The Saddam Files: His final interviews

The FBI has just been forced to release records detailing the ex-Iraqi President's interrogations. David Connett sifts them for the key comments

Achievements

"Saddam stated he has served the Iraqi people for a very long time. He considers his greatest accomplishments to be the social programs for the citizens of Iraq and improvements in other sectors of the economy including enhancements to education, the healthcare system, industry, agriculture, and other areas that generally enhanced the way of life for Iraqis. In 1968, Iraqi people "barely had anything". The Iraqi economy depended entirely on oil production, with most being exported from Iraq by foreign companies. Iraq manufactured very few products; most goods had to be imported. The healthcare system was "primitive" and the mortality rate was very high, particularly among the poor. The literacy rate was around 27 per cent. Roads were almost non-existent in rural areas and "very bad" in the cities of Iraq. Limited educational opportunities existed at university level, even in Baghdad.

Saddam improved all the areas previously discussed. He considers this his greatest accomplishment and "service" to the Iraqi people. He said he believes more people will love him after he passes away than they do now. In the future Saddam will be known for "fairness" and for having faced oppression. He said in his opinion the Iraqi people still supported their leader.

Mistakes

Saddam admitted that not all his efforts were viewed as successful in some people's eyes. He said he was not convinced by the American system of government. He pointed out that nearly 30 million people live in poverty in America, but US residents do not regard this as a "crime." He said he would never accept that for Iraq.

Prompted by the interviewer a second time regarding his own mistakes, he asks: "Do you think I would tell my enemy if I made a mistake?" Saddam said he would not reveal mistakes to an enemy like America. He pointed out that he does not consider the interviewer as an enemy, nor the American people, but the American system of government. He told the FBI it was not just important what people say or think about him now but what they think in the future, 500 or 1,000 years from now. "The most important thing, however, is what God thinks."

The Iraqi "gift"

He told FBI interrogators Iraq was a great nation now as it had been at other times in history. Nations generally "go to the top" only once. Iraq had been there many times, before and after Islam. Iraq is the only nation like this in the history of the world. This "gift" was given to the Iraqi people by God.

Democracy

In Saddam's opinion, one party was not good for Iraq. He stated: "Life does not just accept only one idea. It accepts only one God." He said a multi-party system would cause "too much commotion for the Iraqi people" and they would have to be forced to accept it. He said: "Currently, the only political parties existing in Iraq are the ones with weapons."

The Iran-Iraq war

Saddam was asked whether the decision to go to war against Iran in September 1980 was based on threats from Iran or whether it was a means of reclaiming Arab/Iraqi territory, specifically, the Shatt-al-Arab waterway

Saddam provided an example of a farmer who is your neighbour. "Saddam prefers to use farming/rural examples as they have special meaning to him. One day the neighbour's son beats up your son. The next day he bothers your cows. Subsequently, the neighbour's son damages your farmland by disturbing the irrigation system. If all these things occurred, eventually, after enough incidents, you approach your neighbour and ask him to stop. Usually a warning or approach is enough to stop this behaviour. With Iran however, this approach by Iraq did not work.

In Saddam's opinion this left Iraq no choice but to fight. He said Ayatollah Khomenei had two things which interfered with his mind. One, he was a religious fanatic who thought all leaders were like the Shah of Iran, a person easily toppled. Khomenei thought since he had removed the Shah so easily he could do the same elsewhere including Iraq.

Secondly, Khomenei had a complex about leaving/being kicked out of Iraq previously in the late 1970s. Khomenei, exiled from Iran, had been a "guest" of Iraq who was "given shelter" in Najaf. He said Khomenei had been warned about speaking out against the Shah and eventually left for France.

Khomenei believed the Shia population of southern Iraq would follow him, especially during the Iraq war. But according to Saddam: "They did not welcome him." In fact the Shia remained loyal to Iraq and fought the Iranians.

After two years of war, some Iraqi military leaders felt Iran had "learned its lesson" and recommended withdrawal. Saddam respected information from the military commanders and ordered withdrawal of Iraqi forces.

Chemical weapons

Asked whether the Iraqi use of chemical weapons against Iran occurred only during the "defensive" period of the war and occurred out of necessity, Saddam said: "I do not have an answer for that. I am not going to answer." Asked later about chemical weapon use he replied: "I will not be cornered or caught on some technicality. It will not do you any good. The US has paid dearly for its mistakes here in Iraq and throughout the world and will continue to pay for its mistakes around the world."

