|Document loading, please wait...|
Saïd K. Aburish - A journalist and author of numerous books, including the latest, Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, he also was a consultant for this FRONTLINE report. For several years he worked closely with Saddam's government in posts which gave him the chance for unusually close access to Saddam Hussein himself. Beginning in the mid-seventies, he was a go-between for Western arms manufacturers doing business with Iraq, and he was part of Saddam's secret plan to acquire chemical weapons and an atomic bomb.
Why did you decide to spend so many years writing this book about Saddam Hussein?
Saddam Hussein is the most methodical Arab leader of the twentieth century. He's organized. He's a day dreamer. And also, he had the following. He was popular. But Saddam Hussein is a planner. And he has affected the Middle East so considerably that we need to understand him.
What insights can you give us into understanding him?
Well, the first thing to remember is that Saddam Hussein spent twenty years creating a personality, an image for himself. And since the Gulf War, his opponents have done the same--created a completely different personality, of course. So you have to sift through what Saddam created and what his opponents created to reach the real person. The real person has no ideology whatsoever. That is the most important thing to remember about Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein is into realpolitik. He wanted to take Iraq into the twentieth century. But if that meant eliminating fifty per cent of the population of Iraq, he was willing to do it.
And he had to be the one in charge?
Without any doubt. You know during the war with Iran, I remember telling someone Khomeini isn't the only person who talks to god. Saddam Hussein thinks he talks to god. He has a message--he has to lead Iraq, make it a model for the Arab countries and then attract the rest of the Arab countries and become the sole Arab leader of modern times.
Extraordinary will power?
Without any doubt. Considering his humble background, amazing will power, amazing focus. Amazing ability to achieve his dreams. There is no stopping the man. He always has things in focus. He never misses a beat. In terms of what the country's all about, and in terms of where his country fits in the whole world.
One of the re-occurring things in your book is the idea that he's imposed Stalinism on a tribal society. What do you actually mean by that?
Saddam Hussein borrowed from Stalinism. He had his security people trained in Eastern Europe, particularly East Germany. Then he brought them back to Iraq and he taught them how to use the tribal linkage to eliminate people. So whereas they used Stalinist methods to discover people who were opposed to the regime, after that came the tribal factor, when Saddam said 'don't get rid of Abdullah, get rid of his whole family. Because one member of his family might assassinate us.' And that made it a perfect system for Iraq. It is practically fool-proof.
Do we know whether or not Saddam has actually studied Stalin's tactics?
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Saddam studied Stalin. Stalin is his hero. Stalin came from a humble background. Stalin was brought up by a mother. Stalin used thugs. Stalin used the security service. Stalin hated his army. And so does Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein models himself after Stalin more than any other man in history.
He has a full library of books about Stalin. He reads about him, and when he was a young man--even before he attained any measure of power--he used to wander around the offices of the Ba'ath Party telling people 'wait until I take over this country. I will make a Stalin state out of it yet.' People used to laugh him off. They shouldn't have. It was a very serious proposition indeed.
Briefly, what is his background?
He was from a very poor family, in a village called Al Awja, which is next to the town of Tikrit. As a young boy he had to steal so his family could eat. He stole eggs, and he stole chicken, things like that. He was illiterate until the age of ten. He heard that his cousin could read and write and demanded that he be afforded the same opportunity.
After that he became a gun man, a thug for the Ba'ath Party and he participated in the assassination attempt on the country's strong man, General Kassem, in 1959. Then he went into exile in Cairo. Came back after the Ba'ath took power and proceeded to organize the party and give it supremacy over the army which was a very important development.
Whatever Saddam Hussein is he is above all an organizer, in a part of the world which hasn't seen much of that. And this is why he--to use a word that does not fit him--he actually shines when you compare him with other Arab leaders.
For people who don't understand Iraq, how important are family and tribal connections in that society?
Family and tribal connections are supreme. They come ahead of ideology. They come ahead of commitment to the nation state, they come ahead of all commitments. Saddam Hussein realizes that. This is why, at a certain point, he transferred power from the Ba'ath Party, which put him in power, to his family because he decided that the family can be trusted, but the party cannot be trusted.
He weakened the party and strengthened the family, and that is the situation in the country now. His second son is the head of the dreaded security system. His first son, who was a psychopath, runs all types of committees in the country. His brother is on the security system, his cousins are in key positions in the army. The people who come from Al Awja are in other positions in the army. The people who come from Tikrit, the town near Al Awja, are in other positions. It's a pyramid of relationships, tribal and familial. And this is what he depends on. And, those people are loyal to him, because they believe that if Saddam goes, they will go as well.
During the time of that assassination attempt in 1959, when Saddam first leaves the country and goes to Damascus, goes to Cairo, what was the great game being played in the Middle East at that time?
The great game played in the Middle East in 1959 was Arab nationalism under Nasser. Nasser wanted to unite the Arab countries into one great one, capable of being completely independent. Most of the western powers were opposed to that. The Ba'ath Party, to which Saddam belonged, believed in Arab unity as well. The man who ran Iraq, the man Saddam tried to assassinate, General Abdel Karim Kassem, did not believe in that. And this is why Saddam and his crew tried to kill him. And that is also why once Saddam escaped after the assassination attempt, he found refuge in Cairo, under Nasser's patronage. That was the situation. The Arabs trying to unite the West; the United States, and Britain in particular, were opposed to this unity.
While he was in Cairo, there's some belief that he may have had contact with Americans, with the CIA. What can you tell us about that?
There is very good reason to believe that Saddam Hussein was in contact with the American embassy in Cairo when he was in exile. This is not strange, because alliances of convenience were taking place every day. And the United States was afraid that Iraq, under Kassem, might be going communist. So was the Ba'ath Party. So they had a common enemy, a common target -- the possibility of a communist take-over of Iraq.
So there is a record of Saddam visiting the American embassy frequently, and there is a record of the Egyptian security people telling him not to do that. However, one must remember that at that time, Saddam was a minor official of the Ba'ath Party. He was not terribly important. And he was really following in the footsteps of other people who are much more important.
And what would be the idea behind all this?
The visits to the American embassy by Saddam Hussein and other members of the Ba'ath Party had one purpose, and one purpose only. To co-operate with the Americans towards the overthrow of General Kassem in Iraq. Kassem was slightly pro-communist and the Americans wanted to get rid of that danger. Allen Dulles described Iraq as the most dangerous part of the earth in front of a congressional committee. The Ba'ath thought Kassem was their enemy, so there was a mutuality there. And whether a conspiracy transpired or not, the evidence is actually in favor of it having taken place. But the conspiracy was for the duration of getting rid of Kassem. It was not an alliance of permanent nature.
There was a coup in Iraq in 1963. What do we know about the U.S. involvement in that coup?
The U.S. involvement in the coup against Kassem in Iraq in 1963 was substantial. There is evidence that CIA agents were in touch with army officers who were involved in the coup. There is evidence that an electronic command center was set up in Kuwait to guide the forces who were fighting Kassem. There is evidence that they supplied the conspirators with lists of people who had to be eliminated immediately in order to ensure success. The relationship between the Americans and the Ba'ath Party at that moment in time was very close indeed. And that continued for some time after the coup. And there was an exchange of information between the two sides. For example it was one of the first times that the United States was able to get certain models of Mig fighters and certain tanks made in the Soviet Union. That was the bribe. That was what the Ba'ath had to offer the United States in return for their help in eliminating Kassem.
Do we know to what extent Saddam Hussein was involved in the killings when he came back from Cairo?
I have documented over seven hundred people who were eliminated, mostly on an individual basis, after the 1963 coup. And they were eliminated based on lists supplied by the CIA to the Ba'ath Party. So the CIA and the Ba'ath were in the business of eliminating communists and leftists who were dangerous to the Ba'ath's take-over.
The coup took place in April, Saddam Hussein did not return to Iraq until May. But he went to work immediately. He became an interrogator in the Fellaheen and Muthaqafeen detention camps. They are camps where they kept communists and fellow travellers, after they took power. And in interrogating people in those camps, he used torture, and undoubtedly like everybody else involved in this activity, eliminated people. In 1963 he was still one of the party's toughs, one of the party's thugs if you wish.
Jumping forward a few years to 1967 and the Arab-Israeli conflict, we've heard that the Soviets then looked to Baghdad in terms of gaining influence in the Middle East. And the Ba'ath Party also wants to get back into power. Describe in the run-up to the 1968 coup, the Cold War dynamics of what was going on in the Middle East, and in particular Iraq, and how the Ba'ath Party was able to use those dynamics to help them get back into power.
