Saddam + Bin Laden? Newsweek article from January 11, 1999
On January 11, 1999, an article appeared in Newsweek titled "Saddam + Bin Laden?" The subheadline declared, "It would be a marriage made in hell. And America's two enemies are courting." This article, which matter of factly points out that Saddam Hussein has a long history of supporting terrorism, says Saddam is now reaching out to Islamic terrorists including those associated with Osama bin Laden according to U.S. intelligence reports. The article also points out that, in the prior week alone, several surface-to-air missles were fired at U.S. and British planes patroling the no-fly zones and that Saddam is now fighting for his life now that the U.S. has made his removal from office a national objective.
Saddam + Bin Laden?
It would be a marriage made in hell. And America's two enemies are courting.
Authors: Christopher Dickey, Gregory L. Vistica and Russell Watson
with Joseph Contreras in Jerusalem
January 11, 1999
IN THE NO-FLY ZONES OF NORTHern and southern Iraq, Saddam Hussein's gunners blindly fired surface-to-air missiles at patrolling American and British warplanes. In Yemen, terrorists seized a group of British Commonwealth and American tourists, and four of the hostages died in a shootout. In Tel Aviv, the U.S. Embassy abruptly closed down after receiving a terrorist threat. Perhaps it was just a typical week in the Middle East. But in a region where no one puts much faith in blind coincidence, last week's conjunction of Iraqi anti-aircraft fire and terrorism aimed at the countries that had just bombed Iraq convinced some that a new conspiracy was afoot.
Here's what is known so far: Saddam Hussein, who has a long record of supporting terrorism, is trying to rebuild Ms intelligence network overseas - assets that would allow him to establish a terrorism network. U.S. sources say he is reaching out to Islamic terrorists, including some who may be linked to Osama bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi exile accused of masterminding the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa last summer. U.S. intelligence has had reports of contacts between low-level agents. Saddam and bin Laden have interests - and enemies - in common. Both men want U.S. military forces out of Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden has been calling for all-out war on Americans, using as his main pretext Washington's role in bombing and boycotting Iraq. Now bin Laden is engaged in something of a public-relations offensive, having granted recent interviews, one for NEWSWEEK (following story). He says "any American who pays taxes to his government" is a legitimate target.
Saddam's terrorism capability is still small-time, according to senior U.S. officials. "He's nowhere close to the level of the Iranians or Hizbullah," says one. But terrorism may be Iraq's growth industry. An Arab intelligence officer who knows Saddam personally and stays in touch with his clandestine services predicts that "very soon you will be witnessing large-scale te rrorist activity run by the Iraqis." The attacks, he says, would be aimed at American and British targets in the Islamic world. Washington is somewhat skeptical, but this source says plans have already been put into action under three "false flags": one Palestinian, one Iranian and one "the alQaeda apparatus," the loose collection of terrorists who receive bin Laden's patronage. "All these organizations have representatives in Baghdad," says the Arab intelligence officer.
According to this source, Saddam expected last month's American and British bombing campaign to go on much longer than it did. The dictator believed that as the attacks continued, indignation would grow in the Muslim world, making his terrorism offensive both harder to trace and more effective. With acts of terror contributing to chaos in the region, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait might feel less inclined to support Washington. Saddam's long-term strategy, according to several sources, is to bully or cajole Muslim countries into breaking the embargo against Iraq, without waiting for the United Nations to lift it formally. With the sudden end of the allied air offensive, the Iraqi challenge to U.S. and British overflights in the exclusion zones may have been Saddam's way of keeping the regional pot boiling.
Early last week, an Iraqi air-defense battery fired three surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) at U.S. warplanes over the northern zone. Two days later, the Iraqis launched several SAMs at four British Tornado jets over the southern zone. The allies responded with smart bombs that damaged some of the mobile launchers. The Iraqis announced they would continue to fire at allied planes over both zones, but a Pentagon spokesman said there was a "very low likelihood" they would hit anything.
Apart from wanting to taunt Bill Clinton, Saddam has good reason for challenging the no-fly zones, especially the one in the south. The Iraqi opposition in the region is mostly Shute Muslim, supported by fellow believers in Iran, which has already trained thousands of Iraqi exiles to fight in units known as the Badr Brigades. Saddam's nightmare, however unlikely, is that Iran and the United States will combine to overthrow him, using the southern Shiites as foot soldiers.
Tensions in the Middle East probably will rise sharply in the coming year, and not just because of Saddam. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Iran have all been hobbled by ill leaders or political squabbling. The Arab-Israeli peace process is stalled again, with Israel facing an election in May - just when the Palestinians threaten a unilateral declaration of statehood. The threat to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv seems to have had no connection to Saddam or bin Laden. Intelligence sources said an odd collection of Iranians, Armenians, Russian gangsters and members of the militant Hamas movement were supposed to be planning a strike against the seaside embassy building. "Our guys didn't put a lot of credence in it," says a U.S. counterterrorism expert. But American officials in Israel have reason to be edgy. When the CIA was assigned to help implement the latest Arab Israeli peace agreement, the name of the agency's station chief - who has an office in the embassy - became public. Now a U.S. official says the station chief and his case officers are being watched by terrorists. Revealing the names "created a possible target," complains a White House aide.
Though it was too early to know for sure, the CIA suspected that bin Laden had a hand in the abduction of 16 foreign tourists in Yemen last week. Four of the hostages - three Britons and an Australian were killed when the police intervened, and two others, including an American woman, were wounded. Most kidnappings in Yemen are strictly cash-and-carry affairs, in which tribal desperadoes raise money without harming their captives. But these kidnappers, who came from a Yemeni group calling itself Islamic Jihad, demanded that the authorities release two of their leaders, who have ties to bin Laden. And they said they were protesting Western "aggression" against Iraq.
The idea of an alliance between Iraq and bin Laden is alarming to the West (what if Baghdad gave the terrorists highly portable biological weapons?). Saddam may think he's too good for such an association. Jerold Post, a political psychologist and government consultant who has profiled Saddam, says he thinks of himself as a world leader like Castro or Tito, not a thug. "I'm skeptical that Saddam would resort to terrorism," says a well-informed administration official. "He can do a lot of other things to screw with us." But Saddam is famous for doing whatever it takes to stay in power. Now that the United States has made his removal from office a national objective, he knows he is fighting for his life. "The worst thing you can do is to wound him, let him know you meant to kill him, and then let him survive," says an Iraqi Shiite leader in London. As his own people know only too well, Saddam is quite capable of fighting dirty.
A New Mideast Axis?
While Saddam turned the sides over Iraq into a shooting gallery, bin Laden ran a terrorist training camp near Kandahar.