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saddam's life

Gunning for Saddam
Program #2005
Original Airdate: November 8, 2001

Written, produced and directed by
Michael Kirk

Co-produced and reported by
Jim Gilmore

Lowell Bergman

NARRATOR: While the nation's military unleashes its war machine on Usama bin Laden and the Taliban, powerful forces in Washington are pressing the president to attack a bigger target, Saddam Hussein.

    KHIDHIR HAMZA, Dir. Iraqi Nuclear Weapons Pgm. '87-'94: There is absolutely no choice to removing Saddam, and no alternative. Saddam has to be removed.

NARRATOR: They would turn America's might toward Saddam because some say he tried to kill the president's father.

    R. JAMES WOOLSEY, CIA Director '93-'97: There's one that we have him absolutely dead to rights, and that's the 1993 attempt to kill President Bush.

NARRATOR: And that Saddam has been training terrorists in a secret location.

    IRAQI ARMY DEFECTOR: [through interpreter] They train them how to hijack planes, how to pilot planes, how to blow up planes.

    ANALYST: If that is not exporting terrorism, I don't know what else.

NARRATOR: They believe Saddam is the master of bioterrorism.

    RICHARD BUTLER, UNSCOM Chief '97-'99: This man and his addiction to weapons of mass destruction is actually a very serious problem.

NARRATOR: And many argue with our without proof, Saddam must go.

    RICHARD PERLE, Chairman, Defense Policy Board: There can be no victory in the war against terrorism if, at the end of it, Saddam Hussein is still in power.

NARRATOR: Tonight, as a debate rages over the White House's next move in the war on terror, FRONTLINE examines the politics behind Gunning for Saddam.

    Pres. GEORGE H. W. BUSH: I am pleased to announce that at midnight tonight, Eastern Standard Time, exactly 100 hours since ground operations commenced and six weeks since the start of Operation Desert Storm, all United States and coalition forces will suspend offensive combat operations.

NARRATOR: At the end of the Gulf war, a critical decision was made: We would not march to Baghdad.

    Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: This nation has watched its sons and daughters with pride. And as president, I can report to the nation aggression is defeated. The war is over.

NARRATOR: It was enough, we were told, that we had kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. We declared victory.

But when the Gulf war ended, Saddam Hussein and his elite military units were still in power. Saddam controlled stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological materials.

    Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: [March 1, 1991] You know, to be very honest with you, I don't- I haven't yet felt this- this wonderfully euphoric feeling that many of the American people feel. You mentioned World War II. There was a- there was a definitive end to that conflict. And now we have Saddam Hussein still there.

NARRATOR: For the next 10 years, the United States was always worried about Saddam. And he has said he was always at war with America. America created no-fly zones, regularly shooting at his planes or bombing his radar sites and more.

Yet Saddam survived despite a popular uprising, despite economic sanctions controlling all trade into his country, despite assassination attempts on his ministers, despite U.N. arms inspectors bent on destroying his strategic weapons. Nothing has worked.

Then, in June of 1996, Washington took secret action. The White House ordered the CIA to organize a coup d'etat.

FRANK ANDERSON, CIA Near East Division Chief (1991-1994): [1999] It's frequently the case that the CIA is called upon to develop some kind of a covert action program in response to intractable and maybe even insoluble problems that confront the government.

NARRATOR: But in Baghdad, a special unit of Iraqi intelligence had studied every coup of the 20th century. Saddam Hussein was ready.

AHMED CHALABI, Iraqi Opposition Leader: [1999] Saddam is a far better plotter, a more apt and accomplished plotter, than the CIA will ever be. He is good.

NARRATOR: Saddam believes he knows who will betray him even before they know it themselves. The CIA thought it had recruited officers within Saddam's tight inner circle.

TARIQ AZIZ, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister: [1999] They don't know the officers in the army. How could they manage a coup d'etat, a military coup d'etat? Whom do they know? Hmm?

NARRATOR: The plotters were told that America would recognize them as Iraq's new leaders. They were given special mobile phones with direct lines to the CIA. But Saddam had penetrated the coup. His agents burst into homes across Baghdad. They tortured and executed hundreds of officers. Then they found the CIA's phones. An Iraqi intelligence officer placed a call. An American agent answered. He was told, "Your men are dead. Pack up and go home."

FRANK ANDERSON: We ignored the history of tyrants. It's generally been the case that somebody who's on top of a totalitarian system stays there until he dies.

NARRATOR: By 1998 in Washington, the survival of Saddam had become the focus of attention for one group of Republicans led by an influential conservative defense analyst named Paul Wolfowitz.

