SADDAM HUSSEIN sent a team of assassins to Kuwait to kill former President George Bush during celebrations three weeks ago to mark the Allied victory in the Gulf war, a US investigation has concluded. The Clinton administration is now considering retaliation for what amounts to an act of war.
The plot collapsed after the Kuwaiti government arrested 16 people, including an Iraqi intelligence colonel who had with him 550lb of explosives brought in from Iraq.
The Kuwaiti Ministry of Defence says the plotters had three different plans to kill Mr Bush when he was in Kuwait on 14-16 April: to explode remote-control car bombs when he arrived at Kuwait airport or near a theatre where he was to receive an honorary doctorate or a suicide attack in which one of the plotters would attach explosives to himself and set off the bomb near Mr Bush.
President Clinton last week sent Secret Service and FBI investigators to Kuwait to verify the Kuwaiti government allegations. George Stephanopoulos, the White House press spokesman, said: 'If we determine Iraq was involved in state-sponsored terrorism, the United States will take appropriate action against Iraq.' Washington sources say the White House now has convincing evidence of the plot.
The Iraqi assassination team never got close to Mr Bush though the circumstances of their arrest are not clear, according to the Washington Post, which revealed the plot yesterday.
In the past, Kuwait has made exaggerated claims about Iraqi incursions into the Emirate but this time the evidence of a plot is much more definitive. The explosives were ferried into Kuwait last month in two cars stolen in the Iraqi invasion of 1990. US officials also said the suspects were carrying high-technology equipment for use in the assassination.
According to the Kuwaitis, the leader of the assassination attempt was Ra'ad Assadi, who confessed under interrogation to being a colonel in the Iraqi secret intelligence service, Mukhabarat, stationed in Basra. US investigators were expecting to gain access to the suspects this weekend in Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein is known to have ordered the assassination of his opponents abroad but almost all of these were Iraqis. It is not, however, wholly surprising that Iraqi intelligence should have mounted an assassination attempt against Mr Bush, whom President Saddam has repeatedly denounced as the main driving force behind the war against Iraq in 1990.
The US government is divided about what it can do to retaliate against Iraq. The Washington Post said that some Justice Department officials want the suspects extradited to the US, though this will probably be rejected by the administration as it could lead to serious legal difficulties.
Other senior officials, including the CIA director, James Woolsey, the deputy National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, and Defence Under Secretary, Frank Wisner, are said to favour some form of retribution against Iraq. But it is difficult to see what form US action would take because US planes are already flying over northern and southern Iraq. Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, has recently reassured Iraqi opposition leaders that the Clinton administration is committed to getting rid of President Saddam.
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