At first, things went swiftly and well for the Shiites and the Kurds, as a succession of Iraqi cities and towns — although not Baghdad — came under their control.
But the United States never stepped in to assist, and Hussein’s military soon regrouped and began a counteroffensive. In fact, the cease-fire negotiated by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf to end Desert Storm helped Hussein quell the uprising. The deal prohibited the Iraqi military from using fixed-wing aircraft over the country but allowed helicopters, which Hussein then deployed to bombard the Shiites, who had few surface-to-air missiles or heavy weapons. They were largely defenseless against the helicopters strafing the ground.
In the north, Iraqi divisions crushed the Kurdish rebellion.
Shiite and Kurdish leaders turned to the Americans, begging for help. It did not come. American warplanes in the south did not engage as the Republican Guard wiped out the rebellious Shiites by the thousands.
Human Rights Watch reported that “in their attempts to retake cities, and after consolidating control, loyalist forces killed thousands of unarmed civilians by firing indiscriminately into residential areas” and “executing young people on the streets, in homes and in hospitals.” The Iraqi military, Human Rights Watch said, was shooting people “en masse.”
Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the under secretary of defense for policy, was “dismayed,” he would say later, by the president’s unwillingness to support the Shiite uprising, and particularly by the order that American pilots not shoot down Iraqi military helicopters that were strafing the rebels.
More than a decade later, President George W. Bush was surrounded by many of the same national security advisers his father had. One in particular, Mr. Wolfowitz, was forcefully making the case that it was time for the United States to do what it did not in 1991: Go after Hussein.
When the United States finally did enter Iraq in 2003, the Shiites, while welcoming the toppling of Hussein, did not greet the Americans as liberators.