September 27, 2005

Saddam Husayn - Witness for the Defense?

I recently spoke to a group in Corvallis, Oregon. Although the press coverage is not entirely accurate, it makes for interesting reading.

ANDY CRIPE/Gazette-Times

Port Orford resident Rick Francona gave a talk about the Middle East on Friday during a lunch meeting of the Greater Corvallis Rotary Club. Francona has been a Middle East military analyst for NBC, CNBC and MSNBC since 2003.

Close view of Iraq

By KYLE ODEGARDGazette-Times reporter

Hussein will be guilty and executed, analyst predictsRick Francona wasn't thrilled with the prospect of serving as a defense witness for Saddam Hussein.

But there the Port Orford man was, telling the former dictator's legal team that, yes, the United States knew Iraq used chemical weapons to kill Iranian troops — and on 5,000 Iraqis as well.

And yes, the United States continued to support Hussein's regime during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Francona, 54, won't testify in the trial after all, but he'll be involved as an analyst for NBC television.

Few people know Iraq like he does, after stints with the CIA and other agencies in the Middle East. On Friday, the retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel talked with the Greater Corvallis Rotary Club.

"I think it's a foregone conclusion that (Hussein) will be found guilty" and executed, Francona said. "They've reinstated the death penalty just for him.

"Hussein's trial is set to start Oct. 19, and he will face charges for numerous alleged crimes committed by his regime, including the use of poison gas against 5,000 Kurds in Halabja in 1988.

"They were testing the weapons to see if they worked," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, the United States knew that without its support, Iraq would lose the war against its neighbor.

"We were so concerned about an Iranian victory that it overshadowed Iraq using chemical weapons," Francona said.

Hussein was seen as the lesser evil.

The dictator will not face charges of using poison gas against Iranian troops, which Francona said he discovered. That omission got Francona crossed off the defense list, he said.

During the last year of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, Francona served at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as an advisor for Iraqi armed forces, serving in the field with Iraqi army and flying with the Iraqi air force.

Throughout the Gulf War, Francona was the personal interpreter for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

After that, Francona served in northern Iraq with the CIA.

Besides Hussein, Francona also talked Friday about the messy history and borders of the Middle East, and the new war in Iraq.

"I think there was always a plan for Iraq starting in 1992," he said. America was forced to play its hand because sanctions against Iraq were going to be lifted.

Two things went wrong with the invasion, he said. First, Turkey wouldn't let the United States invade Iraq from the north, so the Sunni Triangle wasn't reached until two weeks after Baghdad fell.

Second, the United States disbanded the Iraqi army.

"Three hundred thousand people in the street with guns and no money," Francona said.

Things will improve there when people take a stand to end the chaos in the Sunni Triangle.

"We're not going to defeat the insurgency. The Iraqis are going to defeat the insurgency," he said.

And America's been waiting a long time for that to happen, Francona added.

Francona is the author of "Ally to Adversary: An Eyewitness Account of Iraq's Fall from Grace."

Kyle Odegard covers Philomath and rural Benton County. He can be contacted at or 758-9523.

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