WASHINGTON -- Unprecedented international cooperation and the expulsion of more than 100 Iraqi diplomats around the world have prevented Saddam Hussein from delivering on his threat to wage a campaign of terror against America and its allies, U.S. officials believe.
The expulsion of the diplomats and other Iraqi terrorist agents "clearly thwarted his operational capabilities," said one U.S. official. "We've been successful in getting the [suspect] Iraqis expelled, as well as general bad guys."
The official, who declined to be identified by name or agency, said that no one country could claim credit for the apparently successful counterterrorism effort. "We worked together on identifying the bad guys through intelligence and diplomatic channels," he said.
In addition, terrorist experts said recently that lack of a favorable milieu has helped inhibit terrorism in the United States. They said relatively well-assimilated Middle Eastern ethnic groups are much less likely to give aid or protection to would-be terrorists than Arab or Palestinian groups in Europe.
Even so, counterterrorism officials are worried that widespread wrath over civilian casualties caused by last week's allied bombing of a bunker in Baghdad could provoke incidents of terrorism by individual zealots.
"You don't need a secret cable from Baghdad" ordering individual terrorists to strike, one official said, noting that "the media serve as the conduit."
The disruption of Saddam's communications network by the intensive allied air strikes on Baghdad had been cited as a principal reason for the Iraqi leader's apparent inability to carry out his terrorist threats.
Although some 115 terrorist incidents have been reported worldwide since the U.S.-led coalition launched Operation Desert Storm a month ago, most have appeared isolated and relatively unsophisticated in nature, officials said.
"What we haven't seen is dedicated, highly trained, cellular terrorism in all the incidents that occurred so far," said William M. Baker, the assistant FBI director whose responsibilities include overseeing the bureau's counterterrorist efforts.
None of the incidents reported so far has been inside the United States. Counterterrorism experts attribute the nation's good fortune to the long lead time available to the FBI and other security agencies to prepare for domestic repercussions from the Persian Gulf war.
The weeks of preparation enabled the FBI to conduct heavy surveillance -- electronic and physical -- of individuals in the United States who appeared to be allied with terrorist organizations and supportive of Saddam, knowledgeable sources said.
Most experts cautioned, however, that Iraqi-related terrorism still might occur in the United States, and some consider the risk highest during the year or two after the war ends as internal security measures gradually are relaxed.
"We and other people have tightened our security dramatically," said L. Paul Bremer, former head of the State Department's counterterrorism office. "That has had a great effect of discouraging terrorism. But it may be that the terrorists will simply wait for the security measures to go back down. These are extremely calculating men."
"I think the threat of terrorism actually goes up after the war, certainly from the Palestinian radical groups," Bremer added.