ELAINE SCIOLINO, "The New York Times": Three years ago, a number of leading military policy makers wrote a letter basically arguing that Saddam Hussein had to be overthrown. Paul Wolfowitz was one of the signatories. The current secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, signed the letter. The leading lights of the conservative wing of the Republican Party signed the letter.

NARRATOR: And then, at the governor's mansion in Austin, Texas, in ones and twos, the Republican leaders made their pilgrimage.

EVAN THOMAS, Asst. Managing Editor, "Newsweek": When George Bush was running for president, he essentially went to school, and various great and worthy men trooped down to Austin to teach George Bush about the world. And by and large, they told him that Iraq was unfinished business. But they had to be a little careful about it because, of course, George Bush's father was the one who hadn't finished the business. And if George W. Bush was elected president, he may end up having to do what his father didn't do or couldn't do, and that is killing off Saddam Hussein.

NARRATOR: It was perhaps inevitable, but what to do about Saddam Hussein would very soon become a key question for this president. It would happen just at the end of the week of September 11th. After visiting ground zero in Manhattan, the president flew by helicopter to Camp David for a war council with his closest advisers.

ELAINE SCIOLINO: The first weekend after the attacks of September 11th, George W. Bush had a meeting at Camp David with his top advisers, including Colin Powell, the secretary of state. And there was a lively debate about Iraq policy, in which some people from the Pentagon were arguing that the war against terrorism should include Saddam Hussein. And Colin Powell was arguing, "No. Absolutely not. One step at a time."

NARRATOR: The debate pitted Powell against Paul Wolfowitz, who was now second in command at the Defense Department.

EVAN THOMAS: Within the Bush administration, there's arguably only one strategic thinker, and it's not the secretary of state. It's not Colin Powell. The one strategic thinker is Paul Wolfowitz, who's the number-two man at Defense. He thinks the way Kissinger does, in geo-global strategic terms, and the way- and he's pretty hawkish. And in his book, if you don't deal with Iraq, you're going to have coalitions until you're blue in the face, but they're not going to do you any good.

DENNIS ROSS, Special Middle East Envoy, '93-'01: I think there is a feeling that you're not going to be able to resolve this scourge of terror if you don't deal with Iraq. And there's a particular moment now, because we're mobilized. Forget the rest of the world, we're mobilized. We understand the affront is so egregious that we have to act.

And I think underlying this perception is an assumption that maybe the moment won't last, so you should act while you have the moment. I think that's what moves them. And the other view, which is more oriented towards the multilateral approach, is inclined towards a more minimalist approach in terms of how you deal with objectives, at least initially.

NARRATOR: But in the early days, there was enough unknown about the events of September 11th that after this meeting, even Powell ordered his staff to build a dossier on Saddam Hussein. Saddam was, as they say in the Pentagon, "in play."

Four weeks later, the president held his first prime-time news conference. His approval ratings were at an astonishing 90 percent. War was in the air.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [October 11, 2001] Good evening. I would like to report to the American people on the state of our war against terror.

NARRATOR: Eventually, a question was asked about Saddam Hussein

    HELEN THOMAS: We understand that you have advisers who are urging you to go after Iraq. Do you really think that the American people will tolerate you widening the war beyond Afghanistan?

NARRATOR: Washington insiders listened very closely as the president considered his answer.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: As I mentioned Helen, this is a long war against terrorist activity. There's no question that the leader of Iraq is an evil man. After all, he gassed his own people. We know he's been developing weapons of mass destruction. And I think it's in his advantage to allow inspectors back in his country to make sure that he's conforming to the agreement he made after he was soundly trounced in the Gulf war. And so we're watching him very carefully. We're watching him carefully.

NARRATOR: That answer seemed to signal the president was listening to Colin Powell. If he took on Saddam, it wouldn't be soon.

EVAN THOMAS, Asst. Managing Editor, "Newsweek": So far, they have the president's ear. But I understand from people on the inside, Bush listens to Wolfowitz, partly for political reasons. He's got to be careful about his right flank, so sheerly for political reasons, he's paying attention. And I think he knows in his heart of hearts that in this long, long war, eventually the needle's going to point back to Saddam. He may have to finish the business that his father began.

NARRATOR: Soon after the attacks on New York and Washington, at the Pentagon a group of influential former government officials were convened as part of a defense policy review board. They were determined to keep the administration focused on Saddam.

EVAN THOMAS: The Defense Policy Board is this kind of rump organization that would be meaningless, except that Richard Perle runs it. Richard Perle is a very shrewd ideologue, known as the "Prince of Darkness" back in the Reagan administration for his opposition to arms control.

RICHARD PERLE, Asst. Secy. of Defense, Int'l Security '81-'87: I don't want to talk about the deliberations of the Defense Policy Board, which are confidential. I think the importance of the board is really the importance of the individuals who serve on it. And when you have people like Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger and Harold Brown and Newt Gingrich and Tom Foley and others applying their considerable intelligence and experience to a difficult issue, that counts for something.

