Feature

Next stop, Iraq?

Key members of the Bush administration are debating whether to continue the war on terrorism by launching military strikes against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Why is Iraq a possible target?

Does Iraq sponsor terrorism?

Several recent Iraqi defectors say that it does. Former members of the Iraqi intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, have told U.S. intelligence that Hussein is running a top-secret training camp for terrorists at Salman Pak, outside Baghdad. The defectors described the facility as a place where foreign Islamic terrorists studied in successive groups of about 50 how to mix explosives and hijack airplanes. The students spent much of their time practicing hijackings in a Boeing 707 fuselage parked inside the camp. “We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States,” a former Iraqi official told The New York Times. The defectors say they do not know if any of the Sept. 11 hijackers studied at the camp. But they say that Hussein is determined to get revenge for the Gulf War. “He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.”

Was Iraq involved in the Sept. 11 attacks?

So far, the evidence is inconclusive. Five months before the suicide hijackings, Czech intelligence agents spotted the man believed to have been the lead Sept. 11 hijacker, Mohammad Atta, meeting in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence agent named Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani. Three days later, Atta returned to Florida to continue his preparations for the attack on America. U.S. intelligence agencies are treating the information as a promising lead, although their Israeli counterparts have concluded that Iraq wasn’t involved.

Was Iraq involved in the anthrax attacks?

Investigators still do not know, although the FBI suspects that an American group or individual may be behind the bacterial attacks. But Bush administration officials say there is plenty of damning evidence that Hussein is pursuing both biological and nuclear weapons. U.S. diplomats accused Iraq last week of refusing United Nations inspections the past three years because it is cooking up deadly germs in violation of international law. “We didn’t need Sept. 11 to tell us that Saddam Hussein is a very dangerous man,” said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Is Iraq suspected in other attacks?

Yes. Kuwait’s intelligence service said it foiled a 1993 Iraqi plot to assassinate former president George Bush on a visit to that country. When the evidence was given to the U.S. in 1994, President Clinton ordered a cruise-missile attack on Hussein’s intelligence agency in Baghdad. There is also a growing suspicion that Iraqi agents planned the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

What is the basis for that suspicion?

The mastermind behind that attack entered the U.S. under the name Ramzi Yousef, but fled after the bombing using the identity of another man. That man, Abdul Basit Karim, was a Kuwaiti educated in Britain. He was living in Kuwait at the time of the Iraqi invasion, but has since disappeared. During Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, Hussein’s intelligence agents apparently doctored the Kuwaiti government file on Karim. Yousef’s photo and fingerprints were substituted for Karim’s, allowing Yousef to travel under the other man’s identity. Investigative author Laurie Mylroie says that file links Yousef, now serving 240 years for the bombing, to Iraq’s intelligence agency.

Are Saddam and Osama bin Laden allies?

Bin Laden’s extreme brand of fundamentalist Islam is at odds with Hussein’s secular regime. But they do share a hatred of the U.S., and some intelligence officials suspect that al Qaida and Iraq may have worked together in recent years, particularly on the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, last year. The timing, method, and location of the attack had the mark of bin Laden’s al Qaida network. But Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA’s former counterterrorism chief, says the sophistication and size of the bomb-500 pounds of explosives-pointed to the participation of a state.

Didn’t the United Nations disarm Iraq?

It tried to. The U.N. Security Council, after the Gulf War, sent inspectors to Iraq to rid the country of its weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors were summoned home ahead of U.S. and British air strikes in 1998, and Saddam Hussein refused to let them back in. Before the inspectors left, they identified and destroyed chemical weapons, such as nerve and mustard gases. They also uncovered and dismantled specialized equipment that could have been used to make a nuclear device. They found other facilities that could be used to produce biological weapons, but could not dismantle them because the facilities had legitimate peaceful uses, such as manufacturing vaccines.

Have U.N. sanctions been effective?

That is a subject of much debate. The sanctions allow Iraq to sell only a limited amount of oil to buy food and medicine. Critics say that policy has led to widespread starvation in an already poor nation, and has caused the deaths of one million people, many of them children. But United Nations officials say that loosened restrictions have allowed Iraq to sell $10 billion worth of oil in the last six months of 2000 alone, and that children aren’t dying off in Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, where international organizations are responsible for humanitarian relief. Only in southern Iraq, where Hussein runs the show, has child mortality increased under the embargo.

Is Saddam insane?

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