Did Get Rid of Iraq WMD
By SLOBODAN LEKIC,
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq -
A close aide to Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) says the Iraqi dictator did in fact get rid of his weapons of mass destruction but deliberately kept the world guessing
about it 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 the Iraqi dictator look strong in the eyes of the Arab world,
while countries such as France and Russia were wary of joining an American-led attack. At the same time, Saddam retained the
technical know-how and brain power to restart the programs at any time.
Both Pentagon (news - web sites) officials and weapons experts 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 unconventional weapons threat from Iraq (news - web sites), an argument President Bush (news - web sites) used to go to war.
weapons bluff was detailed by an Iraqi official who assisted Saddam for many years. The official was not part of the national
leadership 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.
The official refused
to be identified, citing fear of assassination by Saddam's paramilitaries who, he said, remain active throughout Iraq. But
in several interviews, the former aide detailed what he said were the reasons behind Saddam's disinformation campaign which
ultimately backfired by spurring, rather than deterring a U.S. invasion.
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 an American attack.
"He repeatedly told
me: 'These foreigners, they only respect strength, they must be made to believe we are strong,'" the aide said.
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.
including those currently held by the U.S. military, have maintained that no new unconventional weapons programs were started
in recent years and that all the materials from previous programs were destroyed.
Both Bush and British
Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) 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.
no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons have been found.
Before the invasion,
the British government claimed Saddam could deploy unconventional weapons within 45 minutes. The Bush administration insisted
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.
at the Pentagon, who spoke on the 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.
has plausibility," said Robert Einhorn a former assistant secretary of State for nonproliferation. "But the disposition of
those missing weapons and materials still has to be explained somehow."
Iraq's claims that
it destroyed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons materials could never be verified by U.N. inspectors who repeatedly
However, U.N. inspectors,
who scoured Iraq for three and a half months before the war, never find 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, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, told The Associated Press in June.
Saddam's aide suggested
the brinkmanship ultimately 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.
He described Saddam
as almost "totally ignorant" of how Western democracies functioned and attributed his failure to grasp the impact of Sept.
11 to the fact that he increasingly surrounded himself with yes-men and loyalists who were not qualified to give him expert
advice on economic, military or foreign policy matters.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated
Press reporter John Lumpkin in Washington D.C., contributed to this report.