Saddam pointed out that Iran used chemical weapons first (at Khoramshahar in 1981) but replied when asked about chemical weapon use a third time: "I am not going to answer that, no matter how you put the question."

He added: "I will discuss everything unless it hurts my people, my friends and the army."

Osama bin Laden

Saddam said that bin Laden's ideology was no different from the many zealots he saw. He claimed never to have personally seen or met bin Laden. Special Agent Piro told him there was clear evidence of the Iraqi government meeting al-Qaeda on two previous occasions in Baghdad and Sudan. The FBI report said Saddam replied "Yes" but stated they did not co-operate with bin Laden.

Geneva peace talks

Saddam said Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz met with US Secretary of State James Baker in Geneva, in January, 1991. The Iraqi leadership hoped to exploit any chance for peace regarding the situation with Kuwait. When the opportunity was made available Iraq decided to pursue it. They believed it would "carry weight" in the international community. According to Saddam, Baker provided no solutions for the Kuwaiti situation. Instead, Baker dictated to Aziz steps the US wanted, "Otherwise, we'll take you back to the pre-industrial age." Aziz said US demands were not be possible.

"Kuwait is Iraqi," Saddam argued. It was "stolen" from Iraq by a British resolution. If Kuwait had not been a country with oil, it would not have been "stolen" he claimed. The arrogance of the Kuwaiti rulers made them "stupid" and ignited the war he insisted.

US troops

Saddam said: "If a soldier does not see the logic he will not perform as well or be as obedient. A soldier must be convinced, otherwise discipline is a problem." Saddam commented about the present mental state of American soldiers in Iraq. He said: "If you asked the American soldier, who came to Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction but none have been found, and who came to remove the leaders of the Saddam dictatorship who are now all in jail, whether he wanted to stay or go, he would say go."

Palestine

According to Saddam, the problem was not only a Palestinian problem but also an Arab one. Any solution to the problem should be based on fairness and international law. "A solution that does not convince the majority of Palestinians will not be successful," he said. Arabs became sad and depressed over defeat in the six-day war in 1967 and developed a feeling of revolution as a result.

Saddam stated that representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF) and the Abu Nidal Organisation (ANO) were present in Iraq at times. "We accepted them as guests," he said. They were directed not to conduct activities against Iraq and refrain from terrorism. At one point the ANO were warned to cease terrorist activities.

Body doubles

Before being asked questions about the use of body doubles, Saddam asks: "Let me ask a direct question, I want to ask where, from the beginning of this interview process till now, has the information being going? For our relationship to remain clear I want to know." The interviewer told Saddam that he was a representative of the US government, and that reports from these interviews and that no doubt these reports were being reviewed by many US government officials. Although the interviewer denied any personal knowledge, these individuals may even include the President of the United States. Saddam said he would have no reservations if others "were brought into the process" and that he does not mind if the material is published.

When questioned whether he had ever used "doubles" or those resembling him as has often been discussed in books and other publications, he laughed and stated: "This is movie magic, not reality. It is very difficult to impersonate another individual."

He denied his sons used them, adding: "Do not think I am getting upset when you mention my sons. I still think about them and the fact they were martyred. They will be examples to everyone throughout the world. He said they had both fought in the war against Iran while they were underaged.

Saddam ended this portion of the interview saying: "If you decide to publish a book, be sure to publish it in English as well as in Arabic."

When the use of body doubles was revisited later Saddam said: "No, of course not."

UN inspections

Saddam acknowledged Iraq had made a mistake in destroying some weapons without UN supervision. In Saddam's view UN inspectors wanted all their expenses, including their accommodations, travel and other costs, paid for by Iraq. Instead of waiting for the inspectors and bearing these expenses, Iraq commenced destruction of the weapons. Iraq did not hide these weapons. Regarding destruction of weapons, Saddam stated, "We destroyed them. We told you, with documents. That's it." When asked about restrictions placed on locations visited by UN inspectors, Saddam replied, "What places?" When told about numerous locations including the Ministry of Agriculture, Saddam replied, "By God, if I had such weapons, I would have used them in the fight against the United States." When it was pointed out to him that most accused persons who are innocent agree to a full and complete examination of the details of the accusation. Once cleared, the accused party would then provide evidence of any mistreatment during the investigation. Saddam stated, "This is not a question, it is a dialogue. Good."