In 1968, Iraq had a weak president who was beholden to Nasser. A follower of Nasser. But the defeat of [the Arabs by Israel] in 1967 meant that whatever government was in power when that defeat took place had to go. So the Ba'ath saw an opportunity in this and they thought the time has come for them to take over the country again. The background was extremely interesting. There were two things happening within Iraq at that time. They were developing their own oil and very close to giving the concessions for huge new oil fields, to the USSR and France. And the price of sulpher had shot up so greatly that they were about to mine the sulpher mines in the north and sell it in the world market.
The United States didn't want either to happen. The United States wanted the oil for American oil companies; they wanted the sulpher for themselves. They thought that if Iraq went to the Soviet Union or France, Iraq would be lost to them. In this they were joined by the Ba'ath Party. The Party used the concessions for oil and sulpher as a bargaining point to endear itself once again to America. And they arrived once again at some kind of an agreement of collaboration between the two sides. On the American side negotiating for both the oil and sulpher was a well-known personality, Robert Anderson, the former Secretary of Treasury under Eisenhower. He met secretly with the Ba'ath and they agreed that if they took over power these concessions will be given to the United States.
And so once again the United States was in the business of supporting the Ba'ath office for the government of Iraq. The Ba'ath was successful. This time Saddam Hussein played a key role. He was one of the people who donned a military uniform -- though he's not a military man -- and attacked the presidential palace. And occupied it. The President being weak, surrendered immediately. Two weeks after they took over power on the 17th of July 1968, there was what they call 'the correction movement.' That meant getting rid of the non-Ba'ath elements in the coup, and Saddam was prominent in that. As a matter of fact he held a gun to the head of the Prime Minister and said 'you're going with me to the airport because you're leaving this country.' And the guy pleaded with him, said 'I have family, I have a wife and kids.' And Saddam said well as long as you behave, they'll be fine. He took him to the airport, he put him in a plane, he deported him, and of course years after, he assassinated him in front of the Intercontinental Hotel in London. The man couldn't escape him in the long run.
However, the communists are hardly thrown out and not long after, they turn to Saddam, and he personally leads a delegation to Moscow, and there's a development of a relationship between the two. What game was he playing?
Well, alliances of convenience don't last very long. The Ba'ath Party was committed to certain things which American foreign policy could not tolerate. In this particular case it lasted a very short time, really a matter of two weeks. And Saddam got rid of all of the pro-American elements in the government and he asserted his authority on the country. He was not the president. He was the second man, after a relation of his from Tikrit, President Ahmed Bakr. But what happened immediately after that is the things they needed, they couldn't get from the United States anymore. They needed help economically. They needed arms. And the United States were not in the business of openly supplying arms to Arab countries to re-equip themselves for another round of fighting. That was the major issue between the two sides. Saddam knew he could get the arms from Russia and he journeyed to Russia--this was his first trip outside Iraq. Outside of exile of course. And he got what he wanted. And the alliance of convenience disintegrated as they always do.
So, there was a new alliance, this time with the Soviets.
In 1972, Iraq and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of friendship and co-operation. They wanted to seal the co-operation taking place between them in a formal alliance. The reason Saddam signed that treaty of friendship and co-operation was because that obligated the local communist party, which was very strong, to co-operate with the Ba'ath Party, which was not so strong at that time.
Of course the Russians loved an opportunity to have a hold on Iraq and they signed the treaty and told the local communist party to join the Iraqi government. That alliance internally did not last very long. But the external one was on and off for a very long time. And the Soviet Union at one point thought Iraq was a more important ally than Egypt. Its army always acquitted itself better than the Egyptian army. It was a wealthy country that didn't need a lot of aid, like Egypt. And it was the gateway to the Gulf. To oil. It represented a more immediate threat to the West's lifeline than Egypt did.
So Saddam in the early seventies is Iraq's vice-president. Could you describe how he's already setting up a Stalinist system with control of the government.
In the early seventies, Saddam started out controlling one small department called the Peasants Department; at that time the Ba'ath regime, for a very brief period of time, was committed to installing a democratic system in Iraq. It was a bit of a dream. Came the time for them to assign the job of head of the security system, and no one from the inner circle wanted the job. Everybody says 'this is a dirty job. I don't want it.' Young Saddam Hussein raised his hand, and said 'I want the job. I'll take over the security system.'
He took over the security system, called it the Department of General Relations and proceeded to expand it. This was his first step towards attaining power.
The President at the time, Muhammad Bakr had been a general, and a very nice man. Quite a religious man too. Saddam was a relation of his. He surrendered everything to Saddam, because Saddam worked an eighteen-hour day. In no time at all, Saddam was head of Security, he was head of the Peasants Department, he was head of Relations with the Kurds, he was head of the Committee that controlled the oil. He was head of the committee that controlled relations with the Arab countries. He was head of the Workers Syndicate.
There was a conflict between all these departments that Saddam controlled so tightly and the armed forces--because the armed forces is the one organization capable of overthrowing government. Saddam proceeded to emasculate the army and place his professional soldier relations from Tikrit in key positions. For example, his brother-in-law became Chief of Staff of the Army. And of course soon enough, like all people who are dictators, who are jealous of the army, he appointed himself General and eventually like Stalin he became Field Marshal.
So much of what you just described certainly has Stalinist overtones.
Without any doubt everything Saddam did had Stalinist overtones. In particular, the reliance on the security system rather than the armed forces. The jealousy of the generals in the armed forces. The use of criminal elements within the country, and, incorporating them into the security system. And those people were sort of semi-literate thugs whose loyalty was to Saddam -- without whom, they were nothing. And so he brought them in, he depended on them, and they did him service. Anybody he wanted to get rid of he got rid of. And the door was wide open.
He had two qualities that put him ahead of his colleagues. His ability to work, an eighteen-hour day. Endlessly. And a sense of organization. You didn't see Saddam at three o'clock and miss that appointment by five minutes. Because Saddam would ask you why you are five minutes late, or five minutes early. If you had an appointment with Saddam at three, you showed up at three. That was that. He is that organized. He is that methodical.
And perhaps another comparison to Stalin is -- his relationship with Bakr and, Stalin's relationship with Lenin.
Without any doubt there are similarities in the careers of Stalin and Saddam. Among other things, the major one is Stalin played second fiddle to Lenin for a long time. And it was then Lenin became very suspicious of Stalin. Saddam did the same thing with Ahmed Hassan Bakr and towards the end, Ahmed Hassan Bakr became very suspicious of Saddam and wanted to get rid of him. But it was too late. By then Saddam was in control of the whole country. And Bakr was shoved aside and replaced. Saddam became President. That is one similarity.
The use of criminal elements is key in this. Both of them used them, both of them rotated the heads of the security system because they knew this was the system that controlled the country. So no one could stay in that position for a long time. The longest serving head of security was Saddam's half brother who was there for eight years. And he eventually was moved into another job by Saddam because he became too powerful.
Let's talk about your own personal involvement in the early seventies. You mentioned Saddam wanted certain things from the Soviet Union, but perhaps he wasn't getting them. Arms -- he wasn't happy with what he was getting. He looked to the West and there was a directive that came out, asking if Iraq was working with the best companies. Could you tell us that story?
I became involved with the regime working through a Palestinian group which had set up a consulting company in Beirut. I worked with its successor, Arab Resources Management. And we were in the business of helping the Iraqis realize the huge economic development plans which came very fast as a result of the first oil shock in 1973. In 1976, I received this very short memorandum. It was not addressed to me, it was addressed to one of my colleagues in Beirut and it says--addressing him by his first name--'are the best companies in the world working in Iraq? And if the answer is no, why not?'
So my colleague gave me this and he said, 'you're a word man, answer him. Of course I prepared an answer, twelve pages long, not as short as his question. And I said basically no, the best companies in the world were not working in Iraq. The reasons were changes of priorities, bureaucracy, this that, many reasons. But the last reason was that they put politics ahead of competence. They awarded the contracts to companies on the basis of the country's political outlook, rather than because they're the best companies in the world.
The memorandum came back from Saddam saying 'I agree with everything except this--everyone in the world does this. But now, your job is to get me the best companies in the world to work in Iraq.' And we proceeded to do that. And everybody wanted to work in Iraq. Iraq had oil. Iraq had a population unlike some of the sparsely populated oil producing countries. Iraq had first class technocrats. Iraq had a functioning bureaucracy and Iraq had the plans to develop their country. And he went into developing the country in a very big way.
