Iraq: Aziz Coooperates With USA
- Hussein Was Sure of Own Survival
Aide Says Confusion Reigned on Eve of War
By Steve Coll
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 3, 2003; Page A01
BAGHDAD, Nov. 2 -- Saddam Hussein refused to order a counterattack
U.S. troops when war erupted in March because he misjudged the initial
ground thrust as a ruse and had been convinced earlier by Russian and
French contacts that he could avoid or survive a land invasion, former
Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz has told interrogators,
Aziz, who surrendered to U.S. authorities on April 24, has also said
did not possess stocks of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons on
eve of the war, an assertion that echoes the previously reported
of other detained Iraqi leaders and scientists. Yet Hussein personally
ordered several secret programs to build or buy long-range missiles in
defiance of international sanctions, according to Aziz's reported
The former deputy prime minister has described an argument he had with
Hussein in 1999, in which the Iraqi president insisted that U.N.
687, enacted to limit Iraq's armaments, prohibited long-range
if they were armed with weapons of mass destruction.
Aziz said he countered, "No, it's a range limit," and all Iraqi
able to fly beyond 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) were banned,
to a senior U.S. official familiar with the interrogation reports.
demanded in reply, "No, I want to go ahead," according to the senior
After nearly five months of prisoner interviews, document searches
visits, "We know the regime had the greatest problem with the 150-
limit" on missile ranges, said Hamish Killip, a former U.N. arms
now working with the Iraq Survey Group, a CIA-supervised body
President Bush to lead the hunt for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Hussein and his most senior military commanders saw the range
limit "as an
invasion of their sovereignty," Killip added. They fumed because
neighbors might hit Baghdad with missiles, but Iraq would be unable to
answer in kind.
Yet investigators have found no comparable evidence to date that
was willing after 1999 to risk being caught in major defiance of U.N.
on nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, officials involved in the
weapons hunt said.
"They seem to have made a mental separation between long-range
weapons of mass destruction," Killip said.
Aziz's statements about the Iraqi missile program have been largely
corroborated by documents and interviews with engineers and
officials said. On other subjects, the English-speaking bookworm's
reliability as a witness is uncertain. After a turn as the Iraqi
president's histrionic spokesman and foreign minister during the early
1990s, Aziz had grown estranged from Hussein as the war approached
this year, and officials involved in the interrogations say they are
cautioned by Aziz's long history of deceit and opportunism.
Still, Aziz's extensive cooperation with interrogators has become a
of recent U.S. and British efforts to explore enduring mysteries of
Hussein's conduct during the last two years, several officials said.
As the hunt for major finds of chemical or biological arms has turned
U.S.-led investigators increasingly seek to understand why Hussein
have acted as he did if he truly had no sizable arsenal of contraband
weapons. From their digs in looted factories and sprawling ammunition
dumps, they are moving more and more to an exploration of Hussein's
Probing Hussein's Plan
In addition to Aziz, interrogators have systematically interviewed
of former Iraqi generals, intelligence officers and scientists in
months, while trying to isolate them from one another to prevent
Among the interrogators' questions: If Hussein did not have chemical
biological weapons, why did he fail to disabuse U.S. and other
services of their convictions that he did? Why did he also allow U.N.
inspectors to conclude that he was being deceptive?
In early weeks, said officials involved, generals and intelligence
close to Hussein typically blamed their government's poor record-
for arousing suspicions in Washington and at the United Nations,
a defense used by Iraqi spokesmen during years of cat-and-mouse
with weapons inspectors.
More recently, however, several high-ranking detainees have said they
believe that Hussein was afraid to lose face with his Arab neighbors.
Hussein concluded, these prisoners explained, that Saudi Arabia,
the United Arab Emirates and other countries paid him deference
they feared he had weapons of mass destruction. Hussein was unwilling
reveal that his cupboard was essentially bare, these detainees said,
according to accounts from officials.