ELAINE SCIOLINO, "The New York Times": You know, the State Department knew absolutely nothing about this. There are people in the State Department, on Capitol Hill, that refer to what is going on in the Pentagon as "the cabal," that there is a group in the Pentagon, aligned with some people outside of government, that is absolutely determined to lay the groundwork for a strategy to get Saddam out with the use of American military troops.

NARRATOR: The board heard the bill of particulars against Saddam Hussein, a litany largely unproven in the specific, but to them powerful in the aggregate, about Saddam and his involvement with terrorists.

Take, for example, the facts surrounding the first bombing of the World Trade Center. The official version said a loose-knit band of terrorists did it. There is a revisionist version that insists the bombing had to have state sponsorship.

It goes like this: Two Iraqi intelligence agents secretly masterminded the plot, which was then executed by lower-level men who even themselves had no idea of Iraq's involvement. The Iraqi agents fled after the bombing. One, Abdul Rahman Yasin, is an Iraqi- American who fled directly to Baghdad, still wanted by the FBI. The other, Ramzi Yousef, a man of many identities.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY, CIA Director '93-'97: He may be Ramzi Yousef. He may be Abdul Bossit, a Pakistani. One thing does seem reasonably clear to me, which is that he's a sophisticated man, he's a subtle man, and he's the sort of man who might well have a tie to an intelligence organization.

NARRATOR: James Woolsey is a member of the Defense Policy Review Board. Like others committed to the case against Saddam, he sifts bits of information, hoping for proof. One of his most prolific sources is the author Laurie Mylroie.

LAURIE MYLROIE, Author, "Study of Revenge": Ramzi Yousef fled the United States successfully the night of the Trade Center bombing. Two years later, he emerged as a result of a plot he was running in the Philippines. January, 1995, Ramzi Yousef planned to bomb a dozen U.S. airplanes flying over the Pacific. He had a liquid explosive that he could get past airport metal detectors, and the idea was to put that explosive on the planes.

NARRATOR: The mystery of Ramzi Yousef has become critical to some who are trying to prove Iraq's involvement in the '93 bombing.

At the United Nations, the Iraqis have steadfastly denied their involvement in terrorist activities. And recently, their ambassador denied it again.

Amb. MOHAMMED ALDOURI, Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N.: Honestly, it is not true. There is nothing to prove that, and my government denies always that. And really, we have no- any kind of relations. They are- this is- this is just- just false, just not true.

    Pres. BILL CLINTON: [June 26, 1993] This past April, the Kuwaiti government uncovered what they suspected was a car-bombing plot to assassinate former president George Bush while he was visiting Kuwait City.

NARRATOR: One accusation about Saddam the hardliners say they have solid proof about is the 1993 attempted assassination of former president Bush in Kuwait.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: I think it's pretty clear that we have him dead to rights on trying to assassinate former president Bush in the spring of 1993.

LAURIE MYLROIE: The Kuwaitis discovered the bomb before it could go off, and that bomb could be linked to other bombs built by Iraqi intelligence.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: The CIA looked into the forensics of the bomb and told President Clinton that it was a Mukhabarat- it was an Iraqi government bomb. And he then asked the FBI to double-check and sent an FBI forensics team over. They did the same thing. We both said, "Yes, this is an Iraqi government plot."

    Pres. BILL CLINTON: [June 26, 1993] Based on their investigation, there is compelling evidence that there was, in fact, a plot to assassinate former president Bush.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: We all have our different thresholds. As far as I'm concerned, the fact that he tried to assassinate the first President Bush, and nothing really was ever effectively done about it by the U.S. government-

LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, we blew up the Mukhabarat headquarters.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: We shot a few cruise missiles into an empty building in the middle of the night. I think he probably laughed at the time and is still laughing.

Amb. MOHAMMED ALDOURI: This is also another- another joke. And Iraqi people and Iraqi government, when they listen to these kind of allegation of information, they laugh. And me personally, I laugh, too. And also this- this kind of propaganda we know, not since now, since 15- 50 years, these allegations, because of the Zionist dominance of the media here in the United States. This is the main- this is the main reason.

NARRATOR: The one part of the bill of particulars against Saddam that gets the most serious attention in Washington is his desire to possess weapons of mass destruction. There's his nuclear program, which began 30 years ago, when a man known as "Saddam's bomb maker" went to work.

KHIDHIR HAMZA, Dir. Iraqi Nuclear Weapons Pgm. '87-'94: We needed two or three nuclear weapons. Israel has three population centers. We thought that three nuclear weapons at the time were good enough. And Saddam said fine, accepted the program, sent me to France to buy a reactor, which I did, for $400 million in 1974.

