Prior to the January 16, 1991, launch of Operation Desert Storm to reverse Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush called on the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam. That Administration decided not to militarily overthrow Saddam Hussein in the 1991 war because the United Nations had approved only the liberation of Kuwait, because the Arab states in the coalition opposed an advance to Baghdad, and because the Administration feared becoming bogged down in a high-casualty occupation. (2) Within days of the war's end (February 28, 1991), Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq and Kurds in northern Iraq, emboldened by the regime's defeat and the hope of U.S. support, rebelled. The Shiite revolt nearly reached Baghdad, but the mostly Sunni Muslim Republican Guard forces were pulled back into Iraq before engaging U.S. forces and were intact to suppress the rebels. Many Iraqi Shiites blamed the United States for not intervening to prevent suppression of the uprisings. Iraq's Kurds, benefitting from a U.S.-led "no fly zone" set up in April 1991, drove Iraqi troops out of much of northern Iraq and remained autonomous thereafter.
About two months after the failure of these uprisings, President George H.W. Bush reportedly sent Congress an intelligence finding that the United States would try to promote a military coup against Saddam Hussein. The Administration apparently believed that a coup from within the regime could produce a favorable government without fragmenting Iraq. After a reported July 1992 coup failed, there was a U.S. decision to shift to supporting the Kurdish, Shiite, and other oppositionists that were coalescing into a broad movement. (3)
Support for Iraq's opposition was one facet of broader U.S. policy to pressure Saddam Hussein. The main elements of U.S. containment policy during the 1990s consisted of U.N. Security Council-authorized weapons inspections, an international economic embargo, and U.S.-led enforcement of "no fly zones" over northern and southern Iraq. The implementation of these policies is discussed in CRS Report RL32379, Iraq: Former Regime Weapons Programs, Human Rights Violations, and U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman.
Major Anti-Saddam Factions
Although U.S. policy after the 1991 war emphasized containment, the United States built ties to and progressively increased support for several of the secular and religious opposition factions discussed below. Some of these factions have provided major figures in post-Saddam politics, while also fielding militias that are allegedly conducting acts of sectarian reprisals in post-Saddam Iraq.
Secular Groups: Iraqi National Congress (INC) and Iraq National Accord (INA). In 1992, the two main Kurdish parties and several Shiite Islamist groups coalesced into the "Iraqi National Congress (INC)," on a platform of human rights, democracy, pluralism, and "federalism" (Kurdish autonomy). However, many observers doubted its commitment to democracy, because most of its groups have authoritarian leaderships. The INC's Executive Committee selected Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite Muslim from a prominent banking family, to run the INC on a daily basis. Chalabi, who is about 67 years old, was educated in the United States (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) as a mathematician. As an Iraqi governance structure was established, Chalabi was one of the rotating presidents of the Iraq Governing Council (IGC). Since 2004, Chalabi has allied with and then fallen out with Shiite Islamist factions; he was one of three deputy …