So, Did Saddam Hussein Try to Kill Bush's Dad?
that President George W. Bush's allegations about former Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein's ties to al-Qaeda and ambitious weapons programs
have been thoroughly discredited, another outstanding charge remains
to be resolved.
a campaign speech in September 2002, Bush cited a number of reasons
in addition to alleged terrorist links and weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) about why Saddam was so dangerous to the
U.S., noting, in particular that, "After all, this is the guy
who tried to kill my dad."
was referring, of course, to an alleged plot by Iraqi intelligence
to assassinate Bush's father, former president George H.W. Bush,
during his triumphal visit to Kuwait in April 1993, 25 months after
U.S.-led forces chased Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in the first Gulf
War and three months after Bush Sr. surrendered the White House
to Bill Clinton.
he did not name his father, Bush Jr. also cited the assassination
attempt in his September 2002 address at the United Nations General
Assembly where he called on the UN Security Council to approve a
tough resolution demanding that Saddam fully give up his (nonexistent)
WMD weapons and programs
the alleged plot was never cited officially as a cause for going
to war, some pundits including Maureen Dowd of the New
York Times have speculated that revenge or some Oedipal
desire to show up his father may indeed have been one of the factors
that drove him to Baghdad as the sign of one demonstrator
suggested in a big antiwar march here just before the war: "I
love my dad, too, but come on!"
circumstances of the alleged plot, which ended in a trial and conviction
of 11 Iraqis and three Kuwaitis, have always evoked skepticism,
although Clinton himself was apparently sufficiently convinced after
receiving reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to order a missile strike
on the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad that killed six
civilians in June 1993.
a closer look at the 11-year-old plot, particularly in light of
the findings by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the special team of
experts that spent 15 months investigating Baghdad's WMD programs
and found they were all dismantled in 1991 shortly after the end
of the Gulf War, may now be warranted, especially if Bush is still
laboring under the impression that Saddam "tried to kill [his]
the ISG's 960-page report, known as the Duelfer Report, does not
address the assassination attempt, its chronology and depiction
of Hussein's worldview adduced through lengthy interviews
by one Arabic-speaking FBI investigator and other interviews of
Saddam's closest advisers make the notion that the Iraqi
dictator tried to kill Bush all the more implausible.
one thing, Saddam, according to the report, was convinced that the
CIA had thoroughly penetrated his regime and thus would know not
only that he had dismantled his WMD (which the CIA apparently did
not), but also would know about his plans for important intelligence
operations. Under those circumstances, it is hard to understand
why he would then order an assassination attempt on the former U.S.
more interesting, according to the report, was Saddam's "complicated"
view of the U.S. While he derived "prestige" from being
an enemy of the U.S., he also considered it to be "equally
prestigious for him to be an ally of the United States and
regular entreaties were made during the last decade to explore this
beginning already in 1991, according to the report, "very senior
Iraqis close to the president made proposals through intermediaries
for dialogue with Washington."
offered flexibility on many issues, including offers to assist in
the Israel-Palestine conflict. Moreover, in informal discussions,
senior officials allowed that, if Iraq had a security relationship
with the United States, it might be inclined to dispense with WMD
programs and/or ambitions," it added.
report even concluded that Iraq was willing to be Washington's "best
friend in the region bar none."
fact that the U.S., under Bush Sr. and Clinton, did not show interest
was apparently a source of bewilderment to the Iraqi leader, according
to the Duelfer report.
Saddam had tried to kill the ex-president, he probably would not
have been bewildered by Washington's lack of interest, but, by all
accounts, he was.
the report, Saddam seems to be not a madman, but someone who would
understand very well the consequences of an assassination,"
notes Gregory Thielmann, a former senior State Department analyst
who specialized in Iraq's WMD programs
his top priority was getting the [UN economic] sanctions lifted
[as indicated by the report], then it doesn't follow that he would
try to kill the president of the United States," added Thielmann.
portrayed by both the alleged assassins and the Kuwaitis who grabbed
them, the plot was itself deeply amateurish, dependent on the leadership
of Wali Abdelhadi Ghazali, a 36-year-old male nurse, Raad Abdel-Amir
al-Assadi, from Najaf, and a dozen Iraqi whiskey smugglers led by
a 33-year-old owner of a coffee shop in Basra that was meeting-place
for cross-border smugglers. Despite his age, al-Assadi confessed
to being a colonel in the Iraqi intelligence service, the Mukhabarat,
according to the Kuwait authorities.
who initially said he was approached and supplied with explosives
and cars by the Mukhabarat, was the only person in the group who
knew that Bush was the target. Other defendants confessed to transporting
explosives across the border from Iraq but insisted they had no
idea what they were for.
Ghazali and Assadi retracted their confessions during the trial,
claiming that they were extracted by repeated beatings. At the time,
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International expressed strong doubts
that the trials could be fair, noting that it had received credible
reports of severe beatings meted out to defendants accused of capital
crimes in Kuwait. Assadi insisted that he was asked by the Mukhabarat
to plant bombs around shopping centers in Kuwait City.
investigators, however, reported that they believed the confessions
were not coerced and noted the similarity in the construction of
the bombs found with the Iraqis with one known to have been built
in Iraq in 1991.
October, 1993, however, New Yorker investigative journalist
Seymour Hersh assailed the government's case as "seriously
flawed," noting among other problems that seven bomb experts
had told him that the devices were mass-produced and probably not
even manufactured in Iraq.
Joseph Wilson, who met with Saddam when he served as U.S. chargé
d'affaires in Baghdad during the Gulf War, said he found the plot
had to have had some idea that his ability to run operations outside
Iraq was not very good, because we had foiled so many things before
the war. So you have to ask why someone who was a risk-taker but
clearly not suicidal would undertake to assassinate a former president
of the United States," pointed out Wilson.
Johnson, a top counter-terrorist official at the State Department,
said he still has "no doubts" about the plot, recalling
Saddam's "gangster" ethic. "Personal honor was involved,"
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service