BAGHDAD, IRAQ – A close aide to Saddam Hussein says
the Iraqi dictator got rid of his weapons of mass
destruction but deliberately kept the world guessing
about the truth in an effort to divide the international
community and stave off a U.S. invasion.
The strategy, which turned out to be a serious
miscalculation, was designed to make Saddam look strong
in the eyes of the Arab world while countries such as
France and Russia were wary of joining the American-led
attack. At the same time, the aide said, Saddam retained
the technical know-how and brain power to restart the
programs at any time.
Pentagon officials and weapons experts alike are
considering this guessing- game theory as the search for
chemical, biological and nuclear weapons continues. If
true, it would indicate there was no imminent threat of
the use of unconventional weapons by Iraq, a key
argument President George W. Bush used to go to war.
Saddam's alleged bluff was detailed by an Iraqi
official who assisted the leader for many years. The
official was not part of the national regime, but his
job provided him daily contact with the dictator and
insight into the regime's decision-making process during
the past decade and in its critical final days.
According to the aide, by the mid-1990s "it was
common knowledge among the leadership" that Iraq had
destroyed its chemical stocks and discontinued
development of biological and nuclear weapons.
But Saddam remained convinced that an ambiguous
stance about the status of Iraq's weapons programs would
deter a U.S. attack.
"He repeatedly told me: 'These foreigners, they only
respect strength, they must be made to believe we are
strong,' " the aide said.
Publicly Saddam denied having unconventional weapons.
But from 1998 until 2002, he prevented U.N. inspectors
from working in the country and when they finally
returned in November 2002, they often complained that
Iraq wasn't fully cooperating.
Iraqi scientists have maintained that no new
unconventional-weapons programs were started in recent
years and that all the materials from previous programs
Both Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have
come under fire in recent weeks as weapons hunters come
up empty and prewar intelligence is questioned.
The White House acknowledged recently that it
included discredited information in Bush's State of the
Union speech about alleged Iraqi attempts to purchase
uranium - a key ingredient for nuclear weapons. More
importantly, no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons
have been found.
Before the invasion, the British government said
Saddam could deploy unconventional weapons within 45
minutes. The Bush administration insisted that the
threat was so immediate that the world couldn't afford
to wait for U.N. inspectors to wind up their searches.
Despite the warnings, Iraqi troops never used such
weapons during the war.
Intelligence officials at the Pentagon, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, said some experts had raised the
theory that Iraq put out false information to persuade
its enemies that it retained prohibited chemical,
biological and nuclear weapons programs.
"That explanation has plausibility," said Robert
Einhorn an ex-assistant secretary of state for
nonproliferation. "But the disposition of those missing
weapons and materials still has to be explained
Iraq's assertions that it destroyed stockpiles of
chemical and biological weapons materials could never be
verified by U.N. inspectors, who repeatedly requested
However, U.N. inspectors, who scoured Iraq for nearly
four months before the war, never found any evidence of
renewed weapons programs.
"The longer that one does not find any weapons in
spite of people coming forward and being rewarded for
giving information, etc., the more I think it is
important that we begin to ask ourselves if there were
no weapons, why was it that Iraq conducted itself as it
did for so many years?" Hans Blix, ex-chief U.N. weapons
inspector, said in June.
Saddam's aide suggested that the game the dictator
was playing backfired because U.S. policy switched in
the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, from containing the
Iraqi leader to going after those who could supply
terrorists with deadly weapons.