Then, suddenly, they found the Arab Socialist Party in power in 1963. I was
then editor-in-chief of the party newspaper, and we received journalists from
Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. But very few American journalists came
to see us. . . . It was the time of Kennedy and Johnson. There were very few
relations between Iraq and the United States. There was an embassy here, and
an embassy in Washington, but I don't remember any significant attention being
given to our regime. Then a coup occurred against our regime. I was in
Syria--I spent more than a year in prison in Syria--so personally, I don't have
first-hand information. But we were told that there were a number of CIA
agents active in the country among the politicians, among the businessmen, and
officers. Maybe they were rumors or accusations. Maybe they are true. Some
of them appeared to be true later, because it appeared that some of them had
connections with Americans. But we didn't feel that this was hard American
intervention in the country. They were not very much interested. |
In the late 1970s, during the Carter administration, they floated some absurd
ideas about Iraq being a pro-Soviet regime--that there was a Soviet airbase or
naval base. Two prominent journalists from Time magazine came, and I
met with them. I took them to Vice President Saddam Hussein. I told him,
"These people are telling me they have information that there is a Soviet base
in the country." He told them to go and look for themselves whether that's
true or not. They went, and found nothing, of course. So, there was very
little contact between the Iraqi officials and the American officials.
By the way, before we came to power in 1967, diplomatic relations were severed.
After the Israeli/Arab war, not only Iraq, but many other countries in the
region, even Egypt, severed relations with the United States. We didn't even
have an embassy. We had an interest section, the same as in Washington. Our
diplomatic representation in Washington was actually dormant. I was then
minister of information, and later on, in charge of some important activities
in the party. We didn't feel American influence or concern.
Under the Nixon administration, Kissinger was foreign secretary, and before
that, an advisor. The whole region, the progressive, political forces, were
against what Kissinger was doing and saying, because the feeling against
Israeli aggression and the U.S. was strong. . . . The whole region was leaning
towards anti-American feelings. So when we came to power, that was the general
feeling in the country. . . . And our relations were developing with Europe and
the Soviet Union.
After Vice President Saddam Hussein nationalized oil, and oil prices rose,
Iraq had quite a bit of money. One theory I've heard is that, although Iraq
had a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, as your country rapidly
industrialized, there was the view that Iraq could not just rely on Soviet
goods and industry and so Iraq decided to actively work with western countries,
the U.S., and their technology. Is that correct?
No. In this regard, we had a clear view. First of all, we did not consider
the United States as a major partner in that--not in the development plan, nor
in our trade interests. But we did not boycott the United States. Sometimes
we bought many goods from them. If there was a proposal from an American
company to build an industrial complex here, our requirements were met. But we
concentrated on our relations with France, and with Europe. That was a
Knowing that America was a great ally of Israel, we felt it might be a problem
to develop special relations with the United States. But France was taking a
rather impartial attitude, politically, since De Gaulle after the 1967 war. So
the feeling was, let us develop relations with Europe. France reciprocated
positively after the nationalization of oil. Vice President Saddam Hussein
went to Paris and met with President Georges Pompidou. Pompidou told him,
"This is your sovereign decision. We respect it." That meant he didn't take a
hostile attitude against the oil nationalization. But the Americans, the
British, and the Dutch took that position, and boycotted Iraqi oil. France's
position encouraged Iraq to develop its relations with France, and whichever
European country showed some impartial attitude towards the Arab-Israeli
conflict, or was not against the development of the country, and who could
provide us with our needs.
Also, it was intentional, because we were not communist. . . . We wanted to be
friends with the Soviet Union, but we didn't want to be a part of the Soviet
bloc, and we kept our independence very carefully from the Soviet Union. We
wanted to enlarge our international cooperation. So we looked towards
Could you explain the vision for the country's future that then-Vice
President Saddam Hussein and others in the government had in the 1970s?
During that period, development was our main obsession. President Saddam
Hussein was chairman of the planning council in charge of development. He took
on that responsibility since the early 1970s. I was the minister of
information, and then I left that and worked in the party. He wanted us to be
in that council, not only because of economic and technical discussions, but
political analysis and political views about how to deal with the world. And
our ambition was to turn Iraq into a very, very developed country, with
industry, services, technology, and education. This has not changed. During
the Iraq-Iran war, it did not change, although our circumstances became more
Now, it has not changed. We have the same obsession. We spent a lot of time
discussing such matters for several years. The president meets with the
ministers to discuss details of projects, companies, industries, and services.
He really gives a great deal of time to do that, and we also do that. I
participate very actively in the discussions. This is our dream. We would
like our country to be a very developed country, and we genuinely believe that
we deserve that, and believe that we can do that. We have the talent as a
nation to be a developed country.
