"Do you think we are mad?"

The weapons inspectors who interviewed Saddam say he was obsessed with security -- and more concerned about deterring Iran than taking on the U.S.

By Jamie Wilson
Published October 7, 2004 2:02PM (EDT)

Saddam Hussein refrained from using weapons of mass destruction during the first Gulf War because of the effect it would have had on world opinion, according to the Iraq Survey Group's report, released to the public Wednesday.

The former Iraqi president was interviewed by interrogators compiling the report on the country's WMD, which paints a picture of a man obsessed with his own place in history as well as his own security. Asked by a U.S. interviewer in 2004 why he had not used WMD against the coalition during Desert Storm in 1991, Saddam Hussein replied: "Do you think we are mad? What would the world have thought about us? We would have completely discredited those who had supported us."

The quote is one of the few directly attributed to the former dictator, who was captured in December 2003 in a hole in the ground underneath the outbuilding of a farmhouse south of Tikrit.

"These discussions were conducted and controlled by one debriefer and spanned several months," the report said. "Some vital insights emerged during these discussions, which elicited views and information that might be considered revelatory. There was no incentive and or motivation for Saddam to co-operate with the debriefer, except to shape his legacy," the report states.

"Saddam is concerned with his place in history and how history will view him. Therefore, Saddam had no choice but to engage his debriefer in both formal and informal discussions on events that occurred during his reign."

The report gives several tantalizing glimpses of Saddam's rationale for his WMD policy. The report says that he thought WMD had saved the regime many times. He believed that during the Iran-Iraq war chemical weapons had halted Iranian ground offensives and that ballistic missile attacks on Tehran had broken its political will. Similarly, during Desert Storm Saddam believed WMD had deterred coalition forces from pressing their attack beyond the goal of freeing Kuwait. When asked, during a custodial interview, whether he would have reinstituted a WMD program after sanctions were lifted, his answer implied that Iraq would have done what was necessary.

The report also states that Saddam kept up the pretense that Iraq still had WMD capability to frighten Iran, rather than the U.S. or Britain. "He explained that he purposefully gave an ambiguous impression about possession as a deterrent to Iran," the report's authors wrote.

The report also reveals how far Saddam had deluded himself into thinking Iraq was immune from U.S. attack. According to the Iraq Survey Group, Saddam apparently calculated that Iraq's natural resources, secular society and dominance in the region would inevitably force the U.S. to deal with Iraq.

The report also gives insight into Saddam's view of Iraq and himself. Saddam saw Iraq as the natural leader of the Arab world, and himself as the latest in a long line of great Iraqi leaders, stretching back to Nebuchadnezzar and Saladin.

One of his favorite books was "The Old Man and the Sea," Ernest Hemingway's Nobel prize-winning story of one man and his struggles to master the challenges posed by nature. "Saddam tended to characterize, in a very Hemingwayesque way, his life as a relentless struggle against overwhelming odds, but carried out with courage, perseverance and dignity," the report notes.

But his rule was driven first by security concerns -- survival came first. Saddam told interrogators he had only used a telephone twice since 1990 for fear of being located for a U.S. attack.

He went on a palace- and mosque-building extravaganza in the late 1990s, employing 7,000 construction workers, when much of Iraq's economy was at the point of collapse. "His rationale for this was concern for his personal security. He stated that by building palaces the U.S. would be unable to ascertain his whereabouts and thus target him."

Jamie Wilson

MORE FROM Jamie Wilson

Related Topics ------------------------------------------