Down-streaming the oil business came first. Reclaiming land for agriculture came after that. Building railroads, building roads. Mining phosphate, mining sulpher. Building even factories to make stone windows. Nothing escaped Saddam Hussein's attention. And he never forgot a thing. And he got the best companies in the world. We got them for him, and he worked with them, and he worked with them very very successfully. Iraq, soon enough, because of the pace of development in the country, needed labor and they imported two million Arab workers from other Arab countries. And through being generous to the Arab workers who came and worked without work permit, went on social security without needing it, and things like that, Saddam was making his first bid towards Arab leadership. That was his first move towards assuming the leadership of the Arab people. Through the workers who came to work in Iraq through during the heydays of OPEC.
Why were you working for the regime of Saddam?
There is a whole generation of people like me. We are about the same age as Saddam--I'm two years older actually--who believe that is where the Arab dream was--in Iraq. Iraq had wealth, it had population, it had prospects, it had a strong army. They were not backward. And I will use the word backward like some of the oil producing countries. They offered us a future. And we took that chance. We were enamored with what Saddam was doing. Make no mistake about it. Anybody who tells you otherwise didn't know what Saddam was about. He's not telling the truth.
We knew Saddam was tough. But the balance was completely different then. He was also delivering. The Iraqi people were getting a great deal of things that they needed and wanted and he was popular. He eliminated people here and there. With time, as with all dictators, the balance switched. And all we saw of Saddam was elimination and very little benefit to the people.
You became aware that he was actually looking to acquire a nuclear capability for a bomb?
Saddam started a program to acquire unconventional weapons in 1974 when he was Vice-President. He formed a committee and called it the Committee for Strategic Development. It was a three-person committee with Saddam as chair. His brother-in-law and Chief of Staff of the Iraqi army, as a member, and his deputy, Adnan Hamdani, as another member. This committee operated secretly. Even the President didn't know what they were doing. They skimmed off five per cent of the oil income and used it to acquire unconventional weapon. It was the only thing this committee was doing.
Now, to achieve his aim, he needed two things in Iraq. One, money. And there was a great deal of money--we had the first oil shock and Iraq was getting more money than it was spending. So five percent of the oil income was a great deal of money. He had the money. Then, you needed the human factor--the scientists and engineers, and Iraq had a great many of them. But to show you Saddam's brilliance, he added to that by starting a repatriation program of Arab scientists and engineers from all over the world. And I mean Arab, not Iraqi. I'm talking about Egyptians, Palestinians, Moroccans, you name it. He brought them over and he integrated them into his program.
With these two things in place and the will to acquire unconventional weapons, there was only one way to stop Saddam. That would have been for the supplier countries who made the equipment, or made the atomic reactors, not to sell them. That did not happen. And to put it in the vernacular -- after that, he was off and running.
And you saw up close the willingness of some of these countries and companies to work with him and the willingness of their governments to approve these various exports?
Most of Saddam's requests to Western governments were positively received. If there was the occasional no by a government, he went to another place. And he got what he wanted. There were no constraints on getting what he wanted. He got it in time. Time was the only limit to what Saddam was capable of achieving. He got blueprints to help make chemical warfare plans from the United States. Everybody accused the Europeans of that. It was actually an American company and writers in New York would supply him with this blueprints. The U.S. government knew about it.
He got offers for fighter bombers from both the UK and France. For helicopters, for an atomic reactor from France. For suits against atomic biological and chemical warfare from the UK. All of these things took place. Nobody basically said no. Saddam was not stopped through any denial of equipment he needed. He was occasionally stopped through policy. But that didn't last long.
And what gave the whole program of acquiring unconventional weapons an impetus was in the 1970s. The main aim of the West was to pry Saddam away from Russia. And in order to do that, they were bribing him. They were giving him everything he wanted. In the 1980s, the reasons changed [for helping Saddam]. ... Khomeini appeared on the scene and the West decided that Saddam was the lesser of two evils. And they continued to support him and give him what he wanted. In this case, including credit.
The third phase of this relationship was immediately after the cessation of hostilities in the Iran-Iraq war. When Saddam seemingly came out victorious. All of a sudden he was sitting on top of a million-man tested army, unconventional weapons and he was broke, and restless. He became dangerous. He had to do something in order to survive. This was followed by a series of incidents which led to a crisis, the discovery of the supergun. The discovery of the atomic triggers. Saddam threatening the American fleet in the Gulf. Things like that. And the whole thing of course culminated in his invasion of Kuwait and we know what followed that.
Regarding the building of weapons of mass destruction, when it came to an atomic weapon, why did you still believe that that was okay?
I don't think there was any Arab in the seventies who did not want Saddam Hussein to have an atomic weapon. They wanted him to have military parity. Israel had atomic weapons. The Arabs wanted an Arab country to have atomic weapons. Iraq was the head of the pack and therefore all Arabs supported Saddam Hussein. I have news for you: I don't think there are many Arabs at this moment in time--you can exclude me out of this statement at this moment in time--who do not want Saddam Hussein to have an atomic weapon now. They don't look at it as weapons of mass destruction. They look at it as transfer of technology. That the Arabs have done it. The Arabs have joined the modern world. That's the way they see it. And that pleases them. The fact that Saddam Hussein eliminates people, kills innocent men, uses a chemical weapon against his own people, is actually in a way secondary to this image. The Iraqi people are concerned with the latter. They suffer because of the latter. But the Arab people outside of Iraq do not suffer because Saddam Hussein eliminates people, because he doesn't eliminate them. He eliminates Iraqis.
So there is a division between the vision of Saddam Hussein that the Iraqis have and the vision of Saddam Hussein the rest of the Arabs have. To the rest of the Arabs, he is the man standing up to West. To the Iraqis, he is the man who dragged us into this state of misery. Unwillingly.
After the revolution--Saddam was still vice-president--and in July of 1979, he makes a visit to Amman. And, at the same time, he meets with CIA agents there. What is he doing? And what are the consequences of this trip?
Before starting the war with Iran, Saddam Hussin went on a tour of several Arab countries. His first stop was Amman in Jordan. And there he had two things he did not have in other places: an indirect line to the Americans through King Hussein, who has always been a friend of America, and, the possibility of meeting three senior CIA agents who were there, not to spy on Jordan, but to use Jordan as a listening post for the rest of the Middle East.
There is absolutely no doubt that Saddam discussed his plans to invade Iran with King Hussein. There is considerable evidence that he discussed his plans to invade Iran with the CIA agents that King Hussein prevailed on him to meet with. After that he flew to Saudi Arabia and there is a record of him telling King Fahd that he is going to invade Iran, and then after that, I think he had a stop-over in Kuwait and he did the same thing. What the trips did was to guarantee him American support in invading Iran. Financial support from the oil producing countries after their invasion and a channel to buy arms.
One of the great unknowns or perhaps unthought of elements in the war between Iran and Iraq was the people who fronted for them in purchasing arms. Saddam had acceptable countries who fronted for him. Jordan bought arms for Saddam. Jordan is acceptable in the West. Egypt bought arms for Saddam. Egypt was acceptable. Saudi Arabia bought arms for Saddam. Saudi Arabia was acceptable. Iran did not have that advantage. Iran had Syria and Libya to front for it, and neither country was acceptable. So the flow of arms to Iraq was at the much higher scale. And they were more sophisticated stuff. They got more sophisticated pieces of armament than the Iranians. And this is why they prevailed in the end.
So you can look at this picture as having begun with this tour that Saddam took immediately before he invaded Iran. He was protecting his back with conservative regimes. With pro-West regimes. He was not protecting his back with the USSR. As a matter of fact the USSR cut off the flow of arms to Iraq once it invaded Iran. And Saddam had to rely exclusively on Western armament for three years until the USSR changed its mind and start selling him again. They saw that they were losing out in Iraq because the West was willing to give him everything he wanted.
At the previous meeting in 1979, before he took power from Bakr, he also went to Amman and possibly met some CIA agents.
Saddam took several trips to Jordan and Saudi Arabia immediately before the war with Iran. The trips had two purposes. To get these countries support and indirectly, to get the support of the West because these countries are solidly pro-West. And also to back him in his plans to replace Bakr who was still then president and could do something to intercept Saddam's plans. That was really the period of developing the classic alliance of convenience between Saddam and the West. They were talking to each other through intermediaries, but major intermediaries. We're talking about kings and presidents.
So he had the guarantee that he would succeed in his efforts. His removal of Bakr needed a guarantee that no one would act against him. He removed Bakr rather unceremoniously and made himself president. And he reshaped the Ba'ath Party in no time at all by executing half of the command of the party. And then he went to war with Iran, thinking it is going to last a few weeks. Iran will see that the West is helping me, and they will not fight for long.
