate were asked to come to Baghdad, when
Hage says he met with Saddam Hussein's chief
of intelligence, Gen. Tahir Habbush, later
labeled the Jack of Diamonds in the deck of
cards depicting the most-wanted members of
Saddam Hussein's regime. Habbush is still
was conveying a message," said Hage. "He was
conveying an offer." Hage said Habbush laid
out terms of a negotiated peace during a four-hour
session beginning at midnight at a compound
Hage said Habbush repeated public denials
by the regime that Iraq had weapons of mass
destruction but offered to allow several thousand
U.S. agents or scientists free rein in the
country to carry out inspections. "Based on
my meeting with his man," said Hage, "I think
an effort was there to avert war. They were
prepared to meet with high-ranking U.S. officials."
Hage said Habbush also offered U.N.-supervised
free elections, oil concessions to U.S. companies
and was prepared to turn over a top al Qaeda
terrorist, Abdul Rahman Yasin, who Haboush
said had been in Iraqi custody since 1994.
Yasin is one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists,
indicted in connection with the 1993 bombing
of the World Trade Center. Hage says Habbush
claimed the United States had refused earlier
offers to turn him over. "He said we want
to show good faith," Hage told ABCNEWS.
Yasin remains at large and is now thought
to be one of the people behind the recent
wave of attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Throughout the period of the negotiations
claimed by Hage, the Bush administration publicly
maintained it would not conduct negotiations
with Baghdad to avoid a war that did not first
involve the unconditional departure of Saddam
Hussein from Iraq or his surrender.
But Richard Perle, the then chairman of the
Defense Policy Advisory Board, said in the
weeks leading up to war with Iraq, he told
the CIA but they refused the plan to meet
with Iraqi officials to discuss a possible
peace deal along the lines of the plan outlined
by Hage to ABCNEWS.
I was not enthusiastic about the offer, I
was willing to meet with the Iraqis," Perle
told ABCNEWS. "The United States government
told me not to." Perle would not disclose
which official or arm of the government rejected
to Cut a Deal
to Pentagon e-mails obtained by ABCNEWS, Hage's
report of the Iraqi offer was forwarded to
Defense Department officials on Feb. 20, including
Jaymie Durnan who, at the time, was the top
aide to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
However, Pentagon officials said Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were not aware of the
Pentagon officials met earlier in the year
with Hage, following an introduction from
senior Pentagon staffer, Mike Maloof, who
worked in the Office of Special Plans and
had first recruited Hage to help the United
States in its war on terrorism. Maloof, who
was put on administrative leave because of
the work he was doing at the Pentagon according
to sources, declined to comment on his role
in the claimed talks with Iraq.
Hage said Maloof helped arrange a meeting
with Perle, considered by many to be a principal
architect of the U.S. policy on Iraq. Hage
said, and Perle confirmed, that the two met
in London in early March. Hage said he told
Perle the Iraqis were prepared to meet with
him or any U.S. representative.
were prepared to go anywhere to talk, to cut
a deal," Hage told ABCNEWS.
said Perle told him he could not proceed without
approval from the U.S. government. "He wanted
to pursue it further with people in Washington,"
said Hage, "provided he got the blessing or
cover from people in Washington."
few days later, Hage said Perle informed him
that Washington had refused to allow him to
meet with Habbush to discuss the Iraqi peace
offer. "He indicated that the consensus was
it was a no-go," said Hage, who has dual American
citizenship and is known by many in Lebanon
for his ability to work with all groups.
was one of many channels going on," said Perle.
He added that the United States was discussing
options with Saudi Arabia, Russia and France
an emerging political leader in Lebanon who
is considered pro-United States, said the
United States missed a chance to avert war.
"It seemed to me there was a genuine offer
that was on the table and somebody should
have talked, at least talked," Hage said.
March, the American invasion began and Rumsfeld
said the United States had done everything
possible to avoid war. "The American people
can take comfort in knowing that their country
has done everything humanly possible to avoid
war and to secure Iraq's peaceful disarmament."
senior U.S. official said the government was
unaware of anyone who was in a position to
offer a deal that was acceptable to Washington
at the time.
official said that during the run-up to the
war there were a wide variety of people, including
"intelligence services, and other third parties
and charlatans and independent actors," coming
forward to offer roles in the negotiating
process and that every plausible lead had
U.S. intelligence officer said there were
several attempts to meet with Iraqi intelligence
officers but they didn't show up.
and Saddam had ample opportunity through highly
credible sources over a period of several
years to take serious action to avoid war
and had the means to use highly credible channels
to do that nobody needed to use questionable
channels to convey messages," Acting Assistant
Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Larry
DiRita told ABCNEWS.
a senior White House official said the United
States exhausted every legitimate opportunity
to resolve it peacefully and it was "Saddam
Hussein's unwillingness to comply after 12
years and some 17 United Nations Security
Council resolutions, including one final opportunity,
that forced the coalition to act to ensure
official also added that Saddam was given
48 hours notice to leave before the United
States initiated military action.
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