In separate interviews with The Post, several former high-ranking
generals not held in detention offered similar views. Hussein "had an
inferiority complex," said Maj. Gen. Walid Mohammed Taiee, 62, chief
army logistics as the war approached earlier this year. "From a
point of view, if you did have a special weapon, you should keep it
to achieve tactical surprise. . . . But he wanted the whole region to
at him as a grand leader. And during the period when the Americans
massing troops in Kuwait, he wanted to deter the prospect of war."
Interrogators asked Aziz whether Hussein was also trying to bluff
fearful that his hostile neighbor might be developing weapons of mass
destruction. Aziz replied, according to the senior U.S. official
with his interrogation reports: "Every time I brought up the issue
Saddam, he said, 'Don't worry about the Iranians. If they ever get
Americans and Israelis will destroy them.' "
In the end, say investigators, all of this fragmentary testimony about
Hussein's thinking about special weapons is uncorroborated by hard
documentary evidence or an unimpeachable inside source.
"The question we all have is, 'What was so damned important that you
willing to go through all of this?' " said Killip of the Iraq Survey
He continued: "I've not heard any totally convincing explanation
backed up with facts. And it's truly puzzling."
Aziz's extensive interrogations -- eased by a U.S. decision to quietly
remove his family from Iraq to safe exile in a country that American
officials would not name -- paint Hussein on the eve of war as a
distracted, distrustful despot who was confused, among other things,
meetings with Russian and French intermediaries. Aziz said Hussein
from these diplomatic sessions -- some secret at the time --
he might yet avoid a war that would end his regime, despite ample
to the contrary.
Aziz has told interrogators that French and Russian intermediaries
repeatedly assured Hussein during late 2002 and early this year that
would block a U.S.-led war through delays and vetoes at the U.N.
Council. Later, according to Aziz, Hussein concluded after private
with French and Russian contacts that the United States would
a long air war first, as it had done in previous conflicts. By
down and putting up a stiff defense, he might buy enough time to win a
cease-fire brokered by Paris and Moscow.
Aziz's account, while provocative, has not been corroborated by other
sources, said U.S. officials involved in the interrogations. They
were aware that Aziz might be trying to pander to his American
anger at French and Russian conduct before the war.
The public record of French and Russian back-channel contacts with
on the war's eve is thin and ambiguous. Former Russian prime minister
Yevgeny Primakov, long close to Hussein, made an announced visit to
in February and a secret trip just days before the war's opening on
20. A few weeks later, after Baghdad's fall, Primakov held a news
conference to explain that, at his clandestine last-ditch meeting, he
urged Hussein to resign.
Primakov said Hussein listened attentively to his ideas and asked him
repeat himself in front of Aziz. But then Hussein changed the subject
mentioned that in 1991, the leadership of what was then the Soviet
had also suggested he resign, and he had ignored them.
"Until the last minute, Russia and President [Vladimir] Putin did
everything in their power to prevent this terrible war," Primakov
at his news conference, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.
Russian commentators raised doubts about Primakov's version, however,
arguing that he was too close to Hussein to deliver the sort of tough
message he described.
The extent and character of French contacts with Hussein before the
even less clear. Several media outlets reported early this year that
had opened a private channel to Hussein, but the French Foreign
denied these reports, insisting that its diplomats had made plain to
Hussein that he should stand down.
In any event, Hussein emerged from these contacts convinced that
would not launch an immediate invasion of Iraq, according to Aziz, as
officials described his statements. Even as U.S. and British forces
on the Kuwaiti border, Hussein was so sure of himself, Aziz reportedly
said, that he refused to order an immediate military response when he
reports that American ground forces were pouring into Iraq,
the crossing was some sort of feint.
Taiee, one of the former major generals interviewed by The Post,
that Hussein had "not expected a war." The Iraqi president had
that "there would be bombardment as in '98 and the regime would
and he would be a hero. Then, in case war did happen, these promises
received from the French and Russians -- plus the resistance he
army would put up, not knowing that they would go home -- this would
enough to win a cease-fire and a settlement."
But Maj. Gen. Amer Shia Jubouri, 50, a former army division commander
chief of the Iraqi war college, said in an interview that he
French and Russian governments delivered very clear messages to
the war was going to happen," and that if Hussein believed otherwise,
was a result of the president's own confusion.
