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Jul 9th, 2009

FBI: Saddam Feared Iran More Than U.S. Attack

Image: Saddam Hussein
In 2003, Saddam Hussein told FBI agent George Piro he falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, according to the agent’s notes. (Photo credit: Pool via AP)

July 2, 2009

WASHINGTON — The farm where Saddam Hussein hid from U.S. forces before he was captured in December 2003 was familiar ground for the Iraqi dictator: It was the same place, he told an FBI agent, where he sought refuge 44 years earlier after taking part in a failed attempt to kill Iraq’s president.

Saddam also told the U.S. official that he had used telephones only twice in the last 14 years, and moved his locations daily. With troops closing in on him, Saddam returned to the farm outside Tikrit where he hid in 1959 after joining in a failed bid to assassinate Iraqi president Abd Al-Karim Qassem.

Those details are among more than 100 pages of notes written by George Piro, an FBI special agent who interviewed Saddam after he was nabbed at the farm. The notes of the FBI interviews were made public by the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute.

Saddam told Piro that instead of relying on phones, he communicated by courier or met with his officials personally. “He was very aware of the United States’ significant technological capabilities,” the agent wrote in notes after one interview.

The former Iraqi dictator was captured nine months after the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq in March 2003. Saddam was executed by hanging on orders of Iraq’s successor government in December 2006.

In a series of interviews between February and June of 2004, Saddam also told Piro that he falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, the hostile neighbor he considered a bigger threat than the U.S.

Saddam denied having unconventional weapons before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but refused to allow U.N. inspectors to search his country from 1998 until 2002. The inspectors returned to the weapons hunt in November 2002 but still complained that Iraq wasn’t cooperating.

“By God if I had such weapons I would have used them in the fight against the United States,” he told Piro.

Saddam: I denounced 9/11

Former President George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq in large part on the assertion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and could provide them to terrorists. Saddam had used chemical weapons previously and the Bush administration maintained that he was pursuing biological and nuclear weapons. No such weapons were found after the war.

In the interviews, Saddam dismissed Osama bin Laden as a “zealot,” said he had never personally met the al-Qaida leader and that the Iraqi government didn’t cooperate with the terrorist group against the U.S.

The institute obtained the FBI summaries through a Freedom of Information Act request and posted them on its Web site Wednesday. The New York Daily News also wrote about the Hussein files last week after similarly obtaining summaries of the interviews through a FOIA request.

Saddam also stated that the United States used the Sept. 11 terrorist attack as a justification to attack Iraq and said the U.S. had “lost sight of the cause of 9/11.” He claimed that he denounced the attack in a series of editorials.

Saddam denied using body doubles, something the U.S. government said he did to elude his captors.

Piro earlier had described their talks in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last year. Saddam told him he had “miscalculated” former President George W. Bush’s intentions and expected only a limited U.S. attack.

“Hussein stated Iraq could have absorbed another United States strike, for he viewed this as less of a threat than exposing themselves to Iran,” according to a June 11, 2004, FBI interview report.

Earlier report

Even as U.S. Invaded, Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat

Three months before war, Saddam stunned his top military commanders by admitting he had no weapons of mass destruction

By Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor

March 12, 2006


As … described in a classified United States military report, other documents and in interviews, … [Saddam] Hussein was so preoccupied about the threat from within his country that he crippled his military in fighting the threat from without. …

Ever vigilant about coups and fearful of revolt, Mr. Hussein was deeply distrustful of his own commanders and soldiers, the documents show. …

The Iraqi dictator was so secretive and kept information so compartmentalized that his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons for the nation’s defense. …

Much of this material is included in a secret history prepared by the American military of how Mr. Hussein and his commanders fought their war. Posing as military historians, American analysts interrogated more than 110 Iraqi officials and military officers, treating some to lavish dinners to pry loose their secrets and questioning others in a detention center at the Baghdad airport or the Abu Ghraib prison. United States military officials view the accounts as credible because many were similar. In addition, more than 600 captured Iraqi documents were reviewed. …

Despite the lopsided defeat his forces suffered during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Mr. Hussein did not see the United States as his primary adversary. His greater fear was a Shiite uprising, like the one that shook his government after the 1991 war. …

Mr. Hussein was also worried about his neighbor to the east [Iran]. Like the Bush administration, Mr. Hussein suspected Iran of developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Each year the Iraqi military conducted an exercise code-named Golden Falcon that focused on defense of the Iraq-Iran border. …

Mr. Hussein’s main concern about a possible American military strike was that it might prompt the Shiites to take up arms against the government. …

In December 2002, he told his top commanders that Iraq did not possess unconventional arms, like nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, according to the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. to investigate what happened to Iraq’s weapons programs.

Mr. Hussein wanted his officers to know they could not rely on poison gas or germ weapons if war broke out. The disclosure that the cupboard was bare, Mr. [Tariq] Aziz said, sent morale plummeting.

To ensure that Iraq would pass scrutiny by United Nations arms inspectors, Mr. Hussein ordered that they be given the access that they wanted. And he ordered a crash effort to scrub the country so the inspectors would not discover any vestiges of old unconventional weapons, no small concern in a nation that had once amassed an arsenal of chemical weapons, biological agents and Scud missiles, the Iraq survey group report said.

Seeking to deter Iran and even enemies at home, the Iraqi dictator’s goal was to cooperate with the inspectors while preserving some ambiguity about its unconventional weapons — a strategy General Hamdani, the Republican Guard commander, later dubbed in a television interview “deterrence by doubt.”

That strategy led to mutual misperception. When Secretary of State Colin L. Powell addressed the Security Council in February 2003, he offered evidence from photographs and intercepted communications that the Iraqis were rushing to sanitize suspected weapons sites.

Mr. Hussein’s efforts to remove any residue from old unconventional weapons programs were viewed by the Americans as efforts to hide the weapons. The very steps the Iraqi government was taking to reduce the prospect of war were used against it, increasing the odds of a military confrontation.

Even some Iraqi officials were impressed by Mr. Powell’s presentation. Abd al-Tawab Mullah Huwaish, who oversaw Iraq’s military industry, thought he knew all the government’s secrets. But Bush administration officials were so insistent that he began to question whether Iraq might have prohibited weapons after all.

“I knew a lot, but wondered why Bush believed we had these weapons,” he told interrogators after the war, according to the Iraq Survey Group report. …

3 Responses to “Saddam Feared Iran More Than U.S.”
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