Yesterday, the National Security Archive released declassified FBI reports detailing both the bureau’s interrogations and “casual conversations” with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. According to the documents, Hussein told FBI agent George Piro (one of only a few agents who spoke Arabic) that he let the world believe he had weapons of mass destruction because he feared appearing weak to what he considered his country’s real threat, Iran:
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. … Hussein said he was convinced that Iran was trying to annex southern Iraq — which is largely Shiite. [...]
“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.”
Saddam “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.’” If that could not happen, only then, he said, would Iraq reconstitute its WMD programs.
Piro revealed to CBS’s 60 Minutes last year that Saddam “didn’t want to associate” with Osama bin Laden and viewed him “as a threat to him and his regime.” The new documents expound on Saddam’s distrust of Al Qaeda and bin Laden, whom he called “a zealot”:
Hussein replied that throughout history there had been conflicts between believers of Islam and political leaders. He said that “he was a believer in God but was not a zealot…that religion and government should not mix.” Hussein said that he had never met bin Laden and that the two of them “did not have the same belief or vision.”
When Piro noted that there were reasons why Hussein and al-Qaeda should have cooperated — they had the same enemies in the United States and Saudi Arabia — Hussein replied that the United States was not Iraq’s enemy, and that he simply opposed its policies.
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and numerous members of the Bush administration repeatedly cited the (now debunked) threat from Iraq’s supposed WMD program and Saddam Hussein’s alleged links to Al-Qaeda as the main justifications for launching the invasion of Iraq more than six years ago. The U.S. could end up spending trillions of dollars in Iraq and today, 130,000 U.S. troops remain there, 4,321 have died (4,639 total from coalition forces), and more than 30,000 have been wounded. Over 100,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion while millions have been displaced.
ThinkProgress relied on the Washington Post’s interpretation of the recently-declassified FBI files on Saddam Hussein’s interviews with the Bureau to make the claim in this post that Saddam “let the world believe he had weapons of mass destruction because he feared appearing weak to what he considered his country’s real threat, Iran.” However, ThinkProgress has since reviewed the actual documents, and they do not explicitly state that Saddam wanted Iran to think Iraq had WMD. A document dated June 11, 2004 states that Saddam did not want to allow U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq because he was “concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses.” According to the document, Saddam describes those weaknesses in conventional military terms, such as specific targets in Iraq open to attack. Therefore, at best, the documents only suggest that Saddam wanted Iran to think Iraq had WMD because another fair interpretation of the “weaknesses” Saddam refers to could be the fact that Iraq did not have WMD.