OpinionJournal - Featured Article REVIEW & OUTLOOK Saddam and the Next 9/11 The Iraqi dictator and his son talk about the uses of biological weapons. Friday, February 14, 2003 12:01 a.m. EST
America is on orange alert, Osama bin Laden is issuing new threats, and already the opponents of military action against Iraq are preparing to blame the next terror attack on U.S. policy. By threatening Iraq, which has nothing to do with al Qaeda, the U.S. is said to be inviting Saddam Hussein to become another bin Laden. This argument manages to ignore the detail that we were attacked the first time without any provocation. But more importantly it ignores the shared anti-American purpose that has long united both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Certainly bin Laden's latest taped threat shows he understands this mutual purpose. Bin Laden refers to "our mujahideen brothers" inside Iraq and stresses "the importance of martyrdom operations against the enemy, these attacks that have scared Americans and Israelis like never before." Iraq may be run by Baath Party "infidels," he adds, but "it does no harm in these circumstances that the interests of Muslims and socialists crisscross in the fighting against the Crusaders." What our readers should understand is that the rulers in Iraq have also long admired the methods of bin Laden and other anti-American terrorists, going back before September 11, 2001. This is clear simply from reading the Iraqi press, which is of course government controlled. As long ago as the bombing of the U.S. military offices in Riyadh in 1995, a November 14 Agence France Presse report from Baghdad quoted an official Iraq newspaper as saying, "The Tigers of the Gulf have shaken the Saudi throne and made Washington tremble." It praised the emergence of a "secret Saudi opposition movement" and predicted "dramatic events" in the country. A core bin Laden goal is of course to oust the U.S. from Saudi Arabia and topple its monarchy. More recently, and eerily, a July 21, 2001, commentary in the Iraqi publication Al-Nasiriya praised bin Laden: "In this man's heart you'll find an insistence, a strange determination that he will reach one day the tunnels of the White House and will bomb it with everything that is in it." The article recounts bin Laden's attacks on U.S. targets and U.S. efforts "to pressure the Taliban movement so that it would hand them bin Laden, while he continues to smile and still thinks seriously, with the seriousness of the Bedouin of the desert about the way he will try to bomb the Pentagon after he destroys the White House." The commentary is ominously prescient, especially since it could never have appeared without official sanction. "Bin Laden is a healthy phenomenon in the Arab spirit," it continues, speaking about his goal to "drive off the Marines" from Arabia. Most eerily of all, the writer adds that those Marines "will be going away because the revolutionary bin Laden is insisting very convincingly that he will strike America on the arm that is already hurting. That the man . . . will curse the memory of Frank Sinatra every time he hears his songs." Is that a reference to Sinatra's "New York, New York"? Did Saddam know what would happen two months later? This convergence of Iraq and al Qaeda interests appeared again in the Iraqi press after September 11, this time in a commentary by Saddam Hussein's son, Uday. Writing in Babil on September 20, Uday sketches the scenarios for the war in Afghanistan he expects to come. Iraq should merely be "the spectator" at first, he writes, because "if we do anything Iraq will be attacked . . . perhaps like the attack of 1991." The Americans will join the Northern Alliance to topple the Taliban, but will then "sink into the Afghan quagmire"--a point that could have been stolen at the time from the New York Times. But then the son of Saddam adds, "In this scenario, there is nothing wrong with Iraq turning from a spectator to an active player on its territory to restore the north, which has been out of its control since 1991." So Iraq's interests are again furthered by bin Laden's terror. Uday continues: "At this stage it is possible to turn to biological attack, where a small can, not bigger than the size of the hand, can be used to release viruses that affect everything. The attack might not necessarily be launched by the Islamists. It might be done by the Zionists or any other party through an agent. The viruses easily spread by air, and people are affected without feeling it." We now know that the first U.S. anthrax letters were sent on September 18. Saddam himself got into the anthrax game a month later, in a rambling October 29, 2001, "open letter" carried by Baghdad Radio. He ridicules reports "that American officials think that the source of anthrax is probably the U.S. itself. Is this conclusion or information just a tactic to divert the attention of those who were terrorized to hear that bin Laden is the source of anthrax, and to hear insinuations to other accusations, that many Americans think that they should not persist in harming the people he cares for, because that would push him to a stronger reaction in this way or by other means?" Neither Saddam nor his son are admitting here that they are the source of the anthrax. But the news is that both of them clearly believe in its utility to achieve their political goals. Saddam goes so far as to assert that U.S. officials are lying about anthrax because if Americans thought the source was bin Laden they'd force the Bush Administration to stop hunting him down. Another anthrax clue also deserves to be more widely known: In October 2002, the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm made an official request of the Swedish Foreign Ministry to provide "appropriate" means for "the early detection of anthrax." The request was also for "protection methods from anthrax and types of methods, procedures and equipment to be used for decontamination." Iraq made a similar request at the time to the Japanese and Finns. The question is, what was Iraq's point? It's doubtful Saddam believes the U.S. would use anthrax. But was he trying to send a warning that he could and would use it against us? Or does he want to know more about how to protect his own troops if he uses it against U.S. forces? The U.S. homeland may again be hit by terrorism, and if it is the point to understand is that the sources will be at root the same ones who attacked us on September 11. Saddam Hussein is probably too clever to get caught openly canoodling with Osama bin Laden, but the evidence above shows that they share the same evil purposes. When it comes to the uses of terror and antipathy to America, Saddam and bin Laden are brothers under the skin.