NARRATOR: The Israelis bombed that reactor. And in the '90s, United Nations inspectors - UNSCOM - again slowed Saddam's nuclear production. But his bomb maker, who has since defected to the West, believes the nuclear program is alive and well.

KHIDHIR HAMZA: I believe Iraq now has fully functional design and complete manufacturing capability for the parts, all parts of the nuclear weapon. And the only thing Iraq remains is the nuclear core. And that- according to German intelligence, that Iraq should be able to complete this part by 2005 and have three nuclear weapons. It might not be three, though. It might be one or two. That's good enough.

A nuclear bomb will turn Saddam into a huge figure in the region. Here is a man who can stand up to the West, who made it, who have the weapon, who have it, who can do it, OK? He will be a huge figure in the region.

[ Read the full interview]

NARRATOR: Saddam also had, and may still have, chemical weapons. And he's used them. Cyanide and the nerve gas tabun killed thousands in the war with Iran, and he used sarin and mustard gas against the Kurds in northern Iraq. And now, with bioterrorism on the front page, questions about Saddam's biological materials have become more urgent.

RICHARD PERLE, Chairman, Defense Policy Board: The important change came with the discovery that anthrax can be delivered anonymously to Americans. And it is now clear that he has the option of providing weapons of mass destruction to anonymous terrorists, and that is a threat that this country would be foolish to continue to accept.

NARRATOR: For eight years, Saddam Hussein played cat-and-mouse with the United Nations' inspection teams sent to destroy Iraq's strategic weapons. But biological weapons are notoriously easy to hide, and for four years the inspectors searched in vain.

RICHARD BUTLER, UNSCOM Chief '97-'99: The degree of resistance that Saddam showed to our inspection and arms control was a direct sign of the importance he attached to a given weapon. He seems to be really attached to the idea of killing people with germs. They tried so hard to keep us away from their biology program.

What did they have? Everything: anthrax, plague, botulinum, gangrene, camel pox. Would you believe there's a thing in Iraq called camel pox? I mean, everything. Quantities and qualities, not absolutely sure because, you know, they threw us out three years ago, and we don't know what they now have.

Anthrax, however- leading biological agent, leading candidate. And we know that Saddam loaded this into shells, bombs and missile warheads. I had in my own hand pieces of a destroyed missile warhead that we swabbed, and it had anthrax residues in it. It was a serious program.

[ Saddam's weapons of mass destruction]

NARRATOR: Saddam had entrusted the security of his strategic weapons to his own son-in-law, Hussein Kamel. But in 1995, a family quarrel cracked Saddam's wall of secrecy. On August 7th, Hussein Kamel suddenly left Baghdad with his brother and their wives, Saddam's two daughters.

At a press conference, Hussein Kamel spoke openly about Saddam's security apparatus.

    HUSSEIN KAMEL: [through interpreter] I work before in the establishment of the special security machinery-

NARRATOR: In private, he told the chief U.N. arms inspector exactly where Saddam had hidden his biological weapons.

SAID K. ABURISH, "S. Hussein: The Politics of Revenge": [1999] All of a sudden, there is Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, standing in front of them and saying, "I have a document that can prove to you that your inspection has not uncovered everything Saddam has."

NARRATOR: Armed with Hussein Kamel's information, the U.N. raided Iraq's main biological weapons plant. They destroyed the equipment and the growth medium, but some arms control experts contend huge amounts of anthrax are unaccounted for.

Nine months later, Hussein Kamel received a phone call from his father-in-law.

SAID K. ABURISH: [1999] Saddam told his sons-in-law that if they came back to Iraq, they would be completely safe. And they foolishly believed Saddam.

NARRATOR: The moment they crossed the border, Saddam's daughters were separated from their husbands. Three days later, Hussein Kamel and his brother were killed.

Saddam's taste for revenge and blood is legendary, and it began when he first seized power. In 1979, as he assumed power, he summoned the party leadership to a meeting. He said there were traitors in their midst. He read out their names. One by one, they were led out, never to be seen again. After sending some of his closest friends to their deaths, Saddam wept.

KHIDHIR HAMZA, Dir. Iraqi Nuclear Weapons Pgm. '87-'94: Saddam is very vengeful. Saddam believes in getting back and attacking you, and he will drop everything on you he has. This guy is not going to stay down. He's not going to take the safe way out of this. He is going to fight in any way he can.

NARRATOR: By December, 1998, Saddam's threatening and bullying tactics had finally managed to get the United Nations' inspection teams to pull out of Iraq. President Clinton demanded Saddam allow them to return, and when he didn't, the U.S. responded with Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombardment on Baghdad and key military installations. But when it was over, the inspectors would be gone and Saddam would still have the expertise to build his weapons.

