- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2004

While political foes cast aspersions on his decision to oust Saddam Hussein, President Bush yesterday received support from an unlikely party: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yesterday, Mr. Putin casually delivered a political bombshell, saying that prior to the war, he warned that Saddam’s cohorts might be planning a terrorist attack against the United States.

“After September 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services — the intelligence service — received information that officials from Saddam’s regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests,” Mr. Putin said during a visit to Kazakhstan. He added that Mr. Bush personally thanked a Russian intelligence official for the information. Mr. Putin did not provide any details of the plot or say whether al Qaeda or any other terrorist group was involved. But his remarks serve to strengthen the case for Mr. Bush’s decision to go to war to drive Saddam from power.

The Russian leader’s comments are particularly significant given Moscow’s close, longstanding relationship with Saddam and its staunch opposition to the war. From the early 1970s until the U.S.-led invasion last year, Russia was one of the Ba’athist regime’s leading arms suppliers, and Russian and Iraqi intelligence worked closely together. As a former head of the KGB, Mr. Putin doubtless has extensive experience working closely with senior Iraqi intelligence officials.

Mr. Putin’s comments are but the latest evidence of Saddam’s involvement in harboring and supporting terrorists. Abul Abbas, who murdered American vacationer Leon Klinghoffer during a hijacking in the mid-1980s, was captured by coalition forces in Iraq (and died several months ago). Abu Musab al Zarqawi, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist wanted for his involvement in directing the insurgency in Iraq, received medical treatment in Baghdad after he was injured in the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan in early 2002. Saddam’s stipends of $25,000 each to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers are well-known.

Moreover, Saddam had no moral compunctions about terrorism against Americans. In 1993, for example, he attempted to assassinate the first President Bush during a visit to Kuwait. His regime played host to Abdul Yasin, a fugitive wanted in connection with the February 1993 World Trade Center attack, which killed six persons and wounded nearly 1,000.

We look forward to learning more from Mr. Putin about Saddam’s terrorist plots against America prior to the war. For now, Mr. Putin’s statement strengthens Mr. Bush’s case that allowing Saddam to remain in power would have posed a danger to the United States.

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