FBI reports of interviews and “casual conversations” it conducted in 2004 with former Iraq leader Saddam Hussein have been released to the US National Security Archive, which published them today.
It’s not all what you’d expect from a man the rest of the world overwhelmingly renounced as a dictator, and whose people reportedly have few regrets about his being toppled.
Apart from a few unsavoury references to executions carried out on his watch, accusations of corruption and of a complete lack of fairness and due process on the part of his administration, Hussein comes across as — well — a bit of a decent bloke. (New York’s Daily News puts this down to the man’s bloated ego rather than any innate charms.)
Decent or no, the reports offer a rare opportunity to get inside the head of what the BBC has described as “the world’s best known and most hated Arab leader.”
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On Osama bin Laden: Hussein wasn’t a fan, referring to him as a ‘zealot’. He added that America “was not Iraq’s enemy,” he merely “opposed its policies”. (28 June, 2004)
On Australia: We don’t count, apparently. “Hussein commented that in the most recent war with Iraq, the United States’ only ally was Britain.” (13 February, 2004)
On his greatest accomplishments (according to him): education, health care, industry, and agriculture – you name it, Hussein believed he improved it. He described life in Iraq in 1968, before he came to power, as primitive, saying the people “barely had anything.” (7 February, 2004)
…and his mistakes: “Hussein … acknowledged that Iraq made a mistake by destroying some weapons without UN supervision,” although he didn’t give a clear answer when questioned as to whether Iraq had also been mistaken in failing to provide complete disclosure of weapons to the UN. (13 February, 2004)
On his capture: Hussein believed a “traitor” provided information leading to his capture. In the future, Hussein believed he would be known for his fairness, and that Iraq “will not die.” “When Iraqi people fall [Hussein said], they rise again.” (February 7, 2004). Hussein also denied the widely-held belief that he used body doubles to evade capture, saying “This is movie magic, not reality.” (13 February, 2004)
On his sons: “I still think about them and the fact that they were martyred. They will be examples to everyone throughout the world.” (13 February, 2004)
On his principles: “‘When I believe in principles, I believe in them fully, not partially, not gradually, but completely.’ Hussein added that God creates us, and only he decides when he is going to take us.” (13 February, 2004)
On Palestine: “The problem is not only a Palestianian one but also an Arab one.” He later refers to the events of 1948 as the “rape of Palestine”. (10 February, 2004)
On prejudice: “Nobody can say I have no bias. People think what they want. Everyone has his own opinions. People are not a computer. We all have flesh and blood.” (16 February, 2004)
On the likelihood that Iraq ever had WMDs: “If I had the (prohibited) weapons, would I have let the United States forces stay in Kuwait without attacking?” (13 February, 2004)
On Iraq’s military tactics in the 1991 Gulf War: Stories about the Iraqi military using children as human shields in 1991 “may have been fabricated by westerners. Hussein reiterated that the story did not deserve an answer from him and ‘the lie is clear’.” (16 March, 2004)
On luxury: “Hussein advised that he is used to living simply and personally does not like an extravagant lifestyle. Hussein was then questioned about the number of palaces and their extravagant nature … Hussein believed the United States had a misconception that he had an extravagant lifestyle, which lead to his ability to evade capture.” (May 10, 2004) Earlier, though, “When asked whether Hussein normally travelled in a Black Mercedes … he stated, ‘Perhaps. We had all colours of Mercedes.'” (13 February, 2004)
On the shifting composition of his Ba’ath Party: “In 1963, with the exception of two or three Party members, almost all members of the Ba’ath Party were Shi’as … [H]owever, by 1968, nearly all Party members were Sunnis. Because the Party had previously operated secretly, few knew or cared about one’s religion. However, after the revolution, people in the government began talking more frequently about this issue.” (16 March, 2004)