You mentioned that the president spends a lot of time on this, and has for
some years. One hears accounts of his concentration, and the hours he works,
and his command of details of different sectors of the economy, the government,
and the military. How would you characterize him as a leader? Is he hands-on,
or is he detached?
Saddam Hussein is my friend and my leader. But I have to be honest in my
description of this man. Saddam Hussein is really a special leader. He cares
about everything concerning the life of the people, and the development of the
country. He gets interested in any minute detail when it concerns the fate of
the country. For instance, he's not a military man. He's a law graduate, and
a party activist. During the 1970s, he was interested in military affairs
during the rebellion between 1974 and 1975. He was in charge of the committee
for the north. Part of that committee's concerns was the military activities
against Barzani. Beyond that, he was not in charge of the army.
But when he became president and commander-in-chief, and then the war between
Iraq and Iran occurred, he was interested in details of the army business. He
went to see the military units in the front. He spoke to the staff soldiers,
to the low-ranking officers as well as to the generals and the high-ranking
officers in the army. So he was very much interested, because he knew that
this is going to affect the fate of the country--if we lose, the whole
country's going to lose.
After the sanctions were imposed, he's very much concerned about the details of
the economy, the welfare of the people, how people are doing this and that.
So, he's a special man. He is a real patriot, and he cares about the people.
He listens very well to the ideas, analysis, and information of the experts,
without forgetting his leading role. He can make the right decision when he
believes that this decision is necessary. But he's very patient, listening to
those people who advise him. He spends hours listening to them. He listens to
the ordinary citizens. He meets scores of people every week. Sometimes
people go and see him just to give him an idea, or to complain about something
personal or public. So he's very well aware of the welfare of the country and
the situation in the country as a whole.
Was the any relation between the new threat from Khomeini's Iran and the
decision of your president, Al Bakr, to change the leadership because Vice
President Saddam Hussein seemed to be a better man to lead Iraq in this new
threat from Iran?
No, that was a completely internal situation. President Al Bakr was our
president and secretary general of the party, and we respected him, although it
was a fact that the real leader of the country was Saddam Hussein. And Saddam
Hussein is a patient man. He does not jump into positions. He served under
the presidency of Al Bakr very, very faithfully, and honestly. But then
President Al Bakr became old and ill, and he himself realized that he cannot
manage this difficult business of running a country, which is getting more and
.. . . He was not interested in the weekly meetings and the daily business of
the government. So most of the work went to the planning council under Vice
President Saddam Hussein. That was a clumsy situation, and he felt that he
cannot continue, therefore, in an official meeting, he told the whole council
and party leadership, "I want to leave," in a very calm and sober manner.
What course did your relations with the U.S. take after the Iran-Iraq war
began, and what events lead up to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations
In 1979, at the non-aligned summit in Havana, it was decided that Iraq would be
the next venue of the summit in 1982. On our way back from Havana, I was with
the president. He told me, "Tariq, we are going to be the leaders of the
non-aligned, and it doesn't look well if we don't have diplomatic relations
with the other superpowers. We have very good relations with the Soviet Union.
We have to look pure non-aligned. We have our differences with the United
States concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. So, I would like you to start
preparing carefully, without any hurry, the resumption of the relationship
between us and the United States." I was not the foreign minister, but as I
told you after, as deputy prime minister, I was his main advisor in foreign
policy--doing some special jobs, and taking some special files following them
We started thinking about that. There was no hurry, because we had three years
until we become the next leader of the movement. And then, the war occurred.
Our analysis was that, if we do it at the beginning of the war, it will be
badly interpreted. They will say that Iraq has jumped to the United States in
order to face Iran, which was not true. We did not need to jump to the United
States to face Iran. We were capable of taking this responsibility.
We didn't make any contacts. Until 1982, we didn't have any special contacts
with the American administration. In 1982, the head of the American interest
section made a request to the foreign ministry to raise the level of his
contacts. He used to go and see the head of what we call the first department
in the foreign ministry, which is in charge of relations with western Europe
and the United States. That department's minister used to receive the American
diplomat in Baghdad, listen to him, and convey whatever we wanted to discuss
with the American side at that time--nothing of great importance.
When he made this request to raise his contacts, the president decided that he
could come and see me whenever he wants, to talk any business with us. So I
started receiving him, and discussing with him the situation in general, the
region and the bilateral relations. At that time, we received, for the first
time to my recollection, a significant number of staff from the American
congress. They came to Baghdad on a fact-finding mission in 1982. I met with
them, and we had a very long and thorough discussion about the bilateral
relations, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran, the Gulf, etc. And then we
realized that people would understand now why we will be resuming our relations
with the United States. We have proved our capability of standing against
Iran. More than two years have passed since the war started, so if we go now
and talk to the Americans about resuming our relations, that would not be badly
or wrongly interpreted.
