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Iraq: Aziz Coooperates With USA

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  • ummyakoub
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 3, 2003
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      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

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55022-2003Nov2.html

      BAGHDAD, Nov. 2 -- Saddam Hussein refused to order a counterattack
      against
      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,
      according to
      U.S. officials.

      Aziz, who surrendered to U.S. authorities on April 24, has also said
      Iraq
      did not possess stocks of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons on
      the
      eve of the war, an assertion that echoes the previously reported
      statements
      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
      statements.

      The former deputy prime minister has described an argument he had with
      Hussein in 1999, in which the Iraqi president insisted that U.N.
      Resolution
      687, enacted to limit Iraq's armaments, prohibited long-range
      missiles only
      if they were armed with weapons of mass destruction.

      Aziz said he countered, "No, it's a range limit," and all Iraqi
      missiles
      able to fly beyond 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) were banned,
      according
      to a senior U.S. official familiar with the interrogation reports.
      Hussein
      demanded in reply, "No, I want to go ahead," according to the senior
      official.

      After nearly five months of prisoner interviews, document searches
      and site
      visits, "We know the regime had the greatest problem with the 150-
      kilometer
      limit" on missile ranges, said Hamish Killip, a former U.N. arms
      inspector
      now working with the Iraq Survey Group, a CIA-supervised body
      appointed by
      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
      hostile
      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
      Hussein
      was willing after 1999 to risk being caught in major defiance of U.N.
      bans
      on nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, officials involved in the
      weapons hunt said.

      "They seem to have made a mental separation between long-range
      missiles and
      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
      scientists,
      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
      earlier
      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
      fulcrum
      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
      cold,
      U.S.-led investigators increasingly seek to understand why Hussein
      might
      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
      mind.

      Probing Hussein's Plan

      In addition to Aziz, interrogators have systematically interviewed
      dozens
      of former Iraqi generals, intelligence officers and scientists in
      recent
      months, while trying to isolate them from one another to prevent
      coordinated answers.

      Among the interrogators' questions: If Hussein did not have chemical
      or
      biological weapons, why did he fail to disabuse U.S. and other
      intelligence
      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
      officers
      close to Hussein typically blamed their government's poor record-
      keeping
      for arousing suspicions in Washington and at the United Nations,
      repeating
      a defense used by Iraqi spokesmen during years of cat-and-mouse
      struggles
      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,
      Kuwait,
      the United Arab Emirates and other countries paid him deference
      because
      they feared he had weapons of mass destruction. Hussein was unwilling
      to
      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
      Iraqi
      generals not held in detention offered similar views. Hussein "had an
      inferiority complex," said Maj. Gen. Walid Mohammed Taiee, 62, chief
      of
      army logistics as the war approached earlier this year. "From a
      military
      point of view, if you did have a special weapon, you should keep it
      secret
      to achieve tactical surprise. . . . But he wanted the whole region to
      look
      at him as a grand leader. And during the period when the Americans
      were
      massing troops in Kuwait, he wanted to deter the prospect of war."

      Interrogators asked Aziz whether Hussein was also trying to bluff
      Iran,
      fearful that his hostile neighbor might be developing weapons of mass
      destruction. Aziz replied, according to the senior U.S. official
      familiar
      with his interrogation reports: "Every time I brought up the issue
      with
      Saddam, he said, 'Don't worry about the Iranians. If they ever get
      WMD, the
      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
      were
      willing to go through all of this?' " said Killip of the Iraq Survey
      Group.
      He continued: "I've not heard any totally convincing explanation
      that's
      backed up with facts. And it's truly puzzling."

      Foreign Contacts

      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,
      by his
      meetings with Russian and French intermediaries. Aziz said Hussein
      emerged
      from these diplomatic sessions -- some secret at the time --
      convinced that
      he might yet avoid a war that would end his regime, despite ample
      evidence
      to the contrary.

      Aziz has told interrogators that French and Russian intermediaries
      repeatedly assured Hussein during late 2002 and early this year that
      they
      would block a U.S.-led war through delays and vetoes at the U.N.
      Security
      Council. Later, according to Aziz, Hussein concluded after private
      talks
      with French and Russian contacts that the United States would
      probably wage
      a long air war first, as it had done in previous conflicts. By
      hunkering
      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
      said they
      were aware that Aziz might be trying to pander to his American
      captors'
      anger at French and Russian conduct before the war.

      The public record of French and Russian back-channel contacts with
      Hussein
      on the war's eve is thin and ambiguous. Former Russian prime minister
      Yevgeny Primakov, long close to Hussein, made an announced visit to
      Baghdad
      in February and a secret trip just days before the war's opening on
      March
      20. A few weeks later, after Baghdad's fall, Primakov held a news
      conference to explain that, at his clandestine last-ditch meeting, he
      had
      urged Hussein to resign.