RICHARD BUTLER: Saddam and his addiction to weapons of mass destruction-why do I use that word? You know, I use that word really carefully. I've thought about this very deeply. Not attachment, but addiction, a compulsive behavior, a deep belief that somehow these weapons will open up the world, you know, will make him the leader of the world, the new Nebuchadnezzar from Biblical times, whatever. Believe me, they're right. Washington is right. This man and his addiction to weapons of mass destruction is actually a very serious problem.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Your government says that you did have an anthrax program at one time.

MOHAMMED ALDOURI, Iraqi Amb. to the U.N.: Yes. Of course, yes.

LOWELL BERGMAN: But it was not the kind of anthrax that-

Amb. MOHAMMED ALDOURI: This was liquid, only liquid. Not in powder.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Do you still have an anthrax program?

Amb. MOHAMMED ALDOURI: No, absolutely. Absolutely. We don't need it, you know. There is no need. No. We have no- anyway, we have no- any need to do that because now everything is under control and-

LOWELL BERGMAN: What do you mean, "Everything is under control?"

Amb. MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Is under control. The United Nations have been there and-

LOWELL BERGMAN: No one has been there for three years, though.

Amb. MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Yeah, well that doesn't mean anything. That doesn't mean anything. Everything was clear now. And our position is very clear. We have a very clear-cut position that we have no more such kind of weapons at all.

KHIDHIR HAMZA: In biology- what do you need in biology? Aside from some few equipment you need to import, mostly fermenters, dryers and stuff like that. All these could be re-manufactured in Iraq. And this is what the inspectors took away. You don't need high-grade growth media to do biological agents. What you need is a growth media. And a growth media can be done in Iraq.

NARRATOR: Within the last two weeks, new clues have emerged in the case against Saddam, the possibility that as recently as last year, he was training terrorists in Iraq. Captain Sabah Khodada is a former army officer who defected from Iraq. He made a crude drawing of what he says is a terrorist training camp on the outskirts of Baghdad known as Salman Pak.

[ Study the map]

SABAH KHODADA, Former Iraqi Army Captain: [through interpreter] Training includes hijacking and kidnapping of airplanes, trains, public buses, and planting explosives in cities, sabotaging houses, assassinations. Training also included how to prepare for suicidal operations.

LOWELL BERGMAN: This was the special operations camp. What kind of training was going on, you say, of non-Iraqis?

SABAH KHODADA: Arabs, non-Iraqis, were trained separately from us. There were strict orders not to meet with them and not to talk to them.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Were they religious?

SABAH KHODADA: They sound very Muslim. I know that because one time I salute them, "Salaam Aleikum [sp?]," and they responded with "Salaam Aleikum." Those Arabs are real volunteers. They come in small numbers, and they come with the intention to do some real suicidal operations.

NARRATOR: And just this week, another defector also telling the story about training terrorists in Iraq. This man, a lieutenant general still in the Middle East and fearful for his life, served Saddam for decades. He spoke exclusively to FRONTLINE and New York Times reporter Chris Hedges.

CHRIS HEDGES, "The New York Times": Does he believe that the people being trained at Salman Pak were Islamic militants, or were they just secular Arabs?

IRAQI DEFECTOR: [through interpreter] For sure they were Islamic militants because they were all very strict in their daily prayers.

CHRIS HEDGES: And what did they look like?

IRAQI DEFECTOR: They looked quite scruffy. They were certainly not of a military caliber.

NARRATOR: The defectors tell of training terrorists in a Boeing 707 resting next to railroad tracks on the edge of Salman Pak.

Amb. MOHAMMED ALDOURI: I am lucky that I know the area, this Salman Pak. This is a very beautiful area with gardens, with trees, with- the river is there, very, very nice place. It is not possible to do such a program there, because there's no place for planes, for airplanes there. [laughs]

NARRATOR: The existence of the plane has been confirmed by United Nations inspectors. The general says he saw two groups of special trainees. The first came in 1995. The second came last year.

CHRIS HEDGES: How large were these units?

IRAQI DEFECTOR: [through interpreter] I don't recall the exact number in '95, but during 2000, there were definitely under 40.

CHRIS HEDGES: What did they do over the five months besides practice on the plane?

IRAQI DEFECTOR: The only time I saw them was when they are near the plane.

CHRIS HEDGES: Do you think that any of the activities that you saw at Salman Pak are tied in any way to the terrorist attacks on September 11th in New York and Washington?

IRAQI DEFECTOR: That was my immediate gut feeling. And my feeling is there's a connection.

CHRIS HEDGES: And why did you feel there was a connection?

IRAQI DEFECTOR: Because the fact that we had those Arabs in '95 and in 2000 in such a closed and top-secret location, and the fact of the nature of the work carried out by the special operations units.