Then-President Reagan sent an invoice to Baghdad, to those who were visiting
the capitals in the region who also visited Iraq, to convey messages concerning
the general situation in that region. In the fall of 1983, during the General
Assembly meeting, we discussed the possibility of re-establishing our
diplomatic relations. We appointed Hamdoun. We picked him. Hamdoun was the
deputy minister of information. The president and I chose him to head the
interest section in Washington. We sent him to Washington, and he started
making contacts with the government, and with the congress. By 1984, I went to
Washington and met with President Reagan, Vice President Bush and all the
high-ranking American officials, and we formally re-established our relations.
This had nothing to do with Iran, because it was a plan in our heads several
years before that. And we thought that it's normal.
It was not our government who severed the relations with the United States, it
was the previous one. Then, although sometimes we do it as we did in 1991, we
severed the relations with the United States and Britain and those countries
who participated in that aggression against Iraq. But we don't believe in
that. It's not in our philosophy to sever diplomatic relations with countries
with whom you have some differences, or even some enemies, because after all,
you need to talk, even to your enemies, if you have enemies. So we did it, and
it worked. It worked for a while.
How did it work, and what happened?
We didn't have great expectations from our relations with the United States.
First of all, there are false perceptions and analysis that the U.S. supported
Iraq in the war again Iran. It's not true. Iran was a proclaimed enemy of the
United States. It was clear they wanted to hurt the United States as much as
they could. We are not enemies of the United States. Of course, you have some
things to talk about, to have some sort of a normal, semi-cordial relationship.
We are not the enemies of the United States. There was somebody else who's our
enemy, and the proclaimed enemy of the United States. So we had normal
relations. We used to meet with the American secretary of state, in New York
or in Washington, to exchange views, and to develop our economic trade
relations. We were very active in the American public opinion. We encouraged
meetings with the congressmen, and with the media. We do everywhere. It was
not a special policy towards the United States.
. . . We wanted to know America, and we wanted America to know us. We received
many delegations, congressional and individuals. . . . But we didn't have any
fantasies about America supporting Iraq in the war against Iran. . . . And we
didn't buy any arms from the United States. There was one deal in 1982. . . .
He promised that he will bring 150 five-millimeter guns, and we said, we need
those guns, why not. Before the shipment was loaded on the ship to bring it to
Iraq, the American government stopped it. That was 1982, 1983. So we knew
that America would not go too far in their support or supposed support to Iraq.
Of course, they didn't want Iran to win, because that was a great threat to
their interests. But they were not also enthusiastic to get Iraq to win.
Kissenger was very frank in describing the American position at that time,
although he was not in power. He said, "We would like both parties to lose."
That was a frank and clear description of the real American position.
But nevertheless, we had normal relations. We were received very well in
Washington. We had trade relations and cultural relations. Suddenly, there
was a surprise to us--because it was outrageous--the question of Iran-contra.
Before that happened, George Shultz suggested to me an operation. They had
decided to create a unit in their state department called Operation Staunch.
What's Operation Staunch? He said the unit is going to collect information
about who is supplying Iran with arms, and we would like Iraq to cooperate with
us in that, and we would use American influence in order to prevent that. We
said okay, good. Because we always raised this matter with the British, with
the Chinese, even with the Serbians, and even with our friends--some of them
were supplying arms to Iran. So if Americans want to help in this regard,
So it was routine in our foreign ministry, whenever we got any information from
the Arab sources, we sent that information to the State Department through
diplomatic channels. When I'd meet with Shultz later on, we would discuss
this. He always put Operation Staunch on the agenda of discussions, even just
a few months or weeks before the Iran-contra scandal was known. And suddenly
we heard that absurd story of MacFarland going to Iran, and you know the whole
But we were not completely surprised. We knew from the very beginning that
there was a flow of arms from Israel to Iran. Of course, there was a military
relationship between Israel and the Iran regime. And you could see Israeli
weaponry in the Iranian forces. . . . They don't look old--they were fresh
weaponry, especially the machine guns, the Uzi machine guns, nice and shining.
But really, it was ugly for the U.S. to talk with us about Operation Staunch,
and at the same time, provide American arms directly to Iran through Israel.