Well, the man on the other side thought differently. Khomeini was a religious fanatic and he was not about to surrender. He was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of people and Saddam was entrapped because the West, which never really liked him--developed these alliances of convenience. But liking Saddam was something else. After all Saddam's really not terribly likeable. And in the final analysis, the West had him where they wanted him. He was pre-occupied in a war with Iran. Both countries were bleeding to death, economically and otherwise, and both countries took their eyes off the rest of the Gulf which is what interested the West in terms of the flow and price of oil.
Talk about his decision to invade Iran. He had just made himself President. It was his first big step on the world stage. And so far, he's been a master of control and power within Iraq. Talk about his decision to go to war with Iran.
The invasion of Iran was a huge gamble by Saddam Hussein. He was seriously concerned that Iraq would disintegrate from within. That certain elements of the Shia community would side with Khomeini and they were already causing trouble. They were practically an uprising in Najjaf. He had to execute the leader of the Shias. But Khomeini wouldn't stop. Khomeini was calling for his overthrow. So, it was really in a way one of the few wars of principle in the twentieth century. One man was saying religion is supreme--that was Khomeini. And Saddam Hussein was saying the nation state is supreme. And Saddam Hussein was proven right.
The cost was horrendous. Both countries were bled to death. And a friend of mine interviewed Saddam Hussein and he said in the interview--it was during the war with Iran--that if the superpowers wanted this war to stop, they would stop it. He became aware that he was in a trap. There is a great deal to show that the United States wanted both sides weakened. They didn't like Khomeini. They didn't like Saddam. They sold stuff to Saddam, they sold stuff to Khomeini secretly. They supplied information to both sides at different stages of the game. They didn't want either side to lose and they didn't want either side to win. And that is what happened.
In the early 1980s--a time when Saddam thought the war with Iran would soon be over--this is a time when you, again, had a personal involvement with the regime. How did you become involved again, and what was your assignment? Why did you accept?
Well, in the case of my involvement with Iraq in the early 1980s, Iraq came to me and asked me to help them after the original group I worked with was out of the picture. I accepted for a very simple reason. For the same reason the United States supported him against Iran--I thought he was the lesser evil. When it came to him and Khomeini, I wanted Saddam to come out ahead or to win. There are several reasons. I am an Arab, one. And the second one, I do not believe in religious movements. I was afraid that the Khomeini movement might prevail and take over the Middle East. And it was, if you wish, an alliance of convenience between me and Saddam. I was not taken with Saddam, but I wanted Khomeini to lose, and that is why I accepted to work with him.
And I worked in a capacity of helping him in his relations with the United States on two levels. One, creating a certain image for him in the United States by sending certain members of the press to Iraq to see him. And he was available and willing. And the second, by laying the ground for greater economic cooperation and things like opening an office for an American bank in Baghdad. It was image building. It was smoothing the way because the two countries didn't have diplomatic relations between them. And I'd like to think it was successful. However it didn't last long, because I did walk out after his first use of chemical weapons.
There were rumors that Saddam was using chemical weapons. When they were eventually verified and it was proven that he was using chemical weapons against both Iran and the Kurds in the north, it was a matter of conscience. I could no longer be associated with him, and I walked out, and I walked out with [them] owing me more money than I'll ever be worth. And I will never get. But that was a personal decision I had to make, and I made it.
And to what extent did you regret your involvement with the regime, not just this time, but also back in the 1970s?
Well, people who support dictators always come round to regretting it, unfortunately. In the 1970s, we supported him because the Arabs were defeated and humiliated in 1967. And we wanted one Arab country to move ahead and be strong, economically and militarily. And we saw Iraq as that one country. That's why we supported him. We were not blind to what he was.
The scale tipped in other directions. He became more dictatorial with time. He eliminated more people with time. And he stopped delivering the benefits to the Iraqi people with time. This sounds like a German talking about aiding and abetting the, rise of Hitler. It is pretty much the same; or, somebody helping Stalin get there. But, in my case, it was better late than never and I walked out.
But, we had no one to look to. There was a vacuum in Arab leadership. Particularly after Nasser died. There was no Arab leader that my generation could look to. And suddenly there was this fellow in Iraq in a very serious way. He represented potential. And we loved the idea of him being there, because we looked at Egypt, it wasn't working. We looked at Saudi Arabia, they were in another century. We looked at Arab countries, they are not capable of anything. Iraq had the potential. Suddenly had a man at the helm who could realise that potential. And that was Saddam Hussein. And believe me he came very close, let's make no mistake about that. Saddam Hussein came very close to realizing the potential of Iraq and dragging it into the twentieth century.
At times it seemed the U.S. was giving Saddam mixed signals in the 1980s. Tell us the story of Saddam's meeting with a consultant and how Saddam was trying to understand the U.S. What does it reveal about his perceptions of America.
Saddam Hussein is a learner. He used to read a great deal and he used to listen to people a great deal. He never told them when he was taking something away from what they were saying. But he did, and in this case, he summoned a Lebanese journalist to talk to him about the workings of the U.S. governmental system--checks and balances, if you wish. And the Lebanese journalist was taken aback by his question--'explain to me the system of checks and balances of the United States.' He tried his best to explain it to him. And the meeting went on for over an hour. And Saddam listened very attentively. At the end of it he said, 'if power is divided in America, who do we deal with then? And the man, afraid like everybody who sees Saddam, looked at him and said, 'Mr. President, I don't think you have any choice. You have to deal with the executive branch.' At which point, Saddam supposedly shook his head from side to side and he said, 'but they lie to me all the time.' This is an example of the misgivings Saddam Hussein had about the United States.
There was a love-hate relationship between the two. He loved American technology, Saddam is enamored with technology anyway. And he decided very early in his career that certain types of technology could only be supplied by the United States of America. So in a way he related to the United States, he had affection for the United States and what the United States could provide. Simultaneously he never trusted them politically. He told many journalists who saw him that America's policy towards the Middle East is shortsighted. Because there are more Arabs than Israelis. The Arabs were wealthier, and America should throw its lot with the Arabs. This is where Saddam Hussein, the uneducated man, comes into play. Because a really savvy politician would know better, would know that the United States could not change its policy towards the Middle East. But Saddam didn't know that. He's still bright, but there are holes in his education which show when people talk to him.
After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam is trying to figure out what the U.S. policy is, or, how there seemed to be different policies -- from the Congress and from the executive branch. What was Saddam's view of the box he was in and what was going on?
We don't know how much money Saddam Hussein owed after the war with Iran ended. Estimates ranged between $65 billion and $100 billion. It was a great deal of money. He told the Iraqi people that he won the war. And the Iraqi people wanted the fruits of victory and he couldn't deliver. He counted on the Arab countries--Saudi Arabia and Kuwait--to help him out. They didn't help him out. And suddenly on top of that, there was a change in U.S. policy. Instead of supporting him, providing him with greater credit, there was criticism about his human rights policies which were always atrocious, but it was more vociferous than it was before. They were talking about supporting the Kurds. There was talk about investigating what had happened in the past.
All of a sudden the custom and excise people throughout Europe became extra clever and were discovering shipments of all types of things to Iraq--the bits for the supergun, the triggers. Superguns were discovered all over the place as a matter of fact in about five different countries.
And Saddam felt beleaguered. He didn't feel this was accidental. He felt that the West knew that he was weak, and this was an opportunity to weaken him further or get rid of him. He told this to Yasser Arafat; he told him there is a conspiracy against Iraq and he told this to Mubarak. He believed in the conspiracy theory, so in his own mind what he was fighting was a conspiracy.
The ideal thing for Saddam to do, and what I personally believe he wanted to do, was to go to war with Israel, briefly, for about a week, two weeks. Get pounded, but embarrass the rest of Arab states into giving him loads of money to tide him over this financial problem. All of a sudden Kuwait, as far as Saddam is concerned, gets in the way. How did Kuwait get in the way? Saddam's only income was from oil and Kuwait was pumping over its OPEC quota and the price of oil was collapsing. And every time the price of oil fell by one dollar, Iraq lost a billion dollars in income. And Saddam decided Kuwait couldn't possibly be doing this on its own. No way. Kuwait didn't need the money. Its own income was enough if it had investment in the West which was producing income. Why is Kuwait doing this?
And because of his previous involvement in 1963 when Kuwait was used as a post by the CIA to help the Ba'ath Party overthrow Kassem, Saddam decided Kuwait is being used again to change the Iraqi government. This time against me, last time I was on the other side. This time they are using it against me. And instead of directing his efforts into starting a war with Israel, he invaded Kuwait. And once again, like all intelligent people without education, when they make a mistake, they make them really big.
