After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein stayed in Baghdad until he saw “the city was about to fall.” Months later, he was caught hiding at the same farm where he had fled in 1959 after taking part in an attempt to kill the country’s prime minister.
Unclassified FBI interviews conducted during his incarceration at a US detention center offered new details on Thursday about the late Iraqi dictator’s life on the run _ both before and after he was ousted.
The documents also confirm previous reports that Saddam falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction _ the main US rationale behind the war _ because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, the hostile neighbor he considered a bigger threat than the US
Saddam was captured by American soldiers on Dec. 13, 2003, just over eight months after his regime was toppled by a US-led invasion. An Iraqi tribunal convicted him of crimes against humanity, and he was hanged at the end of 2006.
He said he was never in the neighborhood on the outskirts of Baghdad that was bombed on March 19, 2003, in an attempt to kill the Iraqi leader at the start of the war. The US military had received a tip that he was hiding there.
Saddam made his last public appearance in Azamiyah on April 9, 2003, the day a bronze statue of him was brought down in a central Baghdad square in what became the defining image of his overthrow.
But, he said, he stayed in Baghdad until April 10 or 11 when “it appeared that the city was about to fall.” He held a final meeting with leaders from his inner circle and told them, “We will struggle in secret.”
Then he fled the capital, gradually shedding his bodyguards along the way to avoid attracting attention, telling them they had fulfilled their duty.
The new details were among more than 100 pages of notes written by George Piro, an FBI special agent who interviewed Saddam after he was found huddling in a so-called “spider hole” on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad.
The notes of the FBI interviews were made public Wednesday by the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute.
Saddam said the farm was the same place he took refuge after participating four decades ago in a failed assassination attempt against then-Prime Minister Abdul-Karim Qassim.
Saddam denied the widespread belief that he used body doubles to avoid detection. “This is movie magic, not reality,” he was quoted as saying in the transcript.
Instead, he said, he evaded enemies by using the telephone just twice in more than a decade and constantly moving from one dwelling to another. He communicated mainly through couriers or met personally with officials.
“He was very aware of the United States’ significant technological capabilities,” the agent wrote in notes after one interview.
In a series of interviews between February and June of 2004, Saddam also told Piro that he falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, which Iraq fought in a ruinous, eight-year war in the 1980s that involved the use of chemical weapons.
Saddam denied having unconventional weapons before the US invasion but refused to allow UN inspectors to search his country from 1998 until 2002. The inspectors returned to the weapons hunt in November 2002 but still complained that Iraq was not cooperating.
“By God, if I had such weapons, I would have used them in the fight against the United States,” he told Piro.
Former President George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq in large part on the assertion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and could provide them to terrorists. Saddam had used chemical weapons previously, and the Bush administration maintained that he was pursuing biological and nuclear weapons. No such weapons were found after the war.
In the interviews, Saddam dismissed Osama bin Laden as a “zealot” and said he had never personally met the al-Qaida leader. He said the Iraqi government did not cooperate with the terrorist group against the US
The National Security Archive obtained the FBI summaries through a Freedom of Information Act request and posted them on its Web site. The New York Daily News also wrote about the Hussein files last week after obtaining summaries of the interviews through a FOIA request.
Saddam also stated that the United States used the Sept. 11 terrorist attack as a justification to attack Iraq and said the US had “lost sight of the cause of 9/11.” He claimed that he denounced the attack in a series of editorials.
Piro had described the discussions with the Iraqi dictator in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last year. Saddam told him he had “miscalculated” Bush’s intentions and expected only a limited US attack.
“Hussein stated Iraq could have absorbed another US strike, for he viewed this as less of a threat than exposing themselves to Iran,” according to a June 11, 2004, FBI interview report.
He also provided details about the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War following his invasion of Kuwait, reporting that former US Secretary of State James A. Baker III warned Saddam’s then-Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz during a January meeting that if Iraq did not comply with American demands “we’ll take you back to the pre-industrial stage.”
And he took personal responsibility for ordering the launching of Scud missiles against Israeli targets during the 1991 Gulf War, saying he did it because he blamed Israel and its influence in the United States for all Arab problems.