"He obviously misunderstood the theory of deterrence," said
have to know when this theory can be successful, and when it can be
Once the war began, Hussein fulfilled few of his threats. The CIA
that Hussein might use chemical weapons. Instead, after initial
the regime and army melted away.
Investigators have considered the possibility that Hussein intended
along to make a strategic withdrawal from Baghdad and fight a
war, but they say they can find no evidence of such a strategy from
interrogations or documents. They also doubt Hussein could have
his generals to abandon Baghdad as part of a defensive strategy, and
argue that if this was really Hussein's plan, it was poorly executed.
American and British interrogators have asked dozens of generals who
in high-ranking command roles in Iraqi army divisions during this
some imprisoned, some living freely -- why Hussein did not use
weapons to defend Baghdad. A number of these generals have said that
too, believed chemical weapons would be deployed by Hussein for the
capital's defense. Yet none of the officers admitted receiving such
"The only consistent pattern we've gotten -- 100 percent consistent --
that each commander says, 'My unit didn't have WMD, but the one to my
or left did,' " said the senior U.S. official involved. This has led
American interrogators to theorize that Hussein may have bluffed not
neighboring governments and the United States, but his own restive
"He would not hesitate to deceive even his hand-chosen commanders if
thought that by this he could achieve success," agreed Jubouri, the
U.S. officials said they remain uncertain about the scope of Hussein's
chemical weapons program during 2002 and earlier this year, despite
failure so far to discover Iraqi stocks or any capacity to produce
"We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the
where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not
the leader of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, told Congress on Oct.
U.S. officials said that conclusion still holds one month later.
The investigators' most significant new discovery over the last month,
officials said, was that Hussein made a secret deal to purchase Nodong
missiles from North Korea, in addition to a previously reported
deal to buy North Korean missile parts between 1999 and 2002. Neither
shipment came through, however, because North Korea's government said
was under too much U.S. pressure in 2002 to risk a delivery by sea.
The substantial evidence of Iraq's secret long-range missile programs,
combined with more fragmentary testimony in which Hussein reportedly
scientists how long it might take to reconstitute chemical arms, has
some investigators to conclude that Hussein saw missiles as his most
difficult challenge. In this hypothesis, Hussein wanted to build or
long-range missiles before he took on the risks of secretly restarting
banned programs to make weapons of mass destruction.
"The pattern I think we're seeing is, they were working on the long
the tent," the missile program, said the senior U.S. official
the weapons search. When Hussein asked scientists how long it would
restart sarin and mustard gas production, he learned the
all so sufficiently short" that he could afford to hold off until the
missile program was further along, the official said.
Yet as the threat of war approached, Hussein apparently took no step
speed the manufacture of special weapons. Perhaps, as Aziz reportedly
said, this was because he believed he could survive the coming war. Or
perhaps, as many of his military subordinates now insist, it was
fading, confused Hussein had outmaneuvered himself.
Investigators of the Iraq Survey Group have discovered that in the
before the war, many specific military and civilian defensive measures
ordered by Hussein in past conflicts were only partially carried out
were completely ignored. There appears to have been "some kind of
in the structure that was controlling things," Killip said.
Former military leaders, including dozens of detained generals who
undergone interrogations, have cited the Iraqi president's military
incompetence, isolation, and reliance on family and tribe in a time of
crisis as central factors in the regime's collapse.
In discussing Hussein's failure to use chemical weapons in the
Baghdad, officials said, the generals often rant sarcastically that
Hussein's government did not even prepare land mines and other basic
military defenses to block or slow the U.S. advance. Why, they ask,
chemical weapons be any different?
"There was no unity of command. There were five different armies being
used, no cooperation or coordination," retired Maj. Gen. Abed Mutlaq
Jubouri, 63, a former division commander later jailed by Hussein for
conspiring against the regime, said in an interview with The
Post. "As to
the defense of Baghdad, there was no plan."
Staff researcher Robert Thomason in Washington contributed to this
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