Did he expect the U.S. to respond?
No, he did not expect the United States to respond to his invasion of Kuwait the way it did. He personally analyzed the situation, had that famous meeting with American ambassador April Glaspie in Baghdad. And he believed the United States gave him a green light to occupy Kuwait. Well, that shows Saddam's lack of education because there was no way the United States was going to allow Saddam Hussein to control the flow and price of oil in the Middle East. Impossible. And there is evidence that people within his inner circle told him not to do it and he did it. He thought he would bargain.
This is where, again, you see Saddam for what he is. Saddam is making an A- bomb, but Saddam comes from the small village of Al Awja. When you talk about Saddam being schizophrenic or having a split personality, it is not necessarily physiological, it is sociological. One foot is in the seventeen century in Al Awja, and the other foot is in the twentieth century making an A-bomb. He invaded Kuwait and thought, 'good I have Kuwait, I'm going to bargain with the United States.' Well the United States made its position clear. There is no bargaining about the withdrawal from Kuwait, fella, you get out of Kuwait. No conditions. No rewards. Nothing. That he couldn't understand. And he was caught.
After the Gulf War, there were the upprisings in the South, and in the North. And the U.S. didn't act. What do you think he thought of the U.S. decision not to support the rebellion? Do you think he respected that?
I think Saddam and the United States very often have a commonality which bonds them together and that is simply this: That without Saddam Hussein, Iraq would disintegrate into several countries and make more trouble for the rest of the Middle East. I know no Iraqi who believes that--whether Sunni, Shia or Kurd. The American administration believes that however. And Saddam Hussein believes that. When the rebellion started against Saddam in 1991, that danger loomed. The United States helped Saddam crush that rebellion. They didn't only stand by, on occasions they stopped the rebels from reaching arms depots to arm themselves. On other occasions, American planes flew over Saddam's helicopters while they were shooting the rebels. On a third occasion, they gave his Republican Guards safe passage through American lines to reach a certain rebel position.
The American administration was afraid that Iraq will disintegrate. They had no plan for what might follow Saddam Hussein. And certainly President Bush was explicit on that subject, saying he did not want to be mired in Iraqi internal affairs--until he was forced into getting into Iraq by television and the pictures of the poor Kurds. And so that rebellion failed.
This bond between Saddam Hussein and the United States exists to this day. They are the two parties that believe Saddam Hussein's disappearance would cause huge problems. In the case of the United States, there are huge problems that we want to solve before we think seriously of moving him. In the case of Saddam Hussein, he keeps this issue alive, saying, 'you need me, you know.' Again, the case of the lesser evil as it was when he fought Khomeini.
And yet throughout the 1990s, we have seen several attempts by the U.S. to change the regime. And the U.S. was left with the situation where they had demonized this man to such an extent it was a political embarrassment to have him survive. How effective have U.S. actions to remove Saddam in the 1990s been?
America's actions against Saddam Hussein since the Gulf War in terms of removing him have been very weak indeed. Among other things Saddam had eliminated so many people in Iraq, probably by accident--he eliminated all the CIA agents operating under ethnic cover. He probably didn't know they were CIA agents. I don't think there have been any really serious attempts by the United States of America to remove Saddam. I think there have been some attempts by people who are cooperating with the United States to remove Saddam. That is a completely different matter. Because they take two completely different forms.
The United States had two opportunities. One, in 1991--they could have helped the rebels and removed him, and they refused to do that. And one, in 1995--when the Kurds rose and with other elements opposed to Saddam, defeated a whole Iraqi division and the Iraqi army was going to disintegrate practically and the United States withheld support. The United States is caught in this position of not having a plan for what follows Saddam.
And as one of the leaders of the Iraqi opposition said, they want Saddamism without Saddam. They have demonized Saddam the person, but they're not necessarily opposed to the regime. They have never been the champions of human rights in the Middle East. Once Saddam used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Halabja, the U.S. War College issued a forty-some page report saying 'it wasn't Saddam's chemicals that killed the people of Halabja, it was Iranian chemicals that killed the people of Halabja.' I can't believe myself that the U.S. War College issued that report without the sanction of people higher up in the U.S. government.
After the Gulf War and the Iran-Iraq War, how did Saddam manage to keep control inside the country? And, what does it tell us about the effectiveness of the system that he set up back in the early 1970s?
Saddam's control of Iraq is not difficult to understand. He has a very, very elaborate security apparatus--about six elements. Internal security intelligence, special presidential security, you name it, he has it. It probably costs the government more money than anything else in the country. He had created an army within the general Iraqi army, the Republican Guard. The Republican Guard is not a professional army, it's an ideological army. Which owes its allegiance to Saddam himself.
So, you have the security systems, you have the army, you have members of his family in key positions in both systems, and in the rest of the country. And you have whatever remains of the Ba'ath Party in the country. Which is still beholden to him. When you multiply the numbers of people who work directly for Saddam Hussein by six or seven, the number of people who depend on them--I mean families in the Middle East are large as we know--then you have a constituency of somewhere between twenty to thirty per cent of the population of Iraq. You can run a country through these numbers very easily. This is not a difficult proposition. But if you're talking about security in terms of doing anything against him, he has taken huge steps to guarantee that nothing could possibly happen against him.
Generals are not left in the same position for a long time. Security people are not left in the same position for a long time. Fathers spy on sons. Members of the family are under an obligation to spy on other members of the family. Students spy on teachers. It is persuasive, it is suffocating. An Iraqi opposition personality told me that no meeting involving more than three people can take place in Iraq without Saddam Hussein knowing about it. This is how tight it is within the country.
Yet he himself now is moving around and -- He is moving around considerably. He never sleeps in the same place. You never know where he is having his dinner because dinner is prepared in five or six different places. He has doubles who stand in for him on occasions. There are two or three people who know of his movements and it is his sons and one other guy who is his secretary. He has a food taster. You know this business of Saddam always wearing hats? They are all bullet proof, they are lined with Kavlar inside, just in case there is a sniper in a building who is about to shoot him. Even the straw hat that he wears occasionally is lined with Kavlar. And, he looks more sturdy than he is, he looks rounder than he is, because he is wearing a bulletproof vest.
But that's if you got to him. The business of getting to him is almost impossible. You have to go through so many things and so many stages. People who see Saddam Hussein nowadays have to be x-rayed. Because he's always afraid that they've swallowed some kind of explosive that will detonate and take him with them.
So what does the future hold? Where do we go from here?
I think where we go from here is to make a deal directly with the Iraqi people. The only salvation for Iraq and for Western policy towards Iraq is to make a direct deal with the Iraqi people, openly. To tell the people who guarantee Saddam's continuance that they would not suffer if there is a change in the regime. To tell the Iraqi people that they would have more to eat and more medicine. To tell the Sunnis that they would not suffer under the Shias. To ask the neighbors not to interfere in Iraq. To give them an incentive to get rid of the man. So far, neither the small organizations under Saddam nor the Iraqi people in general have been offered an incentive to change him. So far U.S. policy depends on various opposition groups which contain many honorable men, but who have absolutely no following within the country. As a matter of fact, I saw a picture of them standing with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and I tried to do a mental calculation of how many followers within Iraq they have--there were about twelve of them. And I decided that they could muster up about five thousand people all together.
Do you think he was surprised that America allowed him to survive?
I think he was very surprised that America allowed him to survive, because it is something that is strange to his nature. He would not have allowed his enemy to survive, and he expects everybody to behave the way he behaves. So this was a great big present that was most unexpected. But the moment he grabbed it, he started planning for the future.
How did he plan for the future?
Well, first, he had to re-establish internal control within the country. The second thing is to say that what happened is done, and let us start all over again. What he didn't realize is that the UN resolutions that were enacted didn't allow him to start all over again that fast, and that the resolutions may be subject to interpretation that would cripple him economically and politically for the foreseeable future.
. . . Talk a bit about the way he crushed that 1991 rebellion after the Gulf War. Once he knew that he had the freedom to do it, he was brutal.
He crushed the rebellion totally and completely. He was extremely successful in crushing the rebellion in 1991. And, except for Kurdistan, he eliminated the sources of the rebellion. In Kurdistan, he thought he would do a deal, since he couldn't get away with crushing the leadership of the Kurdish people. But in other places, in the Shia South, he completely crushed the rebellion. He eliminated all elements that were involved in the rebellion. He moved the center of power completely, putting it in the hands of the Republican Guard--immediately and directly under his own control. So this was another transfer of power. He himself, was now responsible for every single move that affected the security of the Iraqi state.
