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Book Review

Seeing Bin Laden as Iraq's Front Man

October 11, 2001|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

STUDY OF REVENGE

Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America

By Laurie Mylroie

The AEI Press

$24.95, 326 pages

*

"Study of Revenge," Laurie Mylroie's account of Saddam Hussein's policy toward the U.S. since the end of the Gulf War, was published last year, but like several other books of some vintage, it has direct bearing on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. With some backing at high levels in the U.S. defense and intelligence establishments, Mylroie presents an alternative view to more popular opinions.

It is her contention that Osama bin Laden, wanted by the American government as its "prime suspect" in the attacks, may only be a front man for the real culprit, Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein. Devoting several chapters to an examination of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, she finds considerable circumstantial evidence that Ramzi Yousef, a mastermind of that operation, was an Iraqi agent.

Yousef is now in federal prison following his arrest in Pakistan in 1995 for plotting to blow up 12 commercial jetliners crossing the Pacific. To this day, as Mylroie writes, "his nationality remains unknown."

The author questions the validity of Yousef's passport, which she persuasively demonstrates seems to represent the stolen identity of a Kuwaiti citizen who disappeared in the Gulf War.

Yousef, she theorizes, probably came from Baluchistan, a part of Pakistan with traditional ties to Iraq. Yousef apparently was not a particularly devout Muslim, but he, like Saddam, may have used--in the case of the 1993 bombing, for instance--gullible Muslim fundamentalists to carry out his designs, setting them up to be captured to provide a cover for the role Iraq had played.

"Many people think of Baghdad as a secular regime and do not understand how seemingly antagonistic ideologies--Arab nationalism and Islamic extremism--can work together," Mylroie declares. But she goes on, "Saddam and his cronies are irreligious, to be sure. But they have long been willing to exploit the extremists' strong passions for their own purposes."

Mylroie has won testimonials for this argument from such figures as R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA; James M. Fox, former director of the New York FBI office; and Paul Wolfowitz, the present deputy secretary of defense. Wolfowitz is an advocate for adding a strike to depose Saddam to the Bush administration's war against terrorism.

The author cites evidence that Saddam is a man whose personality is dominated by a desire for revenge against the United States and a continuing willingness to use violence to this end.

Nor would he be dissuaded, she believes, from undertaking violent attacks simply because they might draw a fierce reaction, if discovered to be his.

To buttress this point, she quotes Iraq's longtime deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, who explained Iraqi policy by saying, "The way to get people to do what you want is to hurt them."

Mylroie is the coauthor with Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter, of the earlier book, "Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf." A former professor at Harvard and the U.S Naval War College, she was an advisor on Iraq to the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, and she is nonetheless very critical of the Clinton administration for not adequately standing up to Saddam in all the maneuvers that preceded the ouster of United Nations arms control inspectors from Iraq in 1998. The Clinton administration also was guilty, she declares, of downplaying the possibility of state sponsorship of terrorist acts.

"By dealing with state sponsorship in that way, the administration avoided riling the American public--which if aware of the suspected involvement of countries like Iraq ... in terrorism on U.S. soil, might have demanded that we do a great deal more," she states.

"Study of Revenge" is a compelling book and constitutes a very broad, interpretive review of some of the most ominous events of the past decade.

Though U.S. leaders from the president on down have attributed the Sept. 11 attacks to terrorist networks led by Bin Laden and have directed the first phase of the war on terrorism against him, it is most likely that the targets will widen.

In major past terrorist attacks, most notably the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103, the first conclusions about responsible parties underwent substantial revision, before coming to the present conclusion that Libya was responsible.

It is not inconceivable that the probe into the events of Sept. 11 will also go through various phases of discovery and new views may come to predominate. Mylroie's view may have its day, perhaps as likely as not.

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