LOWELL BERGMAN: And they trained people on how to take over the plane, what, using weapons or- how- how?

SABAH KHODADA: [through interpreter] I saw them getting trained on this kind of situations where security will not allow you to get weapons into the plane. Then what you need to do is to use all available methods and very advanced terrorizing methods. These methods are used to terrorize the passengers and the crew of the plane. They are even trained how to use utensils in the- for food, like forks and knives provided in the plane.

Editor's Note [November 2005]: To date, there has been no verification of claims by Sabah Khodada or the Iraqi lieutenant general about activities at Salman Pak. Read more.

NARRATOR: American officials have confirmed that they, too, have met with the former general. They say it was unlikely that the training on the 707 is linked to the hijackings of September 11th. And a further caution. These defectors have been brought to FRONTLINE's attention by one group of Iraqi dissidents, the INC, the Iraqi National Congress.

In 1998, they persuaded the U.S. Congress to give them $98 million to destabilize Saddam, but they ran into formidable opposition, and they never got the money.

RICHARD PERLE, Chairman, Defense Policy Board: The INC is highly regarded on Capitol Hill, and I believe highly regarded by a number of people who know the INC leadership well. It is not held in high regard by the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency, who are the- together the architects of the failed Iraq policy, including the mistakes of 1991 and repeated failures to deal with Saddam since then.

NARRATOR: The INC is but one dissident faction that has tried to overthrow Saddam. In the days after the Gulf war ceasefire in southern Iraq, the Shia Muslims took up arms against Saddam. His rule there quickly collapsed.

JAMES A. BAKER III, Secretary of State '89-'92: [1995] We did not think- the president nor any of us thought at that time that Saddam would- would continue in power, having suffered such a- such a resounding defeat.

NARRATOR: But in the ceasefire negotiations, General Norman Schwarzkopf had agreed that armed Iraqi helicopters could fly in southern Iraq. Saddam Hussein now loyal forces from Baghdad to suppress the uprisings in the south.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Was it a mistake to allow his helicopters to fly after the war?

BRENT SCOWCROFT, National Security Adviser '89-'92: Yes. Yes, it was a mistake. No question about it.

NARRATOR: American troops could see the fighting from their positions, but they were ordered not to intervene.

Gen. COLIN POWELL, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff '89-'93: [1995] My advice to the president throughout the period of this uprising is that this did not seem to me to be an operation that we needed to get- get involved in because I couldn't figure out who was doing what to whom. And it would have required us to move further into Iraq and take responsibility for that part of Iraq and for a purpose that was not stated.

NARRATOR: There are estimates that tens of thousands of Shiites were killed.

TARIQ AZIZ, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister: [1999] The Americans did not interfere, therefore it took us only few days to recover from the surprise, to reorganize our troops, reorganize our resources and impose peace and order on the southern governors. It took us two weeks to do that.

NARRATOR: Now there was a second uprising in Iraq, this time in the Kurdish north.

Amb. PETER W. GALBRAITH, Adviser, Sen. Foreign Relations Committee: [1995] At that point, everything hung in the balance. Had the United States signaled its support for the uprising, I am convinced it would have succeeded. There were Iraqi generals who were, in fact, in touch with the opposition and who were sitting on the fence, waiting to see what would happen. And when the United States did nothing, said nothing, sat on its hands, of course, they took the course of caution.

NARRATOR: Saddam Hussein's troops then attacked. But Washington had decided it did not want to support this uprising with military force.

    Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: [April 3, 1991, Florida] I do not want to push American forces beyond our mandate. We've done the heavy lifting. Our kids performed with superior courage, and they don't need to be thrust into a war that's been going on for years.

NARRATOR: Saddam's forces advanced, and the cities of Kurdistan emptied before them. Now a million people were on the move.

Amb. PETER W. GALBRAITH: Everybody knew of George Bush's call for them to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein, and they all had exactly one question: "Why isn't Bush helping us?"

NARRATOR: The American pilots patrolling the skies above Iraq could see the Kurds being chased into the mountains, but they had strict orders not to intervene.

Capt. MERRICK KRAUSE, F-15 Pilot: We saw helicopters chasing a lot of people down a road, and we saw the gunships shooting at them. You could see the smoke coming out of the gunship and occasionally see flashes of the tracers, even though the sun had just started coming up.

    KURDISH WOMAN: Saddam Hussein bombing, helicopters destroyed us. I don't know. They saw this, but they don't talk. Why? We are human, like you, you are!

LOWELL BERGMAN: Wasn't there an uprising in the north? Wasn't there an uprising in the south?


LOWELL BERGMAN: Didn't we see their military killing people?


LOWELL BERGMAN: And we didn't intervene.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Of course not.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Not from the air.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Of course not.

