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January 26, 2003
Axis of Evil | Parting Shots | Muddy Mix: Oil, Politics

The seeds of war in Iraq

President Bush greets troops and their families at Fort Hood, Texas, this month, as they are deployed to the Gulf.
U.S. threatens Iraq over weapons, but not Iran or North Korea.

U.S. foreign policy after Sept. 11, 2001 was clear-cut for awhile.

Islamist terrorists had attacked Americans at home, and America went after the perpetrators in their home base in Afghanistan.

But things have become more complicated, and even Washington insiders have been asking how the war against terror shifted suddenly from Osama bin Laden and his suicide bombers to the Middle Eastern totalitarian regime in Iraq.

President Bush angrily said that three countries — Iraq, Iran and North Korea — form an "axis of evil" that poses a threat to U.S. security far greater than bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorists.

There are reasons for Americans to feel vulnerable to these three nations.

Iraq, Iran and North Korea all have worked to develop weapons of mass destruction — biological, nuclear and chemical weapons. All have connections with terrorist organizations that would use such weapons against U.S. targets.

Iraq's Saddam Hussein has used chemical weapons against rebellious minorities in his own country, so many people believe he would use them again himself or make them available to terrorists.

Saddam also launched unprovoked invasions against two neighbors, Iran and Kuwait. The war with Iran lasted eight years and depleted the Iraqi treasury. A U.S.-led international coalition intervened in Kuwait, ousting the Iraqis during the brief Gulf War.


Commonly reported links between Saddam and al-Qaida are weak. Reports that an Iraqi minister met with Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague are disputed. Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people, entered the United States on an Iraqi passport as a refugee from Saddam after the Gulf War, and some U.S. officials believe he was an Iraqi intelligence agent.

Islamist bin Laden and the secular Saddam would never ally, some say, but others say that common hatred of the U.S. could easily bring them together.

"What happened on Sept. 11, as terrible as it was, is but a pale shadow of what will happen if terrorists use weapons of mass destruction," said Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and a leader of the hawks in the Bush administration. "Our approach has to aim at prevention and not merely punishment. We are at war."

Critics wonder why Bush jumped into this new phase of the war against terror so precipitously, and why Iraq is in the crosshairs while Iran and North Korea are on the sidelines.

Iraq clearly is the centerpiece of Bush's axis — hard-liners have wanted to make toppling Saddam the aim of foreign policy since Bush's father was president.

Still, some question the wisdom of turning the war on terror into the war against Iraq.

"The focus has really changed," Maya Chadda, a professor of political science at William Paterson University, said a few weeks after the "axis of evil" speech. "U.S. foreign policy has turned direction 180 degrees with the military as the spearhead to refashion the world and get rid of unfriendly regimes."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has been cool to the idea of going after Iraq, nevertheless maintains there is no policy change. "I think it's a good, clear message, but people get a little nervous sometimes when the Americans speak with such direct clarity."

Axis of Evil | Parting Shots | Muddy Mix: Oil, Politics

The Gulf War didn't topple Saddam, who is accused of trying to assassinate former President Bush.

Former President Bush, shown here during the Gulf War, was reportedly the target of an assassination attempt during a 1993 visit to Kuwait.
It's not difficult these days to think of President Bush and Saddam Hussein as gunslingers in the Old West, trigger fingers itching to shoot it out over unfinished business.

After all, the U.S. — under Bush's father — had roughed up Saddam over his 1990 invasion of Kuwait, but didn't finish him off or run him out of town.

And an Iraqi-orchestrated assassination plot against the elder Bush nearly 10 years ago still hangs heavy over younger Bush's presidency.

The 43-day Gulf War was ignited after the Iraqi military marched into neighboring Kuwait, took over the government and declared the tiny nation a province of Iraq. An international coalition led by the U.S. intervened in January 1991, ejecting Iraq and ending the occupation.

As for why the elder Bush didn't rout Saddam when he had the chance, he and senior advisers have explained in their memoirs that the U.N. mandate was only to force Iraqi troops from Kuwait. To have gone beyond, they have said, would have upset a delicate balance among Arab nations and endangered Arab peace talks with Israel.

The senior Bush traveled to Kuwait on April 4, 1993, to take part in a celebration marking the victory. Shortly before he arrived, Kuwaiti authorities seized 16 people and accused them of planning to set off a car bomb to kill Bush either as he arrived at the airport or during the celebration.

An investigation, which included the FBI and CIA, concluded there was "compelling evidence" that there had been a plot and that the Iraqi intelligence service, run by Saddam, was behind it.

In response, President Clinton launched 23 cruise missiles against the intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in June 1993.

The assassination plot is something that has weighed on the younger President Bush. He told a fund-raising crowd last fall:

"There's no doubt (that Saddam) can't stand us. After all, this is the guy that tried to kill my dad at one time."

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