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February 02, 2004

Samir Vincent's Involvement With The First Bush Administration

On January 30th, Samir Vincent's name appeared on a list of organizations and individuals accused of receiving bribes in the form of commissions from sales of Iraqi oil. It was not the first time the Iraqi-American had been in in the news. As I detailed in an earlier post, Samir and another man, Michael Saba, became minor celebrities in the summer of 1990 when they escaped from Iraq, shortly after that country invaded Kuwait.

Trapped in a Baghdad hotel last Wednesday, Samir Vincent was faced with two choices: stay and suffer under the boot of the Iraqi dictatorship or take a chance and flee.

With the atmosphere becoming more hostile by the day, Vincent, a geophysicist from Annandale, said he made a pact with Illinois businessman Michael Saba: they would pool their resources and make a run for it.

Their story first appeared in the August 15th edition of the Washington Post, part of which appears above. It was a tissue of lies.

In fact, as Robert Parry details in his book, Fooling America, Vincent and Saba did not escape from Iraq. They were on a personal mission from Saddam Hussein--a peace mission.

One week after the invasion, the Iraqis dispatched a peace feeler to Washington through a back channel of two Arab-American businessmen, Michael Saba and Samir Vincent. After an oral briefing on the plan from Hamdoon, the two were allowed to "escape" from Iraq on August 9. After driving by car out of Iraq, the pair flew immediately to Washington and, through separate arrangements, contacted the White House. Hamdoon, who had served as Iraq's ambassador to Washington, was considered a pro-Western moderate. But according to participants in the initiative and a confidential congressional summary, Hamdoon's proposed settlement reflected the thinking of Saddam himself.

The Hamdoon proposal offered a complete military pullout from Kuwait in exchange for guaranteed Iraqi access to the Persian Gulf through some formula on Kuwait's Bubiyan and Warbah islands, total Iraqi control of the Rumaillah oil field, which dips slightly into Kuwaiti territory, and negotiations on oil prices with the United States. Gone were the demands for a multibillion-dollar economic bailout.

Immediately upon his arrival in Washington, a travel-weary Saba went to the White House to meet with Sununu, whom Saba knew through Arab-American cultural activities. As with the other peace feeler, Sununu apparently wanted, more than anything, to keep the initiative a secret. For his part, Saba has refused to divulge what he told Sununu, except to say "that Hamdoon had said that Iraq had no quarrel with the U.S." In a letter, Saba denied that he carried "a formal proposal or any other document from the Iraqi government." When I called him back, however, he declined to comment on whether he conveyed an informal, oral peace proposal from Hamdoon. Even after the war, the fate of those early peace proposals remained a closely guarded secret.

On a separate track, Vincent, a onetime Olympic athlete for Iraq and a Boston College graduate, arranged other contacts with the White House through a retired U.S. Army colonel, Carl Bernard, and through ex-CIA director Richard Helms. Bernard set up a meeting for Vincent with National Security Council staffers, but Bernard recalled later that the staffers seemed more interested in arguing against the Hamdoon plan than copying down its terms.

Disappointed with that approach, Vincent and Bernard turned to Helms, who also had served as U.S. ambassador to Iran and was a respected expert on Middle East politics. As the crisis built, Helms feared its dangerous long-term consequences and agreed to raise the Iraqi peace plan at a previously scheduled lunch with national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. According to accounts of that August 21, 1990, meeting, Scowcroft told Helms that while the White House was not blind to negotiations, it first wanted to assess the results of economic sanctions against Iraq. Scowcroft added that he already knew of the peace feelers. "Scowcroft advised him that he had learned of the initiative from Saba as of Aug. 10," the congressional summary said.

When Helms relayed Scowcroft's equivocal response back to Vincent and the Iraqis, Hamdoon saw hope. He updated the plan on August 23 to include release of all Western hostages, on the Iraqi side, and the lifting of United Nations sanctions against Iraq, on the American side. The Iraqis also wanted talks with the United States about how to improve stability in the Gulf and ease Iraq's severe economic problems. But the chief points remained the same: full military withdrawal from Kuwait, in exchange for the disputed oil field and access to the Gulf. Helms promptly delivered this new message to the White House, too.

Though the Americans were cool, the Iraqis still hoped this back-channel contact might lead to a breakthrough. Hamdoon, anxious about the White House reaction, called the Iraqi embassy in Washington the next day, August 24, to make sure his latest message had been delivered. Impatient, Vincent turned back to Bernard, an army expert in special operations who runs a small defense-consulting business in Alexandria, Virginia. On August 27, Bernard contacted a Scowcroft aide to get an answer to the Iraqi initiative and urge the use of Vincent as a future mediator. But as with the earlier initiative tunneled through the PLO, there was no White House response. The Bush administration seemed most interested in keeping the peace feeler secret.

The initiative, however, did not stay secret long. An enterprising investigative reporter for Newsday, Knut Royce, got wind of the back channel and wrote an article for his Long Island newspaper on August 29. Royce is a hardworking throwback to an earlier age of journalism. He takes a perverse pleasure in confounding the conventional wisdom, not conforming to it. His exclusive on the peace feeler correctly outlined the initiative but without mentioning the names of the participants or the intrigue that surrounded the plan.

After the Newsday report, the White House "steered" the easily maneuvered Washington press corps away from the story. Only late in the day, too late for the evening TV news shows, the White House acknowledged that there was something to Royce's story after all. But the administration noted, stiffly, that "there was nothing in this particular proposal that merited its pursuit." And the White House advised Iraq to convey any future messages through normal State Department channels. The Iraqis had chosen to circumvent State, participants in the back channel said, because they considered the department too sympathetic to Israel.

Their mission over, Saba and Vincent went their separate ways. Saba stayed in the news, appearing on Larry King and founding the Coming Home Committee*, a group ostensibly created to support the families of hostages in Iraq and Kuwait, but used instead by Saba as platform to inveigh against the U.S. and its position on Iraq while the crisis continued. He now writes for Aljazeerah and a Saudi news organization. He's best known for inventing the charge that the American neo-cons are more loyal to Israel than to their own country, a theory which he began pushing as far back as 1984 in his book, The Armageddon Network. No wonder Saddam perceived him as an ally.

Samir Vincent faded from the news until recently, other than an brief mention in the Boston Globe when he was inducted into the Boston College Sports Hall of Fame and an article in the Catholic newsletter Saint Anthony Messenger, detailing some of his behind the scenes attempts to undermine the UN sanctions on Iraq during the late nineties via meetings with such moral luminaries as Billy Graham and Jimmy Carter. There's more on that, as well as his association with Jack Kemp, in the previous post.

Were Saddam's oil comissions a reward for Samir Vincent's efforts on behalf of Iraq during the first war? If so was Michael Saba financially rewarded in a similar manner? Or were the bribes payment for Samir's later activities? Certainly Saba has been at least as active, so again, why does his name not appear on Saddam's payroll? Was he stiffed? Or are there other lists of payouts, ones that haven't yet made it to the light of day?

*info via Lexis/Nexis, so no links. Apologies.

Update: Boston College has put up an athletic player bio of Samir, including a picture of him.

And any breaking news on Samir Vincent will always be covered at our main page.

Posted by Bigwig at February 2, 2004 10:57 PM | TrackBack
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I would like to know why the list of countries and individuals on the oil for food program is not making it into the news.By me count there was at least 51 countries on the oil ministry"s list. No wonder the US gets such shabby treatment at the U.N.However John Kerry still thinks we should bow at the alter of the UN.
The U S needs a leader that puts America first and that's sure not John Kerry.

Posted by: Gwyn Wyatt at July 6, 2004 06:46 PM
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