Pentagon report finds no evidence of Saddam attempt to assassinate Bush
In President Bush's view, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was many things -- a developer of weapons of mass destruction, an ally of al Qaeda and "a guy that tried to kill my dad."
Recent intelligence reports have already shot down those first two notions. No WMD stockpiles were found in Iraq after the US invasion, and a just-released Pentagon assessment failed to find any "smoking gun" link between Saddam and the terror group that plotted the 9/11 attacks.
Now skepticism is newly enveloping allegations of an Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush during a trip to Kuwait in 1993. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reports that the same Pentagon report that has essentially disproved an Iraq-al Qaeda link also calls into question the 1993 plot that spurred former President Bill Clinton to launch a Tomahawk cruise-missle strike against Saddam's Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS). Isikoff writes:
The review, conducted for the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command, combed through 600,000 pages of Iraqi intelligence documents seized after the fall of Baghdad, as well as thousands of hours of audio- and videotapes of Saddam's conversations with his ministers and top aides. The study found that the IIS kept remarkably detailed records of virtually every operation it planned, including plots to assassinate Iraqi exiles and to supply explosives and booby-trapped suitcases to Iraqi embassies. But the Pentagon researchers found no documents that referred to a plan to kill Bush. The absence was conspicuous because researchers, aware of its potential significance, were looking for such evidence. "It was surprising," said one source familiar with the preparation of the report (who under Pentagon ground rules was not permitted to speak on the record). Given how much the Iraqis did document, "you would have thought there would have been some veiled reference to something about [the plot]."
Isikoff notes that the absence of evidence does not prove the Iraqis weren't planning to assassinate the former question (just as Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said about Iraq WMD never found, that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"), but his latest report adds to questions that have been raised about the alleged plot since the months before and after the missile strike it inspired.
On May 27, 1993, the Boston Globe obtained a CIA report that questioned Kuwait's claims of the Iraqi plot to assassinate Bush (via Nexis):
A classified US intelligence analysis has concluded that Kuwait may have "cooked the books" on an alleged plot to assassinate former President Bush while he was in Kuwait last month. [...]
At least one administration official has expressed the fear that President Clinton, under heavy criticism for his indecision over issues like Bosnia, may be tempted to hit at Iraq to prove his willingness to undertake resolute action.
The report notes that some of the evidence definitely points to Iraqi involvement. The explosive devices captured by the Kuwaitis, for example, match those used by Iraqi intelligence in other terrorist operations. But the report says it was unable to corroborate the Kuwaiti assertion that the plot was aimed at Bush.
In November 1993, the New Yorker's tenacious investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reported, "[M]y own investigations have uncovered circumstantial evidence, at least as compelling as the [Clinton] Administration's, that suggests that the American government's case against Iraq—as it has been outlined in public, anyway—is seriously flawed."