There are security centers throughout Iraq. The people heading these security centers distributed tapes of executions, of people disappearing, of people being demoted, of people being humiliated. They showed the tapes to the population to frighten the people. They were telling the people, "This is what would happen to you if you oppose Saddam."
Right after the war, the Bush administration started the policy of containment, and of keeping the sanctions. Saddam didn't expect this. He thought that he would be brought back in.
Saddam Hussein did not expect the sanctions to last as long as they have. The UN resolutions containing the articles of the sanctions are, by nature, a little vague, and subject to interpretation. He interpreted them in the way most favorable way to him. The United States and the UK interpreted them the opposite way, with France, China, and Russia in the middle. He thought they would come in, inspect the country, find what they find, destroy it, and then they would get out, and everything would be done and finished. The United States kept saying, no, there is more, we have to find it, where did you get it, who gave it to you, how did they give it to you? Of course, this extended it. In a way, it was actually changing the guidelines. There is nothing in the resolutions, for example, about some of the searches. Some of them were an affront to Iraqi dignity--there's no doubt about it--going into his palaces, and inspecting the place where he himself lived. That was something completely new to him.
Why would he have allowed the inspectors in at all?
He allowed the United Nations inspectors in because he thought this was going to be short-lived: 'I can satisfy them, I can fool them, I can present them with a great deal.' They'd go home happy, saying they'd discovered everything there is to discover in Iraq. He had no idea that they would look for the sources of this material. And when they started looking, it became staggeringly obvious to them that there is more to the program than they had originally thought. For example, in the most dramatic example, before the inspection started, everybody thought Saddam was five or six years from making an atomic bomb. After the inspections started, the United Nations discovered he was only six months away from making an atomic bomb.
How would he fool them?
Well, it's a huge country. He planned bunkers and laboratories, and attached them to schools and to innocent organizations all over the country. The scientists and engineers working for him did not operate from one single spot. They had 300-400 places from which they operated. The labs needed for chemical and biological warfare are very small, and you can hide them. They can be part of a university's labs. The safety equipment needed can expose the lab, because you have to have a great deal of it. But the labs themselves are easy to hide. The equipment itself is not that bulky, or that expensive. As long as you have people underground who are willing to make chemical and biological weapons, you'd be able to make them
We talked about the beginning of official opposition in the Iraqi National Congress, the INC, around 1992 and 1993, when they had their first and second meetings. What was Saddam's feeling about this opposition? Did he take it seriously at that time?
At the very beginning, he took the opposition seriously. He thought that, with the U.S. backing, the opposition would act as a magnet for people within his regimes, and would truly undermine him. But the opposition failed to do that. The opposition was made up of the wrong people, people who had not been to Iraq for a long time, so they didn't know the people inside. They did not want to contact the people inside, or rely on the people inside Iraq to change Saddam's regime, because the people inside would be competition for leadership against them. They wanted to do it themselves. This was very selfish, and it backfired. In time, he stopped fearing the opposition, because the opposition proved to be ineffectual. They were not able to organize, and they were quarrelling among themselves. There was considerable corruption among the ranks of the opposition and Saddam said, 'This is wonderful. With enemies like this, I can sleep comfortably.'
I want to talk about the INC attack of 1995. Did they have some success, or did you see that as a direct threat?
The 1995 attacks of the INC were initially very successful. Many Iraqi soldiers surrendered to them, and indeed it was a major challenge to Saddam, but he is wily. He divided the ranks of the opposition, and it fell apart. They were not defeated on the battlefield; they just couldn't continue. This was a great coup for Saddam, and, of course, this will help him in the future, because no Iraqi soldier is going to defect to a side that cannot maintain an attack against Saddam. Why would I defect to a group of losers, who can't agree among themselves as to what should be done? Initially, it stood a chance of attracting more and more Iraqi soldiers, and of undoing the whole regime, but they couldn't maintain it.
You must have known that the U.S. did not agree to support that invasion. . . . What do you think that told them about American intentions?
Saddam reads America's intentions better than America reads Saddam's intentions. Saddam knows that America does not want a fragmented, divided Iraq. Therefore, in the final analysis, America will opt for him. There was a chance that this attack from the north would create a divided Iraq, or a civil war in the country, because it was made up mostly of Kurdish and Shia elements. Saddam knew the United States would come to his rescue, and not support the attack. He didn't know how they would do it. The way they did it was rather callous. They really undermined the opposition, not in terms of the attack itself, but on a long-term basis. They embarrassed the opposition, and made them look like fools. They initiated something they could not continue, or finalize.
Shortly after, he suffered a personal blow when his two sons-in-law left. Why did they leave, and what do you think that meant to Saddam?
[Hussein Kamel, one of Saddam Hussein's (ex) sons-in-law] Saddam's sons-in-law and daughters defected to Jordan because of a family quarrel. They couldn't get along with his son. But we're talking about two important people -- one of them the head of the unconventional weapons program, and the second one was head of security -- so they had a considerable amount of information with them when they defected. That was a severe blow to Saddam, both in terms of his modern thinking, which is behind making unconventional weapons, and in terms of the tribal half of his nature. "How dare anyone from within my tribe betray me? This is my son-in-law and cousin, and he betrayed me." Of course, they gave all the information they had, both to the United Nations and the United States, and to everyone else who was willing to receive it. This was damaging, because at that moment, Iraq was about to be declared free of unconventional weapons by UN inspectors. All of a sudden, there is Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, standing in front of them, saying, "I have documents that can prove that your inspection has not uncovered everything Saddam has. He has considerably more than this." They looked at it, and they were just absolutely aghast, and said, "Let's start all over again."
I've heard that really that was the lowest point.
The defection of his sons-in-law was the point that undermined Saddam the most. It was the point that eliminated any chance of the sanctions being lifted--without a truly clean bill of health, and we assume that is impossible--Saddam will always try to keep some of these weapons to protect himself. So it's a never-ending circle.
Why would he want to? What's the point?
It is protection for Saddam to have biological and chemical weapons, because, in the final analysis, if pressed, if he is surrounded in Baghdad, he will threaten to use them. He's capable of that. This is a sort of Samson complex--if you push me too hard, I'll bring the house down, on myself and on everyone else. Washington realizes that this is a possibility. For obvious reasons, it's not talked about openly. No one in Washington wants to tell the American people that Saddam is still capable of blackmailing us. They're acting as if he is capable of blackmailing them, but they are not going to admit it openly.
It's hard for people to understand why somebody would go down and take a lot of the people with him, and use chemical weapons as a final act of vengeance. Why would Saddam do that?
Saddam doesn't want to use chemical weapons. But, if he knows he's going to go down, I am sure that he is capable of using them. You are not going to get Saddam Hussein alive. Saddam Hussein will only leave Iraq as a dead person. He won't go into exile in the Riviera. He's gone beyond that point. He knows that he is dead the moment his regime is over--so why not punish them, why not punish them for doing this to me. He's always shaken the state to its roots when threatened. He's always taken his colleagues and executed them, at any hint of conspiracy or threat to the regime. He got rid of his brother, who was the head of security, over a family feud, and threatened the future of the state, because he could not tolerate being challenged. This would be the same kind of thing.
The son-in-law story -- that was also a key point at which Saddam lost King Hussein as an ally.
Jordan gave Saddam's sons-in-law and their families sanctuary. And they were releasing information to the United Nations and the United States. That did not endear King Hussein to Saddam. He saw it as an act of betrayal. But Saddam is very practical. He didn't make a fuss out of that. He didn't like it, and it was the end of a friendship with King Hussein. But economic relations and trade relations with Jordan continued. Of course, it is because they continued that he finally was able to entice his sons-in-law back to Iraq, where they eventually met their deaths.
How did that happen? For most people, it's just unbelievable that they would go back. He made phone calls, he guaranteed their safety. . .
Saddam told his sons-in-law that, if they came back to Iraq, they would be completely safe. They foolishly believed Saddam. So, as military officers, they donned their uniforms, and they went back to Iraq. The moment they entered Iraq, they were separated from their families. Their families were taken to Baghdad, and they were taken out of the city. Like Saddam, they are very tribal, so they surrounded themselves with bodyguards, not trusting him completely. Two days later, there was an attack on the house by members of the family, to avenge the family honor. So Saddam claimed that he kept his word, as the chief of the armed forces, as the president of Iraq, that he would do nothing to them. So, when it was finally done, the attack succeeded and they were captured and killed. Saddam said,'I didn't go back on my word. This happened according to tribal tradition. The family had to avenge itself. The family had to recover its honor.' That's how he explained what he did to them.
