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The Four-Day War

Who did Saddam Hussein turn to after President Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox? Osama bin Laden.

9:00 AM, Jul 19, 2005 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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"The British and the American people loudly declared their support for their leaders decision to attack Iraq. It is the duty of Muslims to confront, fight, and kill them."

-Osama bin Laden, as quoted in various press accounts, December 26, 1998

"Oh sons of Arabs and the Arab Gulf, rebel against the foreigner . . . Take revenge for your dignity, holy places, security, interests, and exalted values."

-Saddam Hussein, January 5, 1999

THE "LONG SHORT WAR" with Saddam's Iraq, as author Christopher Hitchens has aptly described it, has had many tense moments. Perhaps never more so than in late 1998. Tensions over Saddam's obstruction of weapons inspections had accrued for months; the United States continually threatened military intervention. Earlier in the year a strike was narrowly averted when U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan brokered a last minute peace deal. But the peace was an unquiet one and, finally, after months of playing Saddam's games, President Clinton decided to act.

On December 16, 1998 Operation Desert Fox commenced. The four-day bombing campaign would strike targets throughout Iraq including military and intelligence positions as well as sites suspected of manufacturing and storing weapons of mass destruction. The Arab and Muslim street had been incited to protest the effort to contain Saddam for months and, thus, the wisdom of the strike was immediately challenged. Would it be enough to make Saddam comply with the U.N.'s resolutions or would it (unnecessarily) hurt America's image around the world even more and, thus, strengthen Saddam's hand?

The costs and benefits of the strike would be weighed for months and nothing escaped the media's scrutiny: including Saddam's desire for revenge.

Indeed, as the current war in Iraq approached many forgot or ignored Saddam's response to the four-day war of December 1998. It is a shame because his response to that four-day bombing campaign--the largest since the first Gulf War--was telling. In his quest for revenge he had few options, but one of those was Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

Just days after Operation Desert Fox concluded one of Saddam's most loyal and trusted intelligence operatives, Faruq Hijazi, was dispatched to Afghanistan. He met with senior leaders from the Taliban and then with bin Laden and his cohorts on December 21.

While we cannot be sure what transpired at this meeting, we can be sure that it was not some benign event. In fact, within days of the meeting bin Laden loudly declared his opposition to the U.S.-led missile strikes on Iraq and called on all Muslims to strike U.S. and British targets, including civilians, around the world. According to press accounts at the time, bin Laden explained, "The British and the American people loudly declared their support for their leaders' decision to attack Iraq." He added that the citizens' support for their governments made it "the duty of Muslims to confront, fight, and kill" them.

Bin Laden's words sounded alarm bells around the world. Countless media outlets scurried to uncover the details of the relationship between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda. Dozens of news outlets--foreign and domestic--reported on the growing relationship and its ominous implications. When assessing any news account the reader must take all of the information with a grain of salt. But the sheer weight of the evidence reported from so many different sources paints a disturbing picture.

The meeting between Hijazi and bin Laden, it turned out, was not the first meeting between Saddam's envoys and al Qaeda. Nor were their conversations or cooperation limited to a few inconsequential contacts, as many in the U.S. intelligence community now claim. There were numerous reports that Saddam was training hundreds of al Qaeda operatives, that al Qaeda was receiving assistance in making chemical weapons in Sudan, that scores of Iraqi military officers had relocated to Afghanistan, and that Saddam might even use al Qaeda agents in a "false flag" operation against western targets.

The first alarm was rung by Milan's Corriere Della Sera on December 28. In the bluntest manner, the newspaper reported, "Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladin have sealed a pact." Saddam's regime and bin Laden's global terrorist network had united against the common enemy, the U.S. and her allies. In preparation for the coming terrorist war, Saddam had even offered bin Laden safehaven.