And George Shultz knew about that. To my knowledge, from my readings, he was
not supportive of that operation, but he knew about it, and nevertheless, he
continued talking with me about Operation Staunch. Then Dick Murphy came to
Iraq, met with the president and said, "Well, this is not the formal American
policy towards Iraq and Iran." You know it was done in the White House with
the knowledge of the president of the United States, etc. But we accepted this
explanation from Dick Murphy. I was present in that meeting with the
president. He said, "Okay, Mr. Murphy. If that's not the established policy
of the United States, we would like to continue our normal relations." But we
didn't have fantasies about it. . . .
After the end of the war with Iran, there was the concern that Iraq was a
potential threat to stability in the region. What was behind that
If you remember what Kissinger was saying during the Iraq-Iran war, you would
reach the correct conclusion about it. The United Stated didn't want Iraq to
win that war, but it didn't want Iraq to lose it, because Iraq losing the war
was a great setback to their allies in the region. But to win the war and
emerge from the war as an important force in the region was not liked by the
American government or by the Israelis, who are very influential in the
American administration and the Congress. But they did not discuss this matter
with us--that they thought we were a threat. Why didn't they come and say
frankly, "Look, Iraq, you have emerged very strong from this war. We are
worried that you might use this new power you have, and attitudes and policies
that might threaten our legitimate national interests." . . .
So they didn't raise this matter with us. They started the ugly moves, ugly
propaganda against Iraq, mobilization against Iraq, without discussing this
matter with us clearly, face-to-face. And honestly speaking, we didn't have
any plans to threaten anybody at that time. We emerged from the war
politically and militarily strong, but we needed a long time of peace in order
to provide a better living for our people. Although our people lived well
during the war, they also suffered a lot. There was a loss of life, and even
some little decline in the general standard of living, some decline in the
development plan, and some decline in the luxuries that the Iraqis enjoyed in
the 1970s. During the war, travelling abroad and tourism was squeezed to zero
because we needed the cash.
We didn't have any plans to threaten anybody, neither the United States nor the
others. They could have talked to us, frankly, and we could have discussed
this matter with them in a very constructive manner. I am sure of that, quite
honestly. But they gradually played against us. By 1990, the American press
was hostile, against us. . . . Saddam Hussein, the most dangerous man in the
world, the Enemy Number One of the people. Why? Whom did Saddam Hussein
threaten in the United States? There was one incident in 1987, when an
American ship was attacked wrongly, and we settled that in a very cordial and
So whom does Iraq and Saddam Hussein threaten in the United States, to be
characterized as Public Enemy Number One? It was clear that there was an
orchestrated campaign in the Congress, the press, the media and in the
administration. That administration took the decision to stop the second half
of the deal, and the situation which we avoided in October, after my discussion
with Baker occurred in February or March of 1990, we had to buy wheat and sugar
and rice, which was not available.
You mentioned the president had said to you that CIA agents were active in
this country. I've not heard that before. Can you offer us any more
information on the nature of that activity?
He did not give me details, and he asked me to raise this matter with James
Baker. He told me if they want to follow up where I did follow up, to provide
them with the information. But I know, in general terms, that the Gulf
question is clear, that Americans or diplomats working in Iraq, especially
belonging to the CIA, were trying to make contacts with officers. They were
visiting the north, making secret meetings with a number of Kurdish tribal
leaders, and even with some old pro-Americans and pro-westerners living in Iraq
from the old times. And they were talking with them about why this government
doesn't change, that this is not a good government. That was my knowledge
about it. But as the president told me, that if James Baker asked for a
follow-up, to tell him that we are ready to send people in charge of those
areas to put all the information on the table.
How helpful were your Arab neighbors with your recovery? To what extent was
their view and policy towards Iraq related to this change in American policy
that you discussed?
I think it was 100 percent related. Let us not fool ourselves. The Arab
countries who supported Iraq were protecting themselves. Their financial and
political support of Iraq was not rejected by the United States government. It
was okay. So there was no contradiction between their attitude towards Iraq
and the American strategy in the region. At the same time, it was
self-defense. Egypt, in one way or another, was in the same boat.
But after the end of the war, the Gulf stays, and Libya felt secure, so there
was no matter of self-defense. Iraq emerged powerful, in the Arab world. It
means that this power is going to balance in the region, so that Iran will not
make the same mistake again in Israel. There is a contradiction between the
American strategy and what Iraq has become. So they don't want to contradict
the Americans. Therefore, the general feeling in this region was a general
feeling of joy and support to Iraq, and they couldn't jump immediately to the
other side. We felt that they were cautious. The Kuwaitis started to dump
oil. Now, oil is a general business. Although any country could dump oil in
the market, it is not a unilateral issue. All the others are concerned. The
prices are getting down and down and down. It means that not only the Iraqi
oil price was getting down, but the oil prices of the other countries were
going down, too. Why was only Iraq to be concerned? Of course, Iraq was
concerned, because that was going to impoverish us. It was going to undermine
our economy. Because we came fresh from the war, we had a lot of loans to pay,
and we needed some money for our people to compensate them for luxuries and
even for essentials. When you lose two-thirds of your income, that is
catastrophic to any economy.