LOWELL BERGMAN: We didn't cut off their gasoline supplies.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Because- OK, because- first of all, one of our objectives was not to have Iraq split up into constituent parts. It's our- it's- it's a fundamental interest of the United States to keep a balance in that area, in Iraq and- in Iraq.

LOWELL BERGMAN: So part of the reason not- to not go after his army at that point was to make sure there was a unified country, whether or not it was ruled by Saddam.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, partly. But suppose we- suppose we went in and intervened, and the Kurds declare independence, and the Shiites declare independence. Then do we go to war against them to keep a unified Iraq?

LOWELL BERGMAN: But why would we care, at that point? Our interest, I thought, was-

BRENT SCOWCROFT: We'd care a lot!

LOWELL BERGMAN: I thought we had two interests. One was to evict the Iraqi army from Kuwait. But the other really was to get Saddam out of power.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: No. No, it wasn't.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, either covertly or overtly.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: No. No, it wasn't. That was never- you can't find that anywhere as an objective, either in the U.N. mandate for what we did or in our declarations, that our goal was to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

NARRATOR: By 1995, it was the Iraqi National Congress's turn to receive promises of support from Washington, and they would take their turn trying to unseat Saddam. In March, the INC was on the verge of attacking.

AHMED CHALABI, Iraqi Opposition Leader: [1999] We were there to fight Saddam. We had a sole purpose. We felt we had reached a level which would enable us to challenge Saddam.

NARRATOR: But on the eve of battle, the CIA agents told the rebels' leader, Ahmed Chalabi, that the White House had had second thoughts.

AHMED CHALABI: They came and told us, "You are on your own." They thought they're going to face a Bay of Pigs situation, where Saddam would massacre us, and then they'd look bad.

NARRATOR: It took a year for Saddam Hussein to exact revenge. Columns of dust were seen outside the rebel stronghold. Saddam had launched his counterattack. The rebels begged for American air cover. None came. Now all of Iraq was Saddam's.

KHIDHIR HAMZA, Dir. Iraqi Nuclear Weapons Pgm. '87-'94: Now, nobody want to go into- being in opposition, to go openly against Saddam and support whatever force is going to topple him, and in the end, left like the Iraqi opposition was left in the North and the Kurds were left to deal with Saddam on their own. I mean, why would they? Because the U.S. is now proven in the region to be unreliable. There's no question about it. It's an unreliable partner if you want to do something as dangerous as removing Saddam.

NARRATOR: During the last few weeks, fresh evidence has emerged that gives the case against Saddam new impetus. In 1998, U.S. missiles were fired at Usama bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan. Soon after, bin Laden met with this man, Fahrouk Hijazi, the former head of Iraqi intelligence and ambassador to Turkey. Allegedly, Hijazi offered Iraq as a new home base for bin Laden.

Then, just two weeks ago, Czech officials confirmed that this man, Mohammed Atta, one of the September 11th hijackers, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer last spring in Prague.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY, CIA Director '93-'97: That would be yet another one or more indicators of cooperation between terrorists and- attacking the United States and the government of Iraq.

NARRATOR: But Woolsey's critics argue it is unlikely that Saddam, a secular dictator, would be able to form an alliance with committed fundamentalist suicide bombers.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: He's, I think, perfectly happy to work with fundamentalists. He- people who say he would never work with fundamentalists, I think, are about 15 years out of date. He's restructured the Iraqi flag in his own calligraphy to show "Allah-u Akhbar [sp?]," "God is Great," across the face of it.

[ Read the full interview]

KHIDHIR HAMZA: He cannot get the type of loyalty that people will blow themselves up for him. This is not the type of regime he runs. He doesn't have that kind of people. But a guy like bin Laden would be an excellent complement to the operation he wants. They would supply him with the foot soldiers ready to blow themselves up, and his intelligence apparatus, which is- which can do very tight operations, extremely tight.

NARRATOR: But at the State Department, there are doubters, one who until last January was in charge of counterterrorism. He just isn't buying the connection between bin Laden and Saddam.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN, State Dept. Counterterrorism '98-'01: Over the years, there's been some anecdotal evidence of some contacts, but in my judgment, while I was on- in the government - and again, from my friends who are working on it now - there's no conclusive evidence that I know of that links these networks to any state, including Iraq.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, it depends what you mean by conclusive evidence. "Conclusive evidence" is a phrase that most people think of in a law enforcement context, "beyond a reasonable doubt." And that's not the kind of evidence that you get in intelligence. You get indications. I think that if one sets the standard at "conclusive evidence," one will always be disappointed.

