Some Undeniable Truths
Saddam's regime first and foremost was a skilled user of terrorism to intimidate Iraqis and eliminate any opponents, real and imaginary. Saddam's multiple security services succeeded in its internal goals and in eliminating its critics, defectors, and enemies abroad. The mukhabarat (secret police) state that was Iraq under Saddam was able to reach out to Iraqis in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States whom it wanted to silence. Some were murdered with thallium poison, others shot for the sin of opposing the regime or, equally risky, cheating the family in business deals. In January 1998, four Iraqi and four Egyptian businessmen were murdered in Amman probably by Iraqi mukhabarat agents. The Iraqis were believed to have been acting as agents for Saddam's oldest son Uday; the Egyptians may have been innocent visitors. That same year, an Iraqi businessman in McLean, his wife and son were murdered in their home by a visitor apparently known to the family. According to press accounts, the businessman had bragged about an important new contact, Uday.
The issue today, however, is not Baghdad's use of terrorism against its domestic opponents or business deals gone bad. It is about Saddam Husayn's use of and support for international terrorism. One of Saddam's first acts was to use the threat of international terrorism against Iraq to rally support to his regime. The Ba`thist regime began its long and cruel rule with the hanging of 12 Jews from the lampposts in Liberation Square, claiming that the Jews were plotting with the international Zionists and Israel against the new government. This focused the attention of many Iraqis on an external threat and away from what would be a long and bloody period of repression and terror as Saddam consolidated his power.
Iraq under Saddam supported international terrorist organizations to bolster Iraq's revolutionary credentials, ensure his own role as Great Arab leader, and intimidate rival governments. In examining the history, methods, and patterns of behavior of Saddam Husayn in supporting international terrorism, some "truths" stand out. Beginning in the early 1970s, Saddam provided safe haven, training, arms, and other forms of assistance to Palestinian and Arab extremists. Baghdad hosted the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the Hawari faction of the PLO. In addition, Baghdad created the Arab Liberation Front (ALF) as its personal surrogate in the wars against Israel
. Although the ALF conducted no terrorist operations, Saddam used it in the 1970s and resurrected it again in the current Palestinian intifada as a means to recruit Palestinians and, in 2001, to win praise for offering $25,000 to the family of each Palestinian "martyred" in an Israeli attack
. Some examples of Iraqi support include:
* Abu Nidal. While enjoying safe haven in Iraq, the ANO conducted a number of terrorist attacks on Jewish and Israel targets in the 1970s and 1980s, including murders at synagogues and attacks on El Al airline passengers in Turkey, Austria, Belgium, and Italy, and the hijacking of a Pan Am airliner (Pan Am 73) in Karachi, in which 22 people (2 Americans) were murdered. ANO also attacked PLO representatives in Europe, murdered Jordanian diplomats, and attempted to assassinate Israel's ambassador in London. (This attack became the cause celebre for Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982.) When ANO leader Sabri al-Banna refused to conduct operations against the Syrian regime ordered by Iraq, he was cast out of the country, only to later be allowed back. He died in August 2002 in Baghdad from 4 gunshot wounds to the head, a suicide according to Iraqi security officials. I assume Saddam had decided to remove evidence of his links to one of the most notorious of international terrorists at a time when the United States was increasing pressure on him to reveal his WMD programs and was accusing him of sponsoring al-Qaida.
* Abu Abbas. Palestinian terrorist Mahmud Abbas, known as Abu Abbas, and his organization, the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), enjoyed safe haven and support in Saddam's Iraq. Abu Abbas was responsible for the October 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly American confined to a wheelchair. In October 2000, following the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, Abu Abbas announced from Baghdad that the PLF would resume attacks on Israel.
* Others: In the 1970s Saddam aided Palestinian radical factions that conducted terrorist operations on Israeli, Jewish, Western, and moderate Arab targets. In the 1980s, he sheltered the Kurdish anti-Turkish terrorist group, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) at the same time he allowed Ankara hot pursuit of PKK terrorists across its border. In the 1990s, he provided safe haven and supported attacks by the leftist anti-Iranian Mujahideen-e Khalq on targets inside Iran, including rocket attacks on government office buildings in Tehran.
Finally, Saddam's mukhabarat state may have been extremely effective in cowing Iraqis and terrifying regime opponents, real and imagined. And it may have been quite effective in operations abroad against defectors and those who cheated the family of Saddam. Iraq's security services and surrogates showed little success, however, in planning or ordering operations against foreign targets. Baghdad ordered its Palestinian dependents to launch terrorist operations against the United States and its coalition partners in the fall and winter of 1990; they refused to comply. Iraq made an apparently singular effort to send terrorist teams abroad prior to the initiation of hostilities with the U.S.-led coalition in 1991; it failed. One of the Intelligence Community's reported successes in the period of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm was the arrest of the teams on landing outside Iraq. They were caught by their fake passports, all of which were in consecutive sequence. The attempt to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush in Kuwait in April 1993 was a botched job, using apparently ill-trained operatives in an ill-planned operation.