      Primakov said Hussein listened attentively to his ideas and asked him
      to
      repeat himself in front of Aziz. But then Hussein changed the subject
      and
      mentioned that in 1991, the leadership of what was then the Soviet
      Union
      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
      declared
      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
      war is
      even less clear. Several media outlets reported early this year that
      France
      had opened a private channel to Hussein, but the French Foreign
      Ministry
      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
      Washington
      would not launch an immediate invasion of Iraq, according to Aziz, as
      U.S.
      officials described his statements. Even as U.S. and British forces
      massed
      on the Kuwaiti border, Hussein was so sure of himself, Aziz reportedly
      said, that he refused to order an immediate military response when he
      heard
      reports that American ground forces were pouring into Iraq,
      concluding that
      the crossing was some sort of feint.

      Taiee, one of the former major generals interviewed by The Post,
      agreed
      that Hussein had "not expected a war." The Iraqi president had
      concluded
      that "there would be bombardment as in '98 and the regime would
      continue
      and he would be a hero. Then, in case war did happen, these promises
      he had
      received from the French and Russians -- plus the resistance he
      thought the
      army would put up, not knowing that they would go home -- this would
      be
      enough to win a cease-fire and a settlement."

      But Maj. Gen. Amer Shia Jubouri, 50, a former army division commander
      and
      chief of the Iraqi war college, said in an interview that he
      believed "the
      French and Russian governments delivered very clear messages to
      Saddam that
      the war was going to happen," and that if Hussein believed otherwise,
      it
      was a result of the president's own confusion.

      "He obviously misunderstood the theory of deterrence," said
      Jubouri. "You
      have to know when this theory can be successful, and when it can be
      disastrous."

      Unexpected Breakdown

      Once the war began, Hussein fulfilled few of his threats. The CIA
      warned
      that Hussein might use chemical weapons. Instead, after initial
      resistance,
      the regime and army melted away.

      Investigators have considered the possibility that Hussein intended
      all
      along to make a strategic withdrawal from Baghdad and fight a
      guerrilla
      war, but they say they can find no evidence of such a strategy from
      interrogations or documents. They also doubt Hussein could have
      persuaded
      his generals to abandon Baghdad as part of a defensive strategy, and
      they
      argue that if this was really Hussein's plan, it was poorly executed.

      American and British interrogators have asked dozens of generals who
      served
      in high-ranking command roles in Iraqi army divisions during this
      year --
      some imprisoned, some living freely -- why Hussein did not use
      chemical
      weapons to defend Baghdad. A number of these generals have said that
      they,
      too, believed chemical weapons would be deployed by Hussein for the
      capital's defense. Yet none of the officers admitted receiving such
      weapons
      himself.

      "The only consistent pattern we've gotten -- 100 percent consistent --
      is
      that each commander says, 'My unit didn't have WMD, but the one to my
      right
      or left did,' " said the senior U.S. official involved. This has led
      some
      American interrogators to theorize that Hussein may have bluffed not
      only
      neighboring governments and the United States, but his own restive
      generals.

      "He would not hesitate to deceive even his hand-chosen commanders if
      he
      thought that by this he could achieve success," agreed Jubouri, the
      former
      general.

      U.S. officials said they remain uncertain about the scope of Hussein's
      chemical weapons program during 2002 and earlier this year, despite
      their
      failure so far to discover Iraqi stocks or any capacity to produce
      them.

      "We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the
      point
      where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not
      exist,"
      the leader of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, told Congress on Oct.
      2.
      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
      clandestine
      deal to buy North Korean missile parts between 1999 and 2002. Neither
      shipment came through, however, because North Korea's government said
      it
      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
      asked
      scientists how long it might take to reconstitute chemical arms, has
      led
      some investigators to conclude that Hussein saw missiles as his most
      difficult challenge. In this hypothesis, Hussein wanted to build or
      buy
      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
      pole in
      the tent," the missile program, said the senior U.S. official
      involved in
      the weapons search. When Hussein asked scientists how long it would
      take to
      restart sarin and mustard gas production, he learned the
      timelines "were
      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
      to
      speed the manufacture of special weapons. Perhaps, as Aziz reportedly
      has
      said, this was because he believed he could survive the coming war. Or
      perhaps, as many of his military subordinates now insist, it was
      because a
      fading, confused Hussein had outmaneuvered himself.

      Investigators of the Iraq Survey Group have discovered that in the
      months
      before the war, many specific military and civilian defensive measures
      ordered by Hussein in past conflicts were only partially carried out
      or
      were completely ignored. There appears to have been "some kind of
      breakdown
      in the structure that was controlling things," Killip said.

      Former military leaders, including dozens of detained generals who
      have
      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
      defense of
      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,
      should
      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
      report.

      *********************************************************************

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