Politics & Policy

Saddam: What We Now Know

Bin Laden struck first, but Saddam was at least as big a terror threat.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Additional sources for the information in this column are available here.

Saddam Hussein was a WMD threat and a terror threat to the United States and its allies.

Too many of the post-9/11 critics have forgotten or were never aware of this fact. Even in last week’s NRO symposium, writers called the invasion of Iraq an “unjust war,” an “optional war,” and finally a “result of the flawed intelligence that skewed the perceived threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime to the United States.”

There is little doubt that the pre-war intelligence on Iraq was faulty, mostly because of Saddam’s continuing attempts to convince Iran that he still maintained a potent WMD capacity despite years of sanctions. Unfortunately, in the years of recriminations following the invasion of Iraq the actual truth was lost, until it became commonplace for even those who supported the invasion to admit that Saddam did not pose a WMD threat. Likewise, as he was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks, many believe he was not a terror threat either.

Before the consensus is written in stone, it is worth going over the evidence collected since the removal of the Saddam regime. Leaving aside the fact that he slaughtered more than a million of his own people and was prone to launching unprovoked wars against his neighbors — both good reasons for his violent removal — what threat did Saddam actually pose? Let’s go through just a sliver of the evidence.


When American tanks smashed into Baghdad, Saddam had already completed construction of an anthrax production facility, which was a week away from going live. If it had been permitted to go into production, this one facility could have produced ten tons of weaponized anthrax a year. Experts estimate that anthrax spores that infect the skin will kill 50 percent of untreated victims. Inhaled anthrax will kill 100 percent of untreated victims and 50 percent of those receiving immediate treatment. That means that a mere 1 percent of Saddam’s annual production (200 pounds) sprayed by crop-duster over New York City would have killed upwards of three million people.

Anthrax, however, was far from the only WMD Saddam was actively researching and working assiduously to acquire. He also had teams working overtime to create a stockpile of some of the most deadly biological weapons possible. Several years ago, the press had a field day when two suspected mobile bio-labs, presented at the U.N. as evidence of Saddam’s continuing WMD development programs, actually turned out to be weather-balloon stations. That same press, however, then ignored the fact that postwar investigators found five actual mobile bio-labs in and around Baghdad. One of these labs was discovered in a mosque, which had been placed off-limits to prewar U.N. inspectors. Another was found in Baghdad’s Central Public Health Laboratory. One can imagine the anguished cries from the Left if we had bombed what the Iraqis claimed was a public-health facility. Saddam even had a huge bio-warfare production facility masquerading as the Samarra Drug Company. This facility would have been capable of producing up to 10,000 liters of deadly pathogens a year. It was less than a month from going into production when the invasion of Iraq began. If this plant had turned its attention to botulinum toxin, it could have produced enough in a few months to wipe out the world. Again, how would bombing a plant that Saddam would claim was producing life-saving drugs have played in the media?

Investigators also found two labs that appeared to be producing animal vaccines. However, according to investigators, all of the equipment was “dual use . . . and easily diverted to produce smallpox or other pathogenic viruses.” Another nearby lab was busily working on cowpox vaccines, with the exact same equipment necessary to create smallpox. One should note that even a thimbleful of smallpox germs would be enough to kill tens of millions. Smallpox, placed in the hands of a terrorist group and released at a sporting event, would devastate a large swath of the United States. It should be noted that each of these facilities was staffed or often visited by persons previously identified by the U.N. as being associated with Saddam’s pre–Desert Storm WMD programs. One facility, often visited by Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha al-Azawi, better known to Western intelligence as Dr. Germ, maintained, according to investigators, a “small” capacity for production of organic agents. When it comes to smallpox, a “small” capacity is all one needs to create global havoc.

Biological weapons were an important and dangerous thrust of Saddam’s WMD program, but far from all that his regime was working on. In 1991, Saddam moved all of his WMD specialists out of government labs and into universities, once again making them off-limits to inspectors and coalition bombers. According to documents discovered after the war, by 1997 the number of university “instructors” doing solely WMD work numbered 3,300, with another 700 to 800 dispatched to WMD-related facilities to help with technical problems. Between 1996 and 2002 — the eve of the invasion — spending on WMD projects increased 40-fold, and the number of specific projects increased from 40 to 3,200. Top officials captured after the collapse of the regime repeatedly told investigators that Saddam’s WMD projects were in overdrive and ready to go into production the moment sanctions were lifted.

Saddam’s minister of military industrialization, Abdullah Mullah al-Huwaysh, stated that Saddam was working to reconstruct all of his WMD programs within five years. In his words, this would have included “a sizable nuclear inventory on hand for immediate use.” Huwaysh also stated that in response to a Saddam inquiry regarding how long it would take to start mass production of chemical weapons, he told the tyrant that mustard-gas production could start within six months, but Sarin and VX would take a bit longer. Other WMD scientists told investigators that they had the materials and equipment to start mustard-gas production in days.

Inevitably, a relaxation of some of the sanctions led Saddam to start thinking again about nuclear weapons. In 1999 he met with his senior nuclear scientists and offered to provide them with whatever they needed, and immediately thereafter new funds began to flow to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC). In 2001, Saddam directed a large budget increase for the IAEC and increased the salaries of nuclear scientists ten-fold. He also directed the head of the IAEC to keep nuclear scientists together, and instituted new laws and privileges for IAEC scientists, while also investing in numerous new projects. From 2001 on, Saddam convened frequent meetings with the IAEC to highlight new achievements.

Although Saddam did not possess huge stocks of WMD material when we invaded, he was well on his way to creating an arsenal potent enough to decimate any attacking force. If we had delayed even a couple of months, until Saddam actually had his deadly pathogens and gas weapons, it would have meant the deaths of tens of thousands of American soldiers. And if those weapons had found their way into terrorist hands, it would have doomed millions. But did Saddam have these kinds of connections? Was he a global terror threat akin to al-Qaeda? The common wisdom says no. The common wisdom is wrong.


In 1999, the top ten graduates of Saddam’s Fedayeen Academy (terrorist training center) were specifically chosen for assignment to London. Once there they were held in readiness for operations anywhere in Europe. A memorandum addressed to Saddam’s son Uday specifically states that these trainees were designated for martyrdom operations. In the same memorandum, outlining “Operation Blessed July,” Uday is briefed on plans for terrorists to be sent to Great Britain and other countries, to begin a campaign of assassinations and bombings. Interestingly, the report states that any Fedayeen terrorists operating in Europe will be provided with “death capsules” for their personal use in case of capture. Besides selecting and training these potential terrorists, the Saddam regime also undertook substantial logistical preparations. A glimpse of these preparations can be seen in the response Saddam received from his intelligence services when he inquired about what weapons were available to arm terrorists in Iraqi embassies. Here is part of the tally:

Romania: Missile launcher and missile

Athens [Greece]: Explosive charges

Vienna [Austria]: Explosive charges, rifles with silencers, hand grenades, and Kalashnikov rifles

Pakistan: Explosive materials (TNT)

India: Plastic-explosive charges and booby-trapped suitcases

Thailand: Plastic-explosive charges and booby-trapped suitcases

Prague [Czech Republic]: Missile launcher and missile

Turkey: Missile launcher, missile, and pistols with silencers

Sana’a [Yemen]: Missile launcher, missile, plastic explosives, and explosive charges

Baku [Azerbaijan]: American missile launcher, plastic explosives, and booby-trapped suitcases

Beirut [Lebanon]: American missile launcher, plastic explosives, and booby-trapped suitcases

Gulf nations: Explosive material outside the embassies

The memo further states that between 2000 and 2002, explosive materials were transported to many embassies outside of Iraq for “special work.”

Realizing the value of suicide bombers, the regime’s intelligence services, a week after 9/11, sent a letter to Saddam outlining the steps they had taken to recruit bombers: “Division Commands have launched a campaign among their members, supporters, and backers of the Party encouraging them to volunteer in suicide operations, and have them write volunteer statements, preferably in their own blood.” The rest of the memo is a list of the 42 persons who had already signed on to blow themselves up whenever and wherever Saddam wished. The selection and training of suicide bombers became so routine that the regime started scheduling training sessions around the volunteers’ vacation periods from university.

