A new book by an Iraqi expert in the United States says U.S. investigators have failed to focus enough on Baghdad's role in a series of terrorist attacks in the past 10 years. Her findings have been both dismissed and supported by various U.S. experts. RFE/RL correspondent Joe Lauria spoke with the author and others about the issue of Iraqi state-sponsored terrorism.
New York, 28 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Saddam Hussein has vowed revenge for U.S. air strikes near Baghdad in February. Conventional Washington wisdom says he's sufficiently boxed in (that is, restrained) by UN sanctions and the no-fly zones in Iraq not to be able to hit back.
But Saddam has called on Arabs outside Iraq to strike U.S. interests in the region. According to a new book by Iraq expert Laurie Mylroie, that fits Saddam's pattern of revenge since the 1991 Gulf War: masterminding terrorism through Arab fundamentalists.
Mylroie argues in her book, "Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War against America," that the previous administration of President Bill Clinton erred by prosecuting such individuals in Justice Department-led criminal trials. Rather, she says, it should have conducted national security investigations that would have determined Saddam's role.
Mylroie is the author of a 1991 best-selling book on Saddam Hussein and the Gulf crisis. In her new study, she finds Saddam's involvement in four terrorist attacks: the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City; the 1995 bombing of the U.S. training mission for Saudi troops in Riyadh; the 1996 attack against the U.S. base in al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 U.S. servicemen; and the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
In the World Trade Center bombing, U.S. officials believed a loose network of Islamic radicals intended to use their bomb to topple the center's twin towers onto one another, releasing a cloud of cyanide gas to maximize the killing.
Mylroie's evidence is based mostly on telephone, airline and passport records entered into the trial. She says the records show that mastermind Ramzi Yousef, now serving a life prison term, was an Iraqi agent who traveled to New York on an Iraq passport to direct others who were intended to be caught to deflect attention from Saddam. He and other conspirators placed numerous telephone calls to Iraq while in New York during the lead-up to the bombing, which occurred on the second anniversary of the Gulf War's end.
Mylroie's detective work indicates Yousef later tried to change his identity with an altered Kuwaiti passport, stolen during Iraq's occupation. She says another suspect who fled New York a day after the bombing is living under Saddam's protection in Baghdad.
But Mylroie argues Clinton ignored these signs because he didn't want to confront the issue of Iraq as a terrorist threat. She says Clinton's order to strike Iraqi intelligence headquarters in June 1993 was presented as retaliation for an Iraqi attempt to kill former President George Bush. But she says in reality he was also seeking a gesture that would address the terrorist bombing in New York.
"He [Clinton] believed [the strikes] would take care of the terrorism in New York. It would take care of the strong suspicions of the New York FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) that Iraq was behind the World Trade Center bombing and would deter Saddam from all future acts of terrorism."
Among those who support this contention is James Woolsey, who was U.S. Central Intelligence Agency director at the time the Iraqi intelligence headquarters was hit. Woolsey says he believed Iraq may have been involved in the World Trade Center bombing, but was never asked his opinion by the Clinton White House. He says Mylroie's book sheds light on some neglected issues, such as whether World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef was an agent of the Iraqi government.
"She comes up with some issues which, if examined more thoroughly and carefully, might give an indication of whether that is in fact the case."
Mylroie says the Riyadh bombing that killed five Americans was likely Saddam's response to a negative UN weapons inspectors' report and was aimed at U.S. troops still in the region from the Gulf War. She quotes an unnamed senior Saudi official who states that Iraq was behind the bombing, noting it was not the work of amateurs.
She acknowledges that there was no proof that Iraq was behind the Riyadh bombing, but says Iraq should have been at least considered a suspect. She says progress in the Mideast peace process at the time created what she calls a "climate of euphoria" incompatible with the notion that the war with Iraq was not yet over.
The al-Khobar bombing in Saudi Arabia seven months later killed 19 U.S. servicemen who had helped enforce the Iraq no-fly zone. Mylroie constructs a scenario in which Iraqi agents in Khartoum worked with the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden to plan the attack. She quotes Israeli counter-intelligence sources and Saudi officials who believed Saddam was behind that bomb, too.
Likewise, Mylroie believes Iraq worked with bin Laden in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa on 7 August 1998, two days after Saddam formally suspended UN weapons inspections. In the planning stages of the attack, bin Laden's group and Saddam issued parallel warnings.
In May, Baghdad warned of "dire consequences" if UN sanctions were not lifted. Mylroie says that, because U.S. intelligence never investigated the possible links to Saddam, there is no proof. Instead the U.S. indictment stops at bin Laden and his alleged conspirators.
But Iraq was not mentioned at all during the African embassy trial in New York. Richard Murphy, an Iraqi expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, sees that as sufficient proof that Mylroie is wrong
"I don't think it's been supported by the investigations. She is trying to keep it alive and seems to be a solitary voice on this. She's made these exhaustive searches and keeps warning that we are ignoring Saddam Hussein's repeated efforts to do serious damage to America. But I don't think she's found support in terms of the FBI and the CIA."
Mylroie sees danger in a trend away from recognizing the role of hostile governments in terrorist acts. Soviet documents released after the Cold War revealed Moscow and its satellites sponsored global terrorism. That revived the idea of state-sponsored terrorism for a while.
But CIA Director George Tenet told a U.S. Senate Committee in February that state-sponsored terrorism now appears to be declining over the past five years. Transnational groups, he says, are emerging with fewer centrally controlled operations and more acts initiated at lower levels.