the long road to war

Over the past decade both the U.S. and Iraq have personalized their confrontation through assassination plots. Here's a summary of three known attempts.

January 1991

Saddam Targeted During Gulf War

While Saddam officially was not a target in the Gulf War, the allies launched 260 missions against sites where they thought he might be hiding.

In its 1996 "The Gulf War" report, FRONTLINE interviewed Gen. Wafic Al Samarrai, head of Iraqi Military Intelligence, who described some of the measures Saddam took to escape being killed: "He was driven around the city in an old taxi. It's strange, but true. And Saddam also used a lorry to move around the city. These were some of the measures he resorted to."

Gen. John Leide, Director of Coalition Intelligence, confirmed Saddam was a target -- especially after Iraqi television showed pictures of Saddam in an American-made Winnebago. "When we saw him sitting in a Winnebago," said Leide, "we went after the Winnebagos with a vengeance and whenever we saw one -- or tried to find one -- we would attack them as quickly as we possibly could."

And Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf described how close the U.S. came: "We had a report one night that a very, very large convoy [was] moving down a road. We attacked that convoy and it's my understanding that we hit the vehicle in front of his and the vehicle behind his and killed the bodyguards in it and didn't touch him."

April 1993

Assassination Plot on George H.W. Bush

During the former president's visit to Kuwait to commemorate the coalition's victory over Iraq in the Gulf War, Kuwaiti authorities arrested 17 people allegedly involved in a car bomb plot to kill George H.W. Bush. Through interviews with the suspects and examinations of the bomb's circuitry and wiring, the FBI established that the plot had been directed by the Iraqi Intelligence Service. A Kuwaiti court later convicted all but one of the defendants.

In retaliation, President Clinton two months later ordered the firing of 23 cruise missiles at Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters in Baghdad. The day before the attack U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine K. Albright went before the Security Council to present evidence of the Iraqi plot. And, after the U.S. attack, Vice President Gore said the attack "was intended to be a proportionate response at the place where this plot" to assassinate Bush "was hatched and implemented."

June 1996

White House Orders CIA to Organize Coup

For this covert action program, the CIA recruited officers within Saddam's tight inner circle to help in a military coup d'etat. The plotters were told that the U.S. would recognize them as Iraq's new leaders. They were given special mobile phones with direct lines to the CIA.

But Saddam was ready. A special unit of Iraqi intelligence had studied every coup of the 20th century and they penetrated this one. Saddam's agents burst into homes across Baghdad and tortured and executed hundreds of officers.

Then Saddam's agents found the CIA's phones. An Iraqi intelligence officer placed a call. A U.S. agent answered. He was told, "Your men are dead. Pack up and go home."


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