Of course, they did the same, as oil is their major export. In relative terms,
they lost the same amount as we were losing, but they could afford it. Why did
they keep silent about it? When the Arab summit met in May, in Baghdad, by the
end of the summit, the summit was about the Palestinian question, the
Arab-Israeli conflict, etc. The summit was beautiful, and the results were
satisfactory to us, and to the Palestinians. At the end, the president said,
"I am going to raise an Iraqi issue. I didn't raise it before, because I
didn't want it to be mixed with the Arab nationalist issues. Look, brothers,
this is what has been happening since early this year. We are losing, and we
cannot afford losing. It has touched our bones now, and this is an act of war
against Iraq. If you don't mean it, please stop it. Maybe it was done by
technicians, by ministers who don't have a global view of the situation.
Please stop it." They did not comment. Then the president sent Dr. Hamadi,
the then-deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, to say that Iraq wants
a summit with Kuwait and the Emirates to discuss this matter, and settle it.
They agreed, but it was not done. They consented to what Kuwait was doing,
which was absurd. Kuwait wanted to raise their production, because they want
to get more money. But they are not getting more money, because the price went
to even less than half the previous price. It was clear it was a political
act. Maybe Iran was also hurt, but Iran was not the target. The others felt
that they could afford it. But Iraq could not afford it. The question of the
price of oil is an international question.
The Americans don't just look at what's happening in the oil market. If they
didn't have a connection with what Kuwait was doing, they would have intervened
to stop this foolish Kuwaiti policy. The Americans kept quiet. I don't know
whether they made financial gains out of it. I don't know, but they kept
quiet. They didn't raise any objection to this policy, and actually they
didn't raise any question about it. Those matters of oil business are always
in the headlines. We felt there was a plan to undermine Iraq--to conspire
against Iraq--because if you break the Iraqi economy at that time, it will end
Iraq. The Iraqi people started blaming the military capability of Iraq for
that. It is a very ugly situation when you have become militarily powerful in
defending yourself against an enemy, and then you are being blamed for that
because you cannot afford to feed your people. It was a very ugly warning.
Politically and psychologically, it was an ugly plan. And they didn't care.
Hamadi asked to go to Kuwait, and it never happened. They said, "We're busy,
come later." It never happened before, that a high-ranking Iraqi official
asked to go to Kuwait and then he's postponed. I used to go as an envoy or as
a foreign minister. I'd be received after waiting maybe ten minutes. I'd meet
with my counterpart, have lunch, and return. How could a deputy prime minister
of Iraq ask for a visit, and they say maybe later, which means that they didn't
want to talk about it. They didn't want to discuss this matter in a friendly,
Could you elaborate on the point about mixed signals sent by the U.S. during
the run-up to the invasion of Kuwait? How did those influence your
There were no mixed signals. We should not forget that the whole period before
August 2 witnessed a negative American policy towards Iraq. So it would be
quite foolish to think that, if we go to Kuwait, then America would like that.
Because the American tendency . . . was to untie Iraq. So how could we imagine
that such a step was going to be appreciated by the Americans? It looks
foolish, you see, this is fiction. About the meeting with April Glaspie--it
was a routine meeting. There was nothing extraordinary in it. She didn't say
anything extraordinary beyond what any professional diplomat would say without
previous instructions from his government. She did not ask for an audience
with the president. She was summoned by the president. He telephoned me and
said, "Bring the American ambassador. I want to see her." She was not
prepared, because it was not morning in Washington. People in Washington were
asleep, so she needed a half-hour
To contact anybody in Washington and seek instructions. So, what she said were
routine, classical comments on what the president was asking her to convey to
President Bush. He wanted her to carry a message to George Bush--not to
receive a message through her from Washington.
Why was the decision made by your government to move into Kuwait? What did
you hope to achieve, and were you surprised by the American response?
Kuwait was never in our plans during all our leadership of this country. . .
But we had to do it as a defensive act. Kuwait was conspiring against us.
[Read the FRONTLINE interview with Aziz on the Gulf War, which was part of
FRONTLINE's two-hour 1996 broadcast "The Gulf War"]
After the Gulf War, when there were disturbances in the south and the north
of Iraq--an uprising, people called it--many people thought that the U.S.
should have intervened and supported these people. Were you surprised that the
U.S. decided not to get involved?