BRENT SCOWCROFT, National Security Adviser '89-'92: You know, this is very hypothetical. If it is Saddam with nuclear weapons, that is not a terrorist problem, that is a state which is a threat to the United States of America. And you deal with it on one- what we're talking about now, this war, is a war on this shadowy network of people. They don't want to be seen. They don't want to blackmail the United States. They're terrorists, and they want-

LOWELL BERGMAN: They want to be seen. They have videotapes of themselves they release.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: They're not- they don't want to be seen in the sense, "Here, let's fight a pitched battle with you." If Saddam deploys nuclear weapons and stand them up there, that is a military threat to the United States. That's- it- the terrorists are a different kind of threat, and they're much more insidious. We had Saddam before. We didn't have September 11th before. And September 11th is a huge threat to us.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Is there any evidence that might be developed-


LOWELL BERGMAN: -about Saddam that would change your mind?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes, of course, there is. If it turns out that there's a terrorist network we don't know anything about, which is threatening to do this or that or the other, and it is funded by Saddam, you bet. Absolutely. But I wouldn't go looking for it.

NARRATOR: Deep inside the Pentagon, planning for an attack on Iraq continues. The Defense Policy Review Board unanimously agreed on the goal that Iraq should be targeted. So now it's up to the president. He has heard the hawks, and he's heard from the men who surrounded his father- Powell, Baker and Scowcroft.

LOWELL BERGMAN: You've heard all the talk about- here in Washington, about we have to deal with Saddam Hussein now. Will that destroy the coalition?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes, virtually instantly. Right now, the area is filled with suspicion of the United States. So if we turn on Iraq now, it will look like we're just using September 11th as an excuse to go after our favorite enemy.

NARRATOR: So for now, the president has decided to wait to face Saddam.

RICHARD PERLE, Chairman, Defense Policy Board: We're conducting this war now in phases. Always bet on phase 1 because phase 1 always happens. Phase 2 sometimes happens, and sometimes it doesn't. So I would have gone about this differently. I would have gone after Iraq immediately. I would not have relegated it to some subsequent phase. But it's all right, as long as we get to Phase 2.

NARRATOR: Saddam has again survived, unless, of course, more evidence emerges.

DENNIS ROSS, Special Middle East Envoy, '93-'01: If the evidence leads you toward Iraq, either in terms of the attack on the World Trade Center- which is to say it doesn't lead you away from Usama bin Laden, but it expands the circle of those who are involved and helped facilitate it, and it includes the Iraqis, that leads you very quickly to Iraq, I think, without any hesitancy.

The other is if there is some kind of link to the Iraqis on biological warfare, again because it's such an acute threat and it's so outrageous and it's so clearly designed to terrorize that if they have a link, it will mobilize great pressure to respond and do something against the Iraqis.

LOWELL BERGMAN: And do we have enough proof now, in your mind?

RICHARD BUTLER, UNSCOM Chief '97-'99: Not yet. Not yet. But the minute we have it, we should act on it.

LOWELL BERGMAN: When will we get it, and what would it be?

RICHARD BUTLER: I don't know. I don't know when we'll get it, but-

LOWELL BERGMAN: Do you know what it would have to be?

RICHARD BUTLER: Well, yeah, some connection between the Saddam regime and what happened on September 11, or the anthrax stuff, something like that.

RICHARD PERLE: I rather doubt that it's Iraqi anthrax. But what the delivery of anthrax through the mail forces us to consider is a range of options available to Saddam Hussein that we didn't consider before. Saddam Hussein has biological weapons. He has a well-known hatred of the United States. He spoke approvingly of the attacks on September 11th. So either we take this to the enemy, or we wait and hope the enemy chooses not to take it to us. But if we wait, it will be his choice and not ours.

Gunning for Saddam

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A FRONTLINE coproduction with Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd.

© 2001

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.

ANNOUNCER: This report continues on FRONTLINE's Web site, which offers more on the arguments for and against going after Saddam, the extended interviews with analysts, Iraqis and journalists, a biographer's assessment of the secrets of Saddam's life and leadership, an overview of Iraq's biochemical weapons development and more. Then join the discussion at PBS on line,, or write an email to or write to this address [DEAR FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134].

Next time on FRONTLINE:

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Either you're with us, or you are with the terrorists.

ANNOUNCER: Saudi Arabia claims to be with us.

    ANALYST: The Saudis have to walk a fine line.

ANNOUNCER: But some of its people are not.

    ANALYST: After the incident, people were jubilant and happy and looking at bin Laden as a hero.

ANNOUNCER: How secure is this alliance?

    ANALYST: You can call us many things, but politically stupid we are not.

ANNOUNCER: Is this a Saudi time bomb? Next time on FRONTLINE.

Gunning for Saddam is available on videocassette from PBS Home Video by calling 1-800-PLAY-PBS. [$19.98 plus S&H]

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