Saddam Hussein maintained pretense of chemical arms to prevent Israeli attack

By Shmuel Rosner

Haaretz

Adar 17, 5766

WASHINGTON - Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein pretended to have chemical weapons because, among other reasons, he feared that Israel might attack if it discovered he did not. This is revealed in a recently declassified internal report by the American military.

The report was compiled from many dozens of interviews with senior Iraqi officials and hundreds of documents captured by the American forces during and after the war.

Hussein made the above statement at a meeting with leaders of the Ba'ath Party, said Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali, to American interrogators. Ali was in charge of using chemical weapons against the Kurdish forces at the end of the 1980s.

"According to Chemical Ali, Hussein was asked about the weapons during a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Command Council. He replied that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) but flatly rejected a suggestion that the regime remove all doubts to the contrary," the report states. Ali explained that such a declaration could encourage Israel to attack, the report says.

The 100-page report has not been released yet, but some 9,000 words of it are to appear in the next edition of Foreign Affairs Magazine.

There is a growing tendency in the U.S. to declassify Iraqi documents captured after the war and release them. Hundreds of thousands of documents are expected to be released next week, following an agreement between the intelligence community, the National Security Council and American lawmakers.

The report details Hussein's reasons for deciding to continue deceiving the international community into thinking that Iraq had WMD, despite the fact that such deception could increase the chances of a military attack on the country.

Last moment

Hussein did not believe until almost the last moment that the U.S. would send its forces into Baghdad, the report says. He was much more afraid of subversive elements in Iraq - mainly the Shi'ites and Kurds - and from regional powers - mainly Iran but also Israel - than of an American invasion.

This is why he decided to leave the bridges leading into Iraq standing, believing he would need them, and to maintain ambiguity until close to the invasion, causing Western intelligence to believe he had WMDs.

"Many months after the fall of Baghdad, a number of senior Iraqi officials in coalition custody continued to believe it possible that Iraq still possesed WMD capability hidden away somewhere. Saddam attempted to convince one audience that they were gone while simultaneously convincing another that Iraq still had them," the report says.

Senior Iraqi officials told their interrogators that Hussein had no idea what the true state of the country's weapons was, because everyone lied to him and refrained from giving him bad news for fear of being executed.

Hussein's deputy Tariq Aziz told interrogators, "The people in the military industrial commission were liars. They lied to you, and they lied to Hussein. They were always saying they were producing special weapons."

"A captured military industrial commission annual report of investments from 2002 showed more than 170 research projects. When Hussein asked for updates on the nonexistent projects, they simply faked plans and designs to show progress," the report says.

Many in Israeli intelligence still believe Hussein had chemical weapons, which were transferred to Syria before the war. Israel discussed this with the Americans, but the latter no longer believe that Israeli evidence is conclusive on the matter.

The report also describes how unprepared Iraq was for the American invasion. Many of its commanders were unsuitable, appointed for political reasons, including Hussein's son. In addition, the militias Hussein formed to protect his regime were not trained professionally.