No, I think that was classical American policy. George Bush was clear in what
he said. What happened after the ceasefire was a surprise to the Americans.
It was not planned by the Americans, because what happened in the south was
instigated by the Iranians. So there wasn't a joint plan between Washington
and Teheran to do any business after the ceasefire. And if I were in the
position of George Bush, I wouldn't enter this web, because he doesn't know
what was happening, and who he will be fighting first. This is one aspect.
The second aspect is that George Bush decided that, in the war, he wouldn't
face great loss of life. You know the debate in the Congress, in the American
media, and the public opinion about the cost of the war--not the financial
cost, because the financial cost was paid by our brothers in the Gulf--there
was no problem except the cost of life. Most of the war was an air war.
America and their allies lost 60 or 65 aircraft, and that was it. And when the
ground attack occurred, actually the war was finished. We were prepared to
withdraw from Kuwait, because I reached an agreement with Gorbachev the day
before to withdraw from Kuwait. He would then go to the UN Security Council to
reach a decision to end the war and lift the sanctions. So, psychologically
and politically, we were prepared to implement the agreement I reached with
Gorbachev. Immediately after I left Moscow, and was on my way back, they
started the ground war. So we were in a mood to withdraw.
Therefore, there wasn't a real ground war in the Kuwaiti theatre. But when we
withdrew our forces inside Iraq and they moved against us, some serious battles
occurred, and in those battles, the Iraqi army fought as a professional
nationalist army. They fought, and the American officers realized that they we
going to face a real war, face-to-face, man-to-man, tank-to-tank--not an air
war or a missile war--in such a war there will be casualties, and that's what
George Bush was very sensitive to avoid. The country's terrain is different
than that of Kuwait. The terrain in Kuwait is hard desert. The terrain inside
Iraq is Mesopotamia--cities, heavily populated areas. That will be quite a
massacre. America is very strong. We cannot compare our military capabilities
to the American capabilities. There will be a great loss of life. When it
comes to a great loss of life, even military superiority does not become the
only decisive factor--as it happened in Vietnam, for instance.
So George Bush wanted to avoid that. First of al, he didn't know what was
happening. Secondly, it was very costly to him to follow this war. Thirdly,
those who joined him in the effort to drive Iraq out of Kuwait might not have
joined him in his effort to come to Baghdad. These were very clear facts. So
we were not surprised. And then what would he do if he drives towards Baghdad?
Occupy Baghdad, run Baghdad? They were not prepared for that. That was not in
the plan. Nobody, or very few people, would have joined him in that effort.
To fight against the unknown--no sober military or political leader would go in
a fight against the unknown.
The next year President Bush signed a finding for the CIA to work with
opponents to your regime outside and inside Iraq, and the CIA began working
with the INC in London. What was your government's view? What did you think
was going on?
It was not a serious threat to our government, because the so-called Iraqi
opposition is a fake. There are two groups that can be regarded as a real
force, but with their own limitations. There's the Kurds, but traditionally
the Kurds don't fight beyond their territory, and for a very simple reason. It
has never been the agenda of the Kurdish leadership to change governments in
Baghdad. It doesn't matter which government comes to Baghdad. Sometimes, they
look at this government as better than the previous one, but that is relative.
The main concern of the Kurdish leaders is to keep their own business, their
own interests, to achieve their own objectives, within their own territory. So
they don't go fighting outside their region. Even if the Kurds want to hurt
the government as badly as they wish, they have limitations.
The second group is the pro-Iranian elements, which are a serious force, but
they have been tried. We had an experience for eight years in the war against
Iran. Iran was powerful. There was the great enthusiasm about the revolution.
And it fell. They couldn't win. They lost. So how could they win again, even
if we are facing difficult circumstances? But Iraq has not changed. If you
compare their capabilities to the capabilities of those people who are sitting
in London, they have more guns, and more trained people. When I read some
statements made by some congressmen, I laugh, because they ask the American
administration, "You are not arming the Iraqi opposition. Where is the Iraqi
opposition to be armed? You are not training them. Where are they to be
trained?" There is nobody to be armed and to be trained. Those who can hurt
on he battlefield or in terrorist attacks in Iraq are not theirs--they are
pro-Iranians. They tried their fortune, and fell. The Kurds are not going to
fight beyond their territory, even if they get missiles. They are not going to
fight beyond Kurdistan. So who's going to fight to be trained and armed? It's
But they can hurt. America is a powerful nation. It can hurt France, it can
hurt China, it can hurt Argentina, it can hurt itself, sometimes. It can hurt
everybody. But hurting is one thing, and changing governments is another.