What do we know about him promising his daughters that their husbands would not be . . .
We don't know a great deal about the messages that went back and forth between Saddam, his daughters and his sons-in-law. But they did definitely contain a guarantee that no harm would become them. The sons-in-law, of course, are dead now, murdered by other members of the family. The daughters are alive, but they have not been seen in public since. They're under lock and key, and I understand that he does not see them personally, because they, too, betrayed him. But even Saddam stops at a certain point, and I guess that point is not killing his own daughters.
After that, the big coup is uncovered. He then goes up to Irbil. It's as if he's getting revenge on people who betrayed him, and he goes to the North, and attacks the INC in August 1997.
He was invited to the North by one of the Kurdish factions. He has always maintained contact with the two leading Kurdish groups, the Kurdish Democratic Party, and the Popular Union of Kurdistan. He plays them against each other. Unfortunately for the Iraqi people, they accept help and money from Saddam. When it suits him, he supports one side, and when it suits him, he supports the other side. The United States has not been able to prevail on these two groups to come together, to end their feuding, and to unite against Saddam. The Kurds don't trust the United States a great deal, because historically, they have been let down several times, so they, themselves, are in the business of keeping an open door to Saddam to deceive them.
The Kurds in Northern Iraq receive money from the United States. At the same time, they receive money from Saddam, and they receive money from Iran. So they trade and smuggle goods and oil to Turkey, and make money out of that. Actually, they're in very good shape financially. Everybody is courting them, and paying them money, and they get part of the income of the oil-for-food program, so they're doing very well. The one thing they have not managed to do is to become an effective force against Saddam by uniting and confronting him, and by allowing other opposition groups to use Iraqi Kurdistan as a staging area for forays against Saddam. They have not allowed that to happen, because they accuse the United States of not being true to any plan calling for that.
I personally do not believe that at this time Saddam Hussein wants to reassert his control in Kurdistan, because if he does, all he is buying is trouble. The Kurds will be within Iraq, and they're the ones in the mountains, where his army is not that effective. The Kurds could cause him a lot of trouble. He is better off drawing a line between himself and the Kurds for the time being, and keeping them separate. Otherwise, he'd have to commit his armed forces. He would have a civil war on his hands. He would spend all the money and ammunition he has against them. The way it is now, he is capable of influencing what the Kurds do at any juncture.
But in August of 1996, he went into Irbil. I know he was invited up there. But, at the time, did he see that as a plan?
Saddam sees everything in very many ways, including a highly personal way. For him to go to Irbil in 1996 was a triumph, and it was a triumph against the United States. 'I'm back North in my country, against your wishes. I am back because the Kurds invited me. I am back, and alive, in the city of Irbil that you have mentioned so often in your pronouncements about protecting the Kurds. I am here.'
It was a huge ego trip for him, and of course he used it. And then, he pulls back from that, and he goes back to his original position. But he's made his point--he challenged the United States successfully in the North. He showed them that they cannot rely on the Kurds. This is a very, very big point, because this is one of the two major groups actually capable of acting in concert to topple him, the Kurds in the North, and the Shias in the South. The people outside don't have any followers. These are the two groups that have followers within Iraq.
1998 is becoming much more confrontational in Kurdistan. Had he concluded that Kurdistan was never going to lead to the lifting of sanctions?
I think that, in 1997 and 1998, Saddam Hussein was handed a victory. UNSCOM was operating within Iraq, but the pronouncements coming out of Washington and London were completely different. The pronouncements were saying, sanctions will not be lifted unless Saddam Hussein is removed. He used that very successfully to challenge UNSCOM, to say, 'Why should I cooperate with you to bring about my own downfall? There is nothing to be gained by cooperating with UNSCOM.' He convinced his own people of that. He convinced the Arab people of that, and he convinced many people in the world of that. He practically convinced the French of that. You know the French spoke out, and said there is nothing in the UN resolutions about removing Saddam Hussein.
So the people who are speaking for the U.S. and the UK governments tripped themselves by openly advocating the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Through that, they undermined the UN inspectors, and allowed Saddam Hussein to ask for their withdrawal.
Let's talk some about the increasing complication with the UN. By the late 1980s, 1990s, had Saddam concluded that working through UNSCOM was not going to lead to sanctions being lifted?
By the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein decided that cooperating with UNSCOM was not going to help him, that it was not going to lead to the sanctions being lifted, that it was the policymakers in Washington and London who would decide when the sanctions were to be lifted.
Then little things enabled him to ask for the withdrawal of UNSCOM. He had maintained all along that UNSCOM was full of spies, and all of a sudden some officers in UNSCOM go on television and say, "Yes, we were spying for the United States, yes, we were cooperating with Israel." Saddam Hussein must have been full of joy. He said, 'Look at it. I was telling the truth. Get out of here. We will not allow Israeli spies to operate within Iraq. We will not allow CIA spies to operate within Iraq.' Everybody suspected that there were some spies in UNSCOM. But the way it came out, it certainly enhanced his image, with his people, and with the Arab people overall. It considerably undermined the image of UNSCOM. UNSCOM was finished after it became clear that it had been infiltrated by all of these intelligence services. It had no credibility.
Did Saddam overplay his hand? In December, 1998, right after the inspectors pulled out, he was hit very hard with Desert Fox.
Desert Fox and similar operations do not faze Saddam Hussein. He doesn't care. If you kill another hundred Iraqi soldiers, it's no skin off his nose. If you hit him directly, if you threaten to topple him, if you attack him in Baghdad, that is a completely different matter. But these attacks do not threaten to topple him. After he asked UNSCOM to leave, the Iraqi Liberation Act was passed, but that doesn't matter, either. That is formalizing something that has been taking place over time--the United States was supporting the Iraqi opposition before that. They didn't call it the Iraqi Liberation Act, but it doesn't matter what you call it, if the end result is the same. It's the same group of people, and they haven;t produced any results. Why should they produce results just because we call it the Iraqi Liberation Act? The Iraqi Liberation Act is to the credit of some U.S. senators for internal consumption. But in terms of what the United States government was doing towards Iraq, it changed absolutely nothing. Now they're claiming that the United States is willing to train some Iraqis in some kind of military establishments to eventually fight against Saddam.
And when you ask the Iraqi opposition, as I did recently, how many of your people are being trained right now, the answer was four. This is not serious. This is the way for the United States government to say, 'We are complying with the articles of the Iraqi Liberation Act,' without doing anything. Four people are not going to overthrow the Saddam regime.
Throughout 1999, there were continual air strikes against him. Do these attacks somehow serve a purpose for him?
Attacking does serve Saddam Hussein's purpose, because it shows he is standing up, he is resisting. He is still telling the people, 'You cannot fly over my country.' It gives him a psychological lift. It is psychological for the Iraqi people, to think, 'There is a reason behind what is happening to us. It is because we have enemies, enemies who are attacking our military installations and denying us food, denying us medicine, and making our life miserable. It is the same group of people.' So you identify one with the other, and you get mileage out of it, and he is doing that. Above all, this enhances Saddam's image with the Arab people. Saddam Hussein is now the only Arab leader who has a following outside his own country.
Saddam Hussein is very popular with the people in Jordan. Saddam Hussein is very popular with the Palestinian people. Saddam Hussein is very popular with the people in Syria. Saddam Hussein is very popular with college students in Cairo and other places in Egypt. Saddam Hussein is standing up to the West. He has survived for nine years. He is a hero. He is not winning. But the mere fact that he survives, that he continues, is enough to make him a hero. And people like it. They don't live under Saddam Hussein, so they don't suffer from his actions the way the Iraqi people suffer. All they see is the fact that he is standing up to the West, and they like that.
What happened to his dream that Iraq could be a modern secular advanced Arab country? Does he still have that dream . . .?
If Saddam has any dreams to lead the Arabs, they're certainly on the back burner. His immediate purpose now is to survive--he cannot think beyond that. But mere survival is a victory. His mere survival on a day-to-day basis is a victory, and now it is much more difficult to remove him than it was in 1991. In 1991, people could have marched to Baghdad, removed Saddam Hussein, and say, 'This is the way we punish people who invade Kuwait.' Now that is gone. You can't use that reason to go into Baghdad. Why haven't you used it for the past nine years? If you want to use it now, it doesn't make sense. Now it is simply a case of punishing an Arab leader and punishing an Arab country. The Arabs quarrel and kiss and make up. They believe in making up, they believe in forgetting and forgiving. They cannot understand that the West persists in punishing the Iraqi people because of Saddam Hussein. As far as most Arabs are concerned, this is over and done with. He's been punished enough. 'Get out of the Middle East, stop punishing our brothers, Arab brothers, Muslim brothers. We love them. Leave us alone, please, and stop this business.' And it has made the United States and Britain very unpopular in certain quarters.