Saddam said the US used prohibited weapons in Vietnam. He asked whether America would accept Iraqis inspecting the White House for such weapons. Such a search would likely find nothing he said, adding: "A country that accepts being violated will bring dishonour to its people."

Saddam also pointed out that decisions were made by the Iraqi leadership and not just by Saddam. Iraqi leaders made decisions which gave the United States an "opening" and the reasons for the most recent war.

Saddam admitted there were individuals in the Iraqi government who were initially reluctant to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. Those individuals were loyal hard working people dedicated to their work. It was difficult for them to be told one day to open all of their files and turn over all of their work and government secrets to outsiders. It took time and occurred in steps.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Saddam stated the development of WMD was for the defence of Iraq's sovereignty. Iraq demonstrated this with the use of WMD during the Iraq and Iran War, as Iran had threatened the sovereignty of Iraq. Yet, Iraq did not use WMD during the 1991 Gulf War as its sovereignty was not threatened. He denied anybody else in authority in Iraq could have developed them. He claimed on several occasions he held meetings with all of his ministers and asked them specifically if Iraq had WMD that he was unaware of. All of his ministers stated no, as they cited they knew Saddam's position on WMD matters clearly. Saddam claimed his position was that Iraq prior to the invasion did not have them. Saddam said he allowed the UN inspectors back into Iraq to counter allegations by the British Government. He said it was a very difficult decision to make, but the British Government had prepared a report containing inaccurate intelligence. It was this inaccurate intelligence on which the United States was making their decisions. However, Saddam admitted that when it was clear that a war with the United States was imminent, he allowed the inspectors back into Iraq in hopes of averting war.

Kuwait

Questioned whether the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait began the discord between Baghdad and the world Saddam alleged: "America had a plan with Kuwait to attack Iraq. We had a copy of the plans in our hands. If I had the prohibited weapons, would I have let the US forces stay in Kuwait without attacking? I wish the US did not have the intention to attack Iraq."

He claimed Washington was planning to destroy Iraq, an intention pushed by Zionism and the effect of Zionism on the US elections. Israel was also influential in the plan he claimed because they viewed Iraq as a dangerous military threat upon conclusion of the Iran-Iraq War. "I believe this very much," he said. "It is difficult to avoid someone who is armed and standing outside your house unless you come out and shoot." As Iraq is a small country, it was difficult to stop the United States no matter what steps were taken.

Scuds

Saddam stated that he, and no one else in the Iraqi government or leadership, gave the orders to fire SCUD missiles at Israel. "Every thing that happened to us was because of Israel. Israel pushes US politicians and fills them with hatred." Israel first attacked Iraq in 1981 destroying the country's only nuclear reactor. As far as Iraq was concerned, the war with Israel was "still on" he said. He wanted to punish the country he considered as the source of all the problems. According to Saddam, the Arab countries which supported the coalition had been "shamed".

Assassinations

Saddam denied the Iraqi secret service was responsible for the murder of political opponents who had fled Iraq. Asked who killed them he answers: "Only God knows."

Killing the Marsh Arabs

Saddam told the FBI he admired the marsh Arabs and had even lived with them for a period in the 1960s. He claimed the marshes were drained to improve the health of Iraqis. Saddam stated the government could not simply "sit back and watch this miser". Relations with them continued to be good until the arrival of a "foreigner into the situation". "It becomes bad," Saddam claimed, when Iran corrupted some of the Marsh Arabs. He denied the marshes were drained to punish the marsh Arabs for insurrection against Baghdad's rule.

Telephones

Saddam stated he only recalled using the telephone on two occasions since March 1990 because he feared the US's ability to eavesdrop on him. Additionally, Saddam did not stay at the same location for more than a day. He communicated primarily through the use of couriers to communicate or would personally meet with government officials to discuss issues.

Escape from Baghdad

Saddam stated he remained in Baghdad until April 10 or 11, 2003 whereupon it appeared the city would fall. Prior to his departure he had a final meeting with the senior Iraqi leadership and told them "we will struggle in secret". Thereafter he departed Baghdad and began gradually "dispersing" his bodyguards, telling them they had completed their duties, so as not to draw attention.