America cannot change the government in Iraq. But America is hurting the Iraqi
people, and the Iraqi government as well.
In addition to the working with the opposition in the north and some in the
south, America tried several coup attempts as well--some after 1995 out of
Jordan, out of Oman, supposedly working with people inside. Why did these
Any plans like that are doomed to fail. In the history of Iraq, there were
changes in government in Iraq in 1958, 1963, 1968. Neither America nor Britain
had a hand in that. America doesn't have the tradition of being able to change
governments in Iraq, or make coups. Maybe they succeeded in Iran in 1952, but
Iran is not Iraq.
As I told you in the beginning of our conversation, America didn't have special
concerns in Iraq through decades. There are very few Iraqi officers who were
trained in the United States. They don't know the officers in the army. How
could they manage a military coup d'etat? Whom do they know? How could they
make the contacts? They can spend money on people who are working for them, in
order to buy one or two soldiers or officers, but that's absurd. That's not
serious. Maybe they are dead serious about changing the government. I don't
know. It's up to them to say that. That's what we hear from them. But the
means which they are using are doomed to fail. And they will not succeed.
In August, 1996, what evidence did you find of collaborational co-option
between the American government, the CIA, and the INC?
The headquarters for those groups are in London or in Washington--I don't know
where. They are spending money from the American budget. They will send a
message to a soldier or to an officer: "We will give you $5,000, or $10,000, if
you defect and come. " Some people would do that. They defect and go there
and stay there. They are pretending that they are preparing for a change of
government, and it has become a lucrative business for many individuals. So
when we went in, they evaporated, they disappeared, because the city was in our
hands. It's my perception that the planners in Washington, the American
officials who try to do something in a country they don't know are very much
influenced by the movies made in Hollywood. They think if they make a story,
it might work. But, listen, Hollywood is something, and realities are another.
They don't know Iraq.
How concerned is your government now about Iran's objectives towards Iraq,
and the extent to which Iran is working with the Iraqi opposition based in
Iran? Do you have any evidence to show that America is working in tandem or in
parallel with Iran?
Iran is still a dormant threat to Iraq and to the Arab states in the region.
They have not abdicated their ambitions totally. Their ideology is the same.
Their capabilities are less. Sometimes, they might look or act pragmatically.
But that doesn't change their real ambitions and intentions when they feel they
can do it. They did it in the three islands that belong to the Emirates. They
succeeded in taking the islands over, and they're giving a deaf ear to whoever
talks to them. They can act in a pragmatic manner sometimes, but that doesn't
change the hard facts in the region. So Iran is a threat. In Iran, there's no
one center of power. It is my perception that there are several centers of
power in Iran.
The Iranian leader wouldn't like to get into trouble with his neighbors. And
he wouldn't trust an Iranian-American alliance against Iraq, because he knows
if Iraq vanishes, they will be on the waiting list. If the United States
cannot tolerate Iraq, how could it tolerate Iran? Some intelligence will lead
them to such a conclusion.
But there are people in Iran's centers of power who are benefiting from this
game against Iraq. There is a lot of business going on inside Iran. People
are making money by reaching political positions. There is a group
coordinating with the Americans through Kuwait, not directly through the
authorities of Tehran, and maybe through Arabia. We feel the heat of the
American propaganda. The American propaganda against Iraq is high. They try
to do more harm in the border areas, and there are suspicious visits being
made. We ask the Iranians, through diplomatic channels, what Ahmad Chalabi is
doing in Iran. Chalabi is a declared CIA agent. If they are not coordinating
with the CIA, why should they give him a visa--who he is going to meet in
Tehran? He publicly met with the group linked with the American plans against
Iraq. But that's not going to change the reality. They are hurting us, there
is no question about it--hurting the people and the government--but they're not
going to succeed in reaching their objective.
Even people in this region that don't like us don't buy those American plans.
They know that it's a waste of time and money, and it doesn't reach anything
serious. Even the British are trying to withdraw very slowly, without hurting
the Americans, from those absurd games. The British are more experienced, and
there is less hullabaloo in the British political scene than there is in the
American, because in America, some congressmen would go this way or that way,
and make some foolish suggestions.
What happened in Iran, in the desert [the attempted hostage rescue] was one of
the most foolish episodes in the history of mankind. We puzzled about who
would think that such a plan would work? Then time passed, and I went to New
York. Our representative in New York, the ambassador to the United Nations,
mentioned to me that he knows Cyrus Vance. We invited him to dinner at our
residence, and asked Vance, how did that happen? How could a superpower like
the United States think that such a plan would succeed? He said, "That's why I
resigned. "I heard about it." He told me that he even told the president that
this is doomed to failure. The president said that this plan has been
discussed by the joint chiefs and by the Security Council. Vance was asked to
postpone his resignation to the end of he operation. He agreed to postpone it,
then he resigned.
