Hunting Saddam: Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein Has Survived Covert Efforts to Eliminate Him, but He May Be Facing the Endgame. (Iraq)

By Blanche, Ed | The Middle East, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Hunting Saddam: Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein Has Survived Covert Efforts to Eliminate Him, but He May Be Facing the Endgame. (Iraq)


Blanche, Ed, The Middle East


On the evening of 27 February 1991, only hours before George W. Bush's father called a halt to Operation Desert Storm, two US Air Force F-111 bombers, callsigns Cardinal 1 and 2, dropped two 4,700-pound penetration bombs on an underground bunker near the Al Taji air base, northwest of Baghdad, which senior Iraqi commanders were known to use.

The huge bombs, known as GBU-28s, had been specially made to target Saddam Hussein and had arrived at Taif air base in Saudi Arabia from Florida aboard a giant C-141 transport only five hours earlier.

The raid was the Americans' last desperate bid to kill the Iraqi leader before the ceasefire took effect. Cardinal 1 swept in from the east and dropped its bomb, but it missed. Cardinal 2 scored a direct hit, destroying the bunker buried 15 metres underground, which earlier strikes with 2,000-pound "penetrators" had failed to knock out. Several hours later US military commanders learned that Saddam had not been in the bunker, as they had hoped.

Now, 12 years on, Saddam faces renewed attempts to kill him as George W. Bush picks up where his father left off. But this time, the game has changed. Bush the younger is out to wipe the slate clean and seems to be prepared to rid himself of the troublesome tyrant by any and all means. He wants Saddam out of the way, "dead or alive". He said the same thing about Osama bin Laden, but that nemesis still eludes the American president. Without Bin Laden's scalp on his belt, Saddam has become a convenient substitute. White House spokes- man Ari Fleischer made it abundantly clear on 1 October that the administration would be only too happy to see Saddam assassinated--by his own people, of course. US law prohibits the assassination of foreign leaders, but Fleischer's comments were the bluntest made by a senior administration official about the options of achieving "regime change" in Iraq without a war. Asked about congressional cost estimates of $9 billion-$13 billion for a war against Iraq, he said: "I can only say that the cost of a one-way ticket is substantially less than that. The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it upon themselves, is substantially less than that." He hastened to add: "This is not a statement of administration policy. The point is that if the Iraqis took matters into their own hands, no one around the world would shed a tear ... Regime change is welcome in whatever form it takes."

Whatever way Bush and his advisers put it, there seems little doubt that the decision has been made to kill Saddam if the opportunity presents itself. The brutal dictator that Senator Trent Lott, the Republican leader, has taken to calling "So Damn Insane", is firmly in the administration's crosshairs again.

During the six-week air campaign in 1991, 260 of 36,046 "strike sorties" were designated "L" for leadership. That was less than 1% of the bombing missions, but these attacks, which targeted Saddam's palaces and other buildings he was known to frequent, were intended to decapitate the regime. No doubt, similar attacks will be mounted in the war that is looming.

Robert M. Gates, then a National Security Adviser and later director of the CIA, recalled that the White House of Bush the elder "lit a candle every night and hoped that Saddam Hussein would be killed in a bunker. Those candles will be lit again if we have to bomb again. Command and control sites will be targeted and we hope that Saddam is in one of them."

Assassinating Saddam would be the most obvious and expedient way of getting rid of him. But it is prohibited by Executive Order No. 11905 signed by President Gerald Ford on 18 February 1976, following political scandals caused by bungled CIA efforts to assassinate foreign leaders in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded on 20 November 1975 that plots against five foreign leaders under Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. …

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