November 24, 2000

Serious Talk About 'The Gang That Couldn't Bomb Straight'

Two New Books About Iraq Reach Similar Conclusions: For Saddam Hussein,

the Gulf War Hasn't Ended


Study of Revenge:

Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America

By Laurie Mylroie

AEI, 341 pages, $24.95.


Saddam's Bombmaker:

The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons


By Khidhir Hamza, with Jeff Stein

Scribner, 384 pages, $26.




Laurie Mylroie, a specialist on Iraq and the Persian Gulf, has written a

minutely detailed and disturbing book in which she argues convincingly

that Iraq was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Khidhir Hamza,

a physicist, has written an equally frightening book recounting his

personal experiences as a senior atomic-bomb designer for Saddam

Hussein. Inasmuch as America and Israel are ground zero for Saddam

Hussein, both books should prompt a long overdue reassessment of

America's policies toward Iraq, international terrorism and the

proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.


The conventional logic about the World Trade Center bombers has been

that the men convicted of the crime, most of them of Palestinian and

Egyptian origin, were Islamic extremists motivated by a hatred of Israel

and the United States. They were depicted as a gang that couldn't bomb

straight, quickly brought to heel by the FBI and by their own

clumsiness. But, as Ms. Mylroie shows, these "fundamentalists" were

largely directed by the still mysterious "Ramzi Yousef." Her contention

is that they were carrying out a sophisticated plan on behalf of Iraq.


To make her case, Ms. Mylroie did the work that the government and the

media neglected to do, combing through the vast amounts of evidence

introduced at trial. She builds her case methodically, showing from

telephone, airline and passport records that the trail leads back to

Iraq. "Yousef" used the identity of a Kuwaiti student who disappeared

during the occupation of that country by Iraq. His goal was to topple

one tower of the World Trade Center onto the other and to complement the

destruction with a cloud of cyanide gas. The job of the

"fundamentalists" was to build and detonate the bomb and then get

caught, thus misdirecting attention away from the true source.


Why was none of this brought out at trial or later? Part of Ms.

Mylroie's answer is that it was sheer bureaucratic ineptitude and

compartmentalization. FBI agents in New York had their suspicions

against Iraq but handed the case over to the Justice Department in

Washington, which was concerned only with the prosecution of individual

perpetrators. Despite the evidence that had been uncovered, Ms. Mylroie

writes, Washington wanted to treat the case as a limited criminal act

and not a national-security issue. As for the Clinton administration, it

was eager to "solve" the case and pin the rap on loose networks of

fundamentalists in order to deflect attention from an Iraq policy in

tatters. Neither the peacetime expansion of economic prosperity nor the

vision of peace between Israel and Palestinians would have been helped

by a renewed confrontation with Iraq.


In Ms. Mylroie's view, America does not understand that the Gulf War has

never ended for Saddam Hussein. Deprived of Kuwait and some of his

nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and with his country under

United Nations sanctions and ineffectual aerial siege, he has spent the

past decade methodically rebuilding his arsenals and plotting how to

strike back. Ms. Mylroie makes the case, as far too few have, that

Saddam lives only for revenge.


This theme also emerges in Mr. Hamza's book. Educated at Iraqi

government expense at MIT and the University of Florida, Mr. Hamza was

recalled to Baghdad in 1970 and given a position of responsibility in

Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission. Even before his return, he writes, he

was approached by a PLO representative about developing an atomic bomb.

In 1971, representatives of Saddam Hussein came to Mr. Hamza seeking a

plan for an Iraqi atomic weapon. When Saddam became president in 1979

the project became a national priority and was within months of

completion in 1990 when the Gulf War broke out.


Some nuclear bomb-making information was provided freely to Iraq under

President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program, while much was simply

photocopied in American research libraries by Iraqi graduate students.

Ultimately, billions of dollars were spent above and beneath the table

to provide Iraq with a massive atomic infrastructure. Still more was

spent on chemical and biological weapons and missiles. All along, Mr.

Hamza says, he was trapped by a ruthless regime essentially holding

scientists and their families hostage, as well as by his own ego as key

scientist. When he made his escape in 1994, the CIA refused to help.

Only when a higher-ranking defector revealed the true dimensions of

Iraq's still-hidden weapons did America deign to offer sanctuary.


Mr. Hamza's story of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction projects is

frightening enough, but it his picture of life under Saddam that is

truly gruesome. According to him, the regime has a fetish for providing

new cars as gifts, but even high-ranking scientists can disappear into

dungeons for offhand remarks. Mr. Hamza even watched a videotape of one

of his colleagues being forced to execute another. His book is a glimpse

into the heart of darkness.


What is to be done? Only 35 pounds or so of uranium separate us from a

world in which Saddam has his own atomic bomb, a likelihood that

increases daily as sanctions crumble and regular flights from Moscow to

Baghdad resume. The bomb will probably fit in a rowboat in the

Washington Tidal Basin, where any national missile-defense system will

be hard-pressed to locate it. Even before that happens, there is the

possibility of a crop-duster doing long turns over the Columbus Day

Parade as it sprays anthrax. Ms. Mylroie and Mr. Hamza prove, to this

reviewer's satisfaction anyway, that the question is not if but when.


States such as Iraq are eager to exploit emigres, and there are more

than enough zealots ready to be manipulated. Civil libertarians will

correctly point out that some proposed answers to terrorism at home

would undermine fundamental freedoms. More ominous, though less

convincing, is the caveat that our quarrel with Saddam is part of a

"clash of civilizations" pitting the West against Islam. But these grim

possibilities make an honest accounting of the facts even more pressing.


Both authors make valuable contributions to piercing the carefully

constructed fog around Saddam's war against the West. According to them,

there will be another confrontation with Iraq that will result in loss

of life on both sides. It is likely that the bombing of the USS Cole in

Yemen will be traced back to Iraq, as will the bombing of American

installations in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and American embassies in 1998.

But Israel and America are his true targets. As these books sadly

demonstrate, when the showdown comes, Iraq will have unconventional

weapons. The casualties will be far greater than they might have been,

had American policy not been obsessed with bogeymen such as Osama bin

Laden. With any luck, Ms. Mylroie and Mr. Hamza will frighten some sense

into us before it is too late to prepare for the true mother of all



Mr. Joffe writes on the Middle East and specializes in security issues.

He taught in the anthropology department at Pennsylvania State

University from 1993 to 2000.