I told Mr. Vance, "You don't need the chief of staff. You need second
lieutenants to tell you that this is foolish. If the helicopters reached
Tehran carrying the saviors as planned, they would land maybe, four, five, or
ten. In that area, there are armed persons, Iranians who see American
helicopters on the ground. They can shoot at them with their machine guns. If
a helicopter is being shot by a machine gun, it's a lame duck. Then how could
these people go to the prison and bring out the American hostages? They all
will be massacred."
American officials and people in the region say that they were amazed that,
at the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and then after the Gulf War, Iraq made great
progress in some areas of weaponry and weapons of mass destruction--nuclear,
chemical, biological. How was it that your government was able to pursue these
without anybody noticing?
The war with Iran was a matter of life and death to the Iraqi nation, not only
to the government of Iraq. Iran was larger than Iraq, in space and in
population, and they were determine to go to the end. We had opportunities to
buy weaponry from the Soviet Union, from China, from France, and other sources.
But there were not enough, especially when the Iranians started attacking us by
Scud missiles. There is a disadvantage in this regard. Our capital is 110
kilometers away from the borders. Scud missiles could reach 300-350
kilometers. They could easily fire a Scud missile and hit Baghdad. Tehran is
500 or more kilometers away from the Iraqi borders. We did have Scud missiles,
but they don't reach Tehran. So they have an advantage against us. When they
started attacking us with Scud missiles, I went to Moscow with the minister of
state for military affairs, and we asked the Soviets to provide us with
long-range missiles. They said they didn't have long-range missiles except
those that carry nuclear warheads. There was a project between Iraq and Egypt
to develop a long-range missile, and there were no results. So we had to face
the fact that we have to do it ourselves. As they say, the need is the mother
of invention. When you are in dire need, when your destiny is at stake, you
use your ingenuity to do what you need to do. The ingenuity of the Iraqi
scientists and engineers succeeded in developing the Scud missile into a
Then there was the work on the chemical area. In the biological area, it was
not a success, although people are making a lot of fuss about it, but it was
not even on the agenda. There was an initiative to do something with the help
of a few fourth-rate officials or experts, and it didn't succeed. But in the
chemical area, there was a success, relatively speaking. It was done by the
Iraqi scientists, engineers, and technicians. But it was proven that the
decisive psychological, not military, factor in settling the war was the
long-range missiles. Not because of their damage they bring, because we were
hit by the same missiles, and we did not lose the war. By 1988, everybody was
tired of the war. It lasted a long time, and the Iranian soldiers and people
believed what they were told, that victory was near. Suddenly Tehran and
Tigris were hit by Iraqi missiles, so that created a great psychological
setback among the Iranian soldiers. They realized that their leadership was
lying to them, that Iraq was not collapsing. Iraq was making significant
progress in the armaments. That led to a psychological setback that allowed us
to win the the following battles. Chemical weapons didn't make any decisive
change in the battlefield. They don't.
Did you believe that, at some point, working with UNSCOM would lead to an
eventual lifting of the sanctions? Did you see an end in sight? And why
didn't that happen?
From the very beginning, UNSCOM was created, not to do the disarmament job
only, but to do other ugly things, like hurting Iraq, and prolonging the
sanctions. You know the first people who were working in UNSCOM, like Butler,
were really honest and real United Nations disarmament experts. They could
have gone to New York to the Security Council and told them by the end of 1991,
or early 1992, that the main job has been done. There might be follow-up,
monitoring, etc. But the main job was to disarm Iraq. All the arms which were
banned in resolution 687 were completely destroyed, either by them, or by us
unilaterally, by the end of 1991.
Since the first week or month in 1992, until they withdrew from Iraq in 1998,
they didn't find in Iraq a gallon of chemicals or biological weapons, or a
functional missile, which means that there was nothing of the sort. All were
destroyed. We obliterated the whole biological project. All the products and
chemical stockpiles were destroyed by UNSCOM. It took several years to finish
the job--I think it was finished sometime in1994 or 1995. But they did not
report this major fact to the UN Security Council.
In March, 1992, I went to New York, attended the Security Council formal
meeting, and made a suggestion. This is what we have done--these are the
facts and figures of what has been destroyed. Our judgement is that 100
percent of the job has been done. You might not agree that it is 100 percent.
So let us reach a compromise about what has been achieved, and reduce the
sanctions to the point that you agree with us. Let it be 20 percent, because
in resolution 687, