further down lies the expectation that if saddam is found alive and placed on trial, the u.s. is described as fearful that will 'reveal much
evil' about our policies in the region. as if saddam's atrophied imagination can begin to compete with the crazed conspiracies spun by the likes of
the article's author.
actually, Saddam wouldn't "reveal" anything which is not already well known by those familar with recent history of US policy in the Middle
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
--the bits for the supergun, the triggers. Superguns were discovered all over the place as a matter of fact in about five different
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.
[Edited on 14-4-2003 by FrenchCommunist]