What about the oil-for-food program?
Saddam saw an opportunity in November, 1998, when oil prices went up, to force the situation of the oil-for-food program--he insists that the sanctions should be lifted immediately. And with the price of oil going up, he decided to withhold his oil. So the price of oil increased further, and it actually threatened Western economies in a small way. The oil price increase certainly contributes to inflation, and brings the whole issue of Iraqi oil, the relationship, and the sanctions to the fore again. Saddam wants this issue in the limelight. He wants people to discuss it. He wants the pope to discuss it. He wants the United Nations to discuss it. He wants the French and Russians and Chinese to discuss it. He is essentially saying that everyone in the world agrees that the sanctions should be lifted--except the United States and Britain. And the more he dramatizes this, the more it is a subject for discussion, and the more people of the world are aware of it. He's a master tactician. It's a master stroke, make no mistake about it. The timing is absolutely perfect.
Most of this past year he's been lying pretty low and quiet. What has he been up to?
For the past year, Saddam has been consolidating his position. He has achieved a major victory in forcing the United Nations to withdraw from Iraq, and still being able to sell oil. He has used the income from oil to consolidate his position anew. There is only so much he can do if he decides everything that happens in Iraq. He may not show the strain publicly. But once in a while, we see on Baghdad television that he has lost a great deal of weight. That is another way of judging whether the strain is showing or not. Saddam has lost over 20 pounds. He's much thinner, and he doesn't move with the agility that he had in the past. He has a very bad back problem. So it is beginning to show. We don't know what he's up to. He's a tactician, not a strategist, and you can't read him way ahead of time. But he is a master tactician, waiting for an opportunity.
And, unfortunately, over the years we have provided him with opportunity after opportunity to actually undermine the work of the United Nations, and to score victories against the people who would like to see him removed. The Iraqi opposition's behavior has provided him with many victories, because they cannot unite, they cannot act in unison. They are ineffective, obviously divided, and not worthy of really serious support. The United States and Britain provided him with victories when they openly asked for his removal, and there is nothing in UN resolutions about that. Then the United Nations provided him with another victory, when it was discovered that most of the inspectors were indeed spies. He has used all of the opportunities effectively. No one would have thought five years ago that Saddam Hussein would be able to ask the United Nations to leave and to be exporting oil at the same time, and he's doing that.
What kind of thought process went into your own decision to remove yourself from that regime? Was it an easy decision? What kind of effect did it have on you personally?
Working with Saddam's regime was always a very difficult proposition, because I was not blind to what Saddam was. I knew what he was, but the balance was in his favor. He was still doing a great deal for Iraq, and indirectly, he was still doing a great deal for the Arab people. He was certainly moving towards obtaining military parity with Israel, which interested all the Arabs of my generation--we wanted that to happen. In the early 1980s, the balance tipped in the other directions. His criminality increased, and his ability to deliver to the Iraqi people and to the Arab people decreased. He got them involved in a war with Iran, and the whole business of power went to his head--the maxim of power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Eliminating people became more frequent, and imprisoning people became more frequent. The straw that broke the camel's back was when he started using chemical weapons almost indiscriminately. I could not condone that. I could not accept that. That really seriously tipped the scales against him.
And I thought whatever promise he represented was absolutely eroded by this criminality inherent in his person, and I could not work with him anymore.
Was it hard to break away?
It was very hard for me to break away because there was no other country in the Middle East that could encapsulate Arab hopes--that was gone forever, unless one wanted to back Islamic fundamentalism. And I wasn't ready to do that. So on a national, Arab basis, it was very difficult for me to break away. And on a personal basis, it was also very difficult for me to break away, because I supplied television and cinema film to the Iraqi government, and they owed me a great deal of money. But the decision had to be made, and I made it. I just walked out overnight, and I've never been to Baghdad again.
Are you afraid of them?
Are you asking whether making this program or writing Saddam's biography endangers my life? If speaking out for the rights and dignity of the Iraqi people endangers my life, then perhaps it does. But what a way to go. Glory be.
When you see pictures of him today, and compare that to the man that you believed in -- what do you think of him?
When I see Saddam today, and think of what he represented at the beginning, I wish I could issue a warning to people who overlook the mistakes of dictators because they think dictators can correct their own mistakes. Dictators don't get better with time, they get worse with time. We overlooked his mistakes because we thought he promised something. And with time, we discovered that his mistakes grew larger, and the promise became smaller and smaller.
What is the most likely way in which Saddam is going to go?
Saddam Hussein will go one way, and one way only -- violently -- either through a coup d'etat or an assassination. The circle around Saddam Hussein is becoming smaller and smaller. There are fewer people he trusts, and they're his family. But eventually the time will come where some officer, or a person, or an army unit, will be able to move against him and replace him. Saddam Hussein is not still president of Iraq because he's a popular man. Saddam Hussein is president because neither the United States, the UK, the Iraqi opposition or anyone else has discovered an alternative to Saddam Hussein that is not worse than Saddam Hussein as far as Western interests are concerned. If the people within Iraq are led to believe that things will be better, that Iraq will not fragment or be colonized, that Iraq will be allowed to run its oil affairs by itself, that not too many people will be punished, killed or imprisoned after Saddam goes, then that will open the way for Saddam to be removed. There are not many people who are willing to die defending him anymore. That is a critical point that we forget.
The other thing we forget is the people outside calling for the United States to give them air cover and things like that to topple Saddam Hussein--those people are really in the business of asking the United States to do their work for them. If they want to topple him, then they have to establish connections with people within who are near him, and who can remove him. And they're afraid to do that, because that undermines their leadership positions. But that has to be done. After that, it will become easy. He has to go, and he will go. When we will reach this point, it will be a short while after, and Saddam will be done.
Do you think that there are people close to Saddam who would like him out, and they made the calculation in their own minds that for some reason now, either they can't get close enough to him, or something stops them from removing him?
I have no doubt that there are people within the security system, the army, the government of Iraq, and all over Iraq who would like to see Saddam gone, and the situation of Iraq change. But these people have to be assured that they will not suffer for what they do. And we have failed to establish connection with the people inside Iraq who can reach Saddam. We are dealing with outsiders who live in London and Washington and other parts of Europe--people who have no following within Iraq. We have to open the way for people within Iraq itself, people within the system itself, to remove Saddam Hussein. That, beside an act of God, is the only way to remove him.
But the actual act of removing him after that would not be very difficult. He does not have a popular base. He lives there by virtue of the Iraqi people's fear. Once that fear is removed, the Iraqi people will move against him, as they have in the past moved against other dictators successfully, even ones who were very, very closely protected by their followers.
The circle around Saddam Hussein has grown so small, and there are so few people he trusts, that there is the possibility of an implosion, of that circle becoming too small to run the country, and self-destructing. All you have to do is take out one component of that small circle, and that small circle stops working. Saddam has two sons and two or three other people, who are all relations. Each of them is assuming so much responsibility for what happens in the country. All you have to do, for instance is remove his younger son, Qussay, who is now in charge of security. If two security officers are able to replace Qussay, or remove him, or assassinate him, then the road is wide open to move against Saddam himself. No matter where he sleeps--and he sleeps in different places every night--it wouldn't protect him.
The ultimate irony is that he came to power and asserted his control by eliminating rivals and narrowing the people that he relies on. He's done this over the years. And now it's so small, and actually sort of disintegrating.
The group around Saddam is too small to maintain power for a long period of time. He needs to rely on more people, and I doubt whether he has other people he can rely on. I doubt he can trust anyone who is outside the immediate family, outside his sons and his first cousins, and this is an impossible situation. You cannot hold power for a very long period of time that way. Even Stalin had more people around him than Saddam Hussein has. No dictator has been so confined in modern times as Saddam is at this moment. And this will lead to some kind of implosion. The system is not big enough to hold the huge structure behind it: the nine different security organizations, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, the army, the air force, the various governmental departments, allocation of money, dealing with the Kurds, dealing with the Shias, dealing with the Arab countries. This is a very, very big government. It needs more than about six or seven people. The decision- maker is Saddam, and he's surrounded by a small number of people, six or seven people only, that's it.
The other people are spokesmen who we see on television every day. They have nothing to do with decision-making. There is a joke about Saddam turning to his deputy prime minister, and saying, "What time is it?" and the deputy prime minister says, "Whatever time you want." That is the way Saddam operates. You cannot hold a government together that way.