An example of a successful suicide operation is documented in a letter that Fedayeen Saddam headquarters forwarded to Uday Hussein. A woman called Nazah asks for his help in processing her husband’s pension documents. She claims the request is justified because her husband died when “he carried out a suicide mission on 19 July 2000, and exploded himself at the Ibn Sina Hotel during the presence of U.S. and U.K. citizens and officials from Iraqi opposition parties.” She goes on to list some of his other activities that would justify a pension for his family:

  • Booby-trapped a car in front of the Kurdish Communist Party Headquarters

  • Detonated a car bomb during the motorcade of Danielle Mitterrand (wife of French president François Mitterrand) in Halsabajah City, which killed 40 enemies

  • Poisoned opposition-party members on the orders of the intelligence services

Saddam was also a sponsor of state terrorism on a truly impressive scale. One document sent to Saddam lists all the major terrorist groups that his intelligence services are in contact with, how long they have been in the Iraqi fold, and approximately how much support they have received. Most of these organizations also appear on the list of al-Qaeda–linked terrorist groups. Saddam and bin Laden may have loathed each other, but they found common cause in financially supporting, arming, and helping to train groups that are part of the same global terrorist network. One note sent to Saddam presented an account of how many foreign terrorists were currently training in Iraqi centers.

Palestine       38             Egypt           4

Lebanon       10             Libya           1

Tunisia            8             Sudan        18

Syria             10             Eritrea         7

Morocco         3            Unknown     1

In fact, after his 1991 defeat in Operation Desert Storm, Saddam ordered his intelligence services to maintain contact with all terrorist movements in the Arab countries. Captured documents reveal that intelligence-service activities went beyond just maintaining contact. One set of details appears in a report written six weeks after 9/11. It states that Iraq was sending an administrative officer to establish and oversee a terrorist training camp, and lists the equipment being dispatched in the first set of supplies:

15,000 Kalashnikov 7.62-mm rifles

15,000 [SKS] rifles

5,000 Browning pistols

5,000 Markarov pistols

1 high-quality photocopier

The memorandum ends with the names of 52 fighters waiting for training in the camp.

Evidence of Saddam’s continuing interest in and support for global terrorist activities is found in a 2002 annual report of one of the directorates within his intelligence service. It states that, in the year after 9/11, it held 13 meetings for a number of Palestinian and other organizations, including delegations from the Islamic Jihad Movement and the director general of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of al-Ahwaz (al-Ahwaz is a portion of Iran inhabited largely by Arabs). The list then details the messages various terrorist groups sent to Saddam during the year. The titles of the messages range from simple best wishes on Saddam’s birthday to the following:

  • Information on the number of Palestinian martyrs killed vs. Zionists killed

  • Requests for military equipment and for help for the families of suicide bombers

  • Information on the financial status of various terrorist organizations, volunteers for suicide operations, and rumors of a plan to assassinate Saddam Hussein

The report also notes that among the 699 passports that the intelligence services issued, many were issued to known members of terrorist organizations. Moreover, it states that the intelligence services took four million dinars from their own budgets to finance Palestinian terrorist groups.

The report also provides a list of activities the intelligence services considered “exemplary events,” for example:

  • Re-equipping and training Palestinian fighters in al-Quds training camps [in Iraq]

  • Establishing and activating a course to train Arab Liberation Front fighters on martyrdom operations

  • Establishing fighter schools for Arab volunteers and later for Iraqi volunteers

  • Re-establishing and re-equipping the military base of the Arab Liberation Front

  • Training groups from the occupied territories [Palestine] on light weapons in secret 30-day courses

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of available evidence demonstrating that Saddam posed a dangerous threat to America. There are other reports providing specific information on dozens of terrorist attacks, as well as details of how Iraq helped plan and execute many of them. Moreover, there is also proof of Saddam’s support of Islamic groups that were part of the al-Qaeda network. A good analogy for the links between Saddam and bin Laden is the Cali and Medellín drug cartels. Both drug cartels (actually loose collections of families and criminal gangs) were serious national-security concerns to the United States. The two cartels competed for a share of the illegal drug market. However, neither cartel was reluctant to cooperate with the other when it came to the pursuit of a common objective — expanding and facilitating their illicit trade. The well-publicized and violent rise of the Medellín cartel temporarily obscured and overshadowed the rise of, and threat posed by, the Cali cartel, in the same way that 9/11 camouflaged the terror threat posed by Saddam. In reality Saddam and bin Laden were operating parallel terror networks aimed at the United States. Bin Laden just has the distinction of having made the first horrendous attack.

Given the evidence, it appears that we removed Saddam’s regime not a moment too soon.

— Jim Lacey is the author of The First Clash and Keep from All Thoughtful Men.


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