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Iraqi reportedly admits to role in plot


WASHINGTON -- FBI agents have been told by an Iraqi bein held in Kuwait that he led an attempt to assassinate former President George Bush last month on behalf of the Iraqi government, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The officials said that the man had admitted to working with the Iraqi intelligence service and that other members of the 10-member team had admitted from a Kuwaiti jail to having received Iraqi government assistance.

The officials were the first to describe the extensive jailhouse interviews since they began a week ago. While the FBI is not yet satisfied that it has established proof, the officials said the initial findings from the investigation had strengthened the view within the administration that the Iraqi government was behind the plot.

The Kuwaiti government, which on Monday charged the 10 Iraqis with attempted assassination, had made similar assertions earlier. But administration officials had expressed deep uncertainty about those assertions, suggesting that Kuwaiti standards of justice might have allowed them to be based on coerced confessions or mishandled evidence.

The officials said the U.S. interviews with the suspects had overcome much of that skepticism.

It was unclear how the information would affect the timing of a White House decision on how to respond to the plot.

But an administration official stressed that the FBI had set "a very high threshold of proof" and that it was possible the administration would postpone any action until the suspects are tried in Kuwaiti court beginning June 5.

None of the suspects ever got near Mr. Bush or his party during their three-day visit to Kuwait last month, a trip intended to commemorate the allied victory in the Persian Gulf war.

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