Many Iraqi and American critics accused President George H. W. Bush and his administration of encouraging and abandoning the rebellion after halting UN Coalition forces at Iraq's southern border with Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War. In 1996, Colin Powell, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted in his book My American Journey that but Bush's rhetoric "may have given encouragement to the rebels" but "our practical intention was to leave Baghdad enough power to survive as a threat to an Iran that remained bitterly hostile toward the United States." Coalition Commander Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr has expressed regret for negotiating a ceasefire agreement that allowed Iraq to keep using helicopters, but also suggested a move to support the uprisings would have empowered Iran. In 2006, Najmaldin Karim, president of the Washington Kurdish Institute, called it a "betrayal of Iraq", blaming the policy of "a dangerous illusion of stability in the Middle East, a 'stability' bought with the blood of Middle Easterners and that produced such horrors as the massive 1991 bloodletting of Iraqis who sought to overthrow Saddam Hussein."
Soon after the uprisings began, fears of a disintegrating Iraq led the Bush Administration to distance itself from the rebels. American military officials downplayed the significance of the revolts and spelled out a policy of non-intervention in Iraq's internal affairs. Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said as the uprisings began: "I'm not sure whose side you'd want to be on." On March 5, Rear Admiral John Michael McConnell, Director of Intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged "chaotic and spontaneous" uprisings were under way in 13 cities of Iraq, but stated the Pentagon's view that Saddam would prevail because of the rebels' "lack of organization and leadership." On the same day, Cheney said "it would be very difficult for us to hold the coalition together for any particular course of action dealing with internal Iraqi politics, and I don't think, at this point, our writ extends to trying to move inside Iraq." U.S. Major General Martin Brandtner, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that "there is no move on the [part of] U.S. forces...to let any weapons slip through [to the rebels], or to play any role whatsoever in fomenting or assisting any side." Consequently, U.S. soldiers still in southern Iraq blew up enormous stockpile of weapons to prevent them from falling into hands of the opposition, blocked rebels from advancing onto Baghdad and actively disarmed some rebel forces. According to Middle East expert William B. Quandt, U.S. forces actually "let one Iraqi division go through [their] lines to get to Basra because the United States did not want the regime to collapse." The U.S. Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher said on March 6, "We don't think that outside powers should be interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq." The Bush Administration accused Iran of sending arms to the rebels and sternly warned Iraqi authorities on March 7 against the use of chemical weapons during the unrest, but equivocated use of helicopter gunships. On April 2, in a carefully crafted statement, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said: "We never, ever, stated as either a military or a political goal of the coalition or the international community the removal of Saddam Hussein." President George H. W. Bush himself insisted three days later, just as the Iraqi loyalist forces were putting down the last resistance in the cities:
“ I made clear from the very beginning that it was not an objective of the coalition or the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein. So I don't think the Shiites in the south, those who are unhappy with Saddam in Baghdad, or the Kurds in the north ever felt that the United States would come to their assistance to overthrow this man...I have not misled anybody about the intentions of the United States of America, or has any other coalition partner, all of whom to my knowledge agree with me in this position. ”
The U.S. abandonment of the 1991 revolution was attributed by many analysts to the fact that the sceptical Iraqi Shia population have not welcomed the U.S.-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq the way some officials of George W. Bush administration had predicted before the war began, remaining reluctant to rise up against Saddam until Baghdad fell. In 2011, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, James F. Jeffrey, officially apologized to Iraqi politicians and southern tribal leaders for the U.S. inaction in 1991. Adel Abdul Mahdi, a top Iraqi Shia political leader, commented: "At the least, from what we are facing now, this would have been a much better solution than the solution of 2003. The role of Iraq’s people would have been fundamental, not like in 2003." A spokesman for a top Shia religious leader, Ayatollah Basheer Hussain Najafi, said that "the apology of the U.S. has come too late, and does not change what happened. The apology is not going to bring back to the widows their husbands, and bereaved mothers their sons and brothers that they lost in the massacre that followed the uprising."