05192019Sun

Saddam's arms ambiguity was Iran deterrent, report says

International Herald Tribune: Saddam Hussein hid behind ambiguities and evasions about whether Iraq possessed unconventional weapons - when in fact it had none - partly as
a deterrent to Iran, according to a report by the chief American arms inspector in Iraq.
International Herald Tribune

David Johnston

WASHINGTON - Saddam Hussein hid behind ambiguities and evasions about whether Iraq possessed unconventional weapons - when in fact it had none - partly as a deterrent to Iran, according to a report by the chief American arms inspector in Iraq.

The former Iraqi leader never discussed deception as a policy and did not adopt a formal written directive outlining his orders, the report said. But privately he told aides, such as Ali Hasan al Majid, a close adviser, that "the better part of war is deceiving," the report said. Majid said that Saddam "wanted to avoid appearing weak and did not reveal he was deceiving the world about the presence of WMD," or weapons of mass destruction.

The report by the chief arms inspector, Charles Duelfer, described Saddam's posture on prohibited weapons as "a difficult balancing act between the need to disarm to achieve sanctions relief while at the same time retaining a strategic deterrent."

Saddam never reconciled the two competing aims, the report stated.

"The regime never resolved the contradiction inherent in this approach," it said. "Ultimately, foreign perceptions of these tensions contributed to the destruction of the regime." The report provided the first detailed examination of Saddam's thinking about unconventional weapons and offered an answer to one of the most enduring mysteries of the war in Iraq: Why did Saddam risk so much to hide the truth that Iraq did not possess such weapons?

Overall, Saddam's strategic actions were aimed at one overriding objective: "the survival of himself, his regime and his legacy," the report concluded.

The report found that Saddam purposely communicated an ambiguous impression about whether Iraq possessed these weapons, mainly as a deterrent to Iran, Baghdad's longstanding adversary and with which it started and fought a brutal war from 1980 to 1988.

The report, based on interrogations of Saddam, who was captured late last year, and his subordinates, said the confusion also helped Saddam disguise his underlying desire to maintain the intellectual and industrial foundation needed to quickly rebuild a weapons program in the event Iraq succeeded in lifting international economic sanctions, another top priority for the former Iraqi leader.

Beyond that, Saddam maintained an almost mystical faith in the power of unconventional weapons, whose stocks, the inspector said, were largely destroyed by Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war under pressure from the United Nations. The report found that Saddam believed that these weapons, particularly chemical arms, had preserved his rule through repeated military crises.

Earlier this year, the report said, Saddam was asked by an American interrogator why he had not used such weapons during the 1991 Gulf war. Saddam replied, according to the report: "Do you think we are mad? What would the world have thought of us? We would have completely discredited those who had supported us."

The report's conclusions are based in part on interrogations of Saddam conducted primarily by a senior FBI interrogator who spent months questioning the former Iraqi leader in Arabic, attempting to extract information from Saddam about his weapons programs and other issues. It is not clear from the report whether the former Iraqi leader accepted the motives attributed to him. Some U.S. intelligence officials have said that Saddam was vague in responses to questions about his arsenal, and the report does not state explicitly whether Saddam himself has acknowledged that he engaged in a deception operation about these weapons before the war. The report said that Saddam's belief in unconventional weapons stemmed from their use in the Iran-Iraq war, when the former Iraqi leader concluded that Iraq was "saved" by employing chemical weapons against Iran. The report concluded that Saddam believed such weapons had aided him "multiple times," helping to stop Iranian ground offensives, and that ballistic missile attacks on Tehran had "broken its political will." In 1991, Saddam apparently believed that the threat that Iraq might use these weapons helped deter the U.S.-led coalition from marching on Baghdad. After that war, U.S. authorities found unused chemical munitions that had been distributed to battlefield commanders.

The report said that Saddam refused to dispel the impression that he still had such weapons even though the report concluded that his specialized weapons programs were nonexistent or mothballed in the early development stage because of international sanctions.

In Saddam's mind, the possibility that Iraq possessed these weapons helped keep Iraq's neighbors off balance.

The report said that the former Iraqi leader compared the UN inspection process to a warrior striking an enemy's wrist. "Despite the strength of the arm, striking the wrist or elbow can be a more decisive blow to incapacitate the entire arm; knowledge of your opponent's weakness is a weapon in itself."The New York Times

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