U.S. officials fear Iraqi sponsorship of terrorist acts


WASHINGTON -- Current and former government terrorism experts said yesterday that Iraq had gathered a formidable terrorist force in Baghdad that President Saddam Hussein was prepared to deploy to persuade the United States to withdraw from the Persian Gulf and end the economic embargo.

These experts, from the CIA, Defense Department and National Security Council, said that terrorist attacks would likely be aimed initially at Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in an effort to destabilize their governments.

But these authorities said that, should Mr. Hussein find himself driven to the wall by the United Nations embargo, Iraqi-inspired terrorism could spread to attacks on U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia and to the United States itself, whose borders, the experts said, are easily crossed.

The widespread Persian Gulf energy facilities, including pipelines, pump stations and refineries, could also be prime targets for terrorists, they said.

"Preparations are all in place" for terrorist attacks, said Stanley Bedlington, a terrorism specialist at the CIA. "All you need is for Saddam Hussein to press the button."

Mr. Bedlington and the other experts were addressing a news conference after growing indications from Iraq, long a terrorist stronghold, that it would sponsor or condone terrorist attacks as a key part of a "holy war" to fight U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and for the liberation of the holy places of Islam.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz said last week that Iraq "never supported terrorism or terroristic attacks" against the United States or any country but that there is a "special situation" now in the region that must be considered.

"If people fight in their own way against this American and Western presence, that, in our interpretation, will not be terrorism," said Mr. Aziz, who emphasized that Iraq would not condemn such action.

In defending this stand, he said that the economic embargo itself amounted to a "kind of terrorism" by denying people the "right to have food."

The Bush administration has been increasingly worried about the potential for action by trained terrorists with advanced technology. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said last week that the administration was concerned about "the growing links between Iraq and terrorist groups."

Mr. Bedlington said that Iraq now represented the "most dangerous aspect" of terrorism because it intends to provide the kind of full-scale government support for clandestine attacks that has been lacking for many terrorist groups in the past.

This means, he said, that terrorists would acquire from Iraq the training, finances, equipment, false identity papers and other materials needed for their operations, as well as a haven afterwards.

Richard Porter, former staff member of the National Security Council, said that terrorism sponsored by Mr. Hussein would also allow terrorist equipment to be shipped between countries in Iraq's diplomatic pouches to avoid inspection at the border.

Peter Probst, special assistant in the office of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, said that Mr. Hussein appears to want to avoid hostilities with the United States "to buy time" in hopes that the administration will tire of the military commitment and withdraw.

"But if there is a war, he will absolutely pull out all the stops," he said. "He wants to bloody the United States, to humiliate the United States."

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