But add a measure of historical perspective and conceits like Woolsey’s are exposed for the crock they are. The Shah, Augusto Pinochet, Jonas Savimbi and Osama bin Laden are among the men who got a career in tyranny thanks to the CIA. To that list one can add Saddam Hussein. Richard Sale, United Press International’s intelligence correspondent, reports that the CIA put Saddam Hussein on its covert operations payroll in 1959. Citing information provided by current and former U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers, Sale reports that the CIA decided to kill then Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim Qasim, who had overthrown the Iraqi monarchy the year before in a bloody revolt. The United States wanted Qasim dead because he had begun to buy weapons from the Soviet Union and put Iraqi communists in positions of power. CIA Director Alan Dulles declared at the time that Iraq was “the most dangerous spot in the world.” So the CIA hired Saddam, then 22, and five other men to assassinate the Iraqi leader. However, according to a former CIA official, the assassination attempt, scheduled for October 7, 1959, failed when Saddam lost his nerve and began firing too soon, wounding Qasim and killing his driver. The CIA got Saddam out of town and eventually to Beirut, where it provided Saddam with an apartment and put him through a brief training course. In 1963, Qasim was finally killed in a Baath Party coup. Former intelligence officials told Sale that after the coup, the CIA provided the anti-communist Baathists with a list of suspected communists, who were rounded up and executed en masse. A former CIA official said, “It was a bit like the mysterious killing of Iran’s communists just after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. All 4,000 of his communists suddenly got killed.” (Guess where Khomeini got his list.)
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.