Saddam Hussein told an FBI interviewer before he was hanged that he allowed the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction because he was worried about appearing weak to Iran, according to declassified accounts of the interviews released yesterday. The former Iraqi president also denounced Osama bin Laden as “a zealot” and said he had no dealings with al-Qaeda.
Hussein, in fact, said he felt so vulnerable to the perceived threat from “fanatic” leaders in Tehran that he would have been prepared to seek a “security agreement with the United States to protect [Iraq] from threats in the region.”
At one point, Hussein dismissed as a fantasy the many intelligence reports that said he used a body double to elude assassination. “This is movie magic, not reality,” he said with a laugh. Instead, he said, he had used a phone only twice since 1990 and rarely slept in the same location two days in a row.
Hussein’s fear of Iran, which he said he considered a greater threat than the United States, featured prominently in the discussion about weapons of mass destruction. Iran and Iraq had fought a grinding eight-year war in the 1980s, and Hussein said he was convinced that Iran was trying to annex southern Iraq — which is largely Shiite. “Hussein viewed the other countries in the Middle East as weak and could not defend themselves or Iraq from an attack from Iran,” Piro recounted in his summary of a June 11, 2004, conversation.
“The threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allow the return of UN inspectors,” Piro wrote. “Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions of the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq.”