Treachery

He said a "traitor" had provided information leading to his capture. As a "guest" at the location and as an Iraqi, he should not have been given up to American forces. The grandchildren of this "traitor" will hold him accountable and tell this to future generations. The farm where he was captured was the same place he had hidden in 1959 on fleeing Baghdad after taking part in a failed assassination attempt on then Iraqi President Qassem.

Iraqi elections

Saddam, when told of forthcoming elections in Iraq, said the Iraqi people would not accept an elected leader during occupation and said they had experienced this in the past when King Faisal was brought to power under British power.

Palaces

While talking about the air conditioning in his cell, which was being repaired at that time, Saddam advised he is used to living simply and personally does not like an extravagant lifestyle. When questioned about the number of palaces and their extravagant nature, Saddam stated the palaces belong to the nation and not to one person. The US/Israeli threat meant many palaces had to be built to make it easy for the Iraqi leadership to meet without being eliminated. As the palaces belonged to the nation, he did not live in them he said.

US culture

Saddam said he was interested in understanding the American culture, and did so by watching American movies

The agent and the dictator

FBI agent George L Piro conducted 20 interviews and five conversations with Saddam Hussein at the Baghdad airport military detention facility between 7 February 2004 – six weeks after Saddam was arrested – and 28 June 2004. Only the last interview – on 1 May – is redacted, though one background document is also heavily edited.

Mr Piro was one of the few FBI agents who spoke Arabic, and the agency hoped for some rapport. Saddam appeared to develop a respect for Mr Piro. In the first interview, when Saddam admitted his interviewer was smart, he said: "Perhaps a conversation between two such educated people will not be useful or successful."

In one of their last conversations, Saddam, clearly relaxed, joked about his two half-brothers, Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, the former chief of secret police, and Watban Ibrahim Hasan, once interior minister. Saddam called Barzan very intelligent, with a closed personality. Mr Piro retorted that Barzan wasn't very friendly. Saddam laughed and said Mr Piro had him spot on. Saddam said Watban was the opposite of Barzan, friendly but simple.

Saddam's life at a glance

April 1937

Saddam Hussein is born near the northern town of Tikrit, five years after Iraq gains independence. Aged 20, he joined the fledgling Ba'ath Party, which expounded a socialist brand of pan-Arab nationalism.

1959 to 1963

The young Saddam flees to Syria and then Egypt after an unsuccessful assignation plot against the the prime minister Abd al-Karim Qasim. The PM is eventually ousted in a coup by the Ba'ath Party, which in turn is overthrown six months later; thousands of "socialist" Iraqis are executed and Saddam is jailed between 1964 and 1966.

July 1968

The Ba'ath Party takes power in another coup and General Bakr, a relative of Saddam, becomes president. Saddam emerges as his deputy and builds up a widely feared security force, with his relatives and allies in key business and government positions.

July 1979

Saddam forces General Bakr out of power, in the process executing dozens of his rivals within days. He invades Iran in September 1980 which starts an eight-year-war in which a million lives are lost. Mustard and nerve gas are used against Iranian troops, and then against the Iraqi Kurds in 1988, which killed tens of thousands of civilians.

August 1990

Iraq invades oil-rich Kuwait amid a growing economic crisis. The Gulf War starts in January 1991, as coalition forces launch Operation Desert Storm. Saddam fails to attend the ceasefire meeting with US commanders on 3 March.

May 1994

Saddam survives postwar uprisings to become PM and president. No-fly zones and economic sanctions, including the controversial "oil for food" programme, are introduced by the UN to contain him. He expels UN weapons inspectors in October 1998 after seven years of cooperation. This leads to a three-day US and UK bombing campaign against suspected nuclear weapons programmes.

November 2002

Weapons inspectors return to Iraq after the UN Security Council passes Resolution 1441 which threatens "serious consequences" unless all weapons of mass destruction are relinquished. The UK and US press for a new resolution that authorises military action, but launch an attack in March 2003 before this ever comes to a vote.

December 2003

Saddam is captured by American troops, after a tip-off led them to a hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit. He goes on trial two years later to answer charges of crimes against humanity that date back to 1982. The trial is surrounded by controversy, but despite three assassinations of defence lawyers and a hunger strike by Saddam, on 5 November 2006, he is found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

December 2006

He is executed on 30 December, and photos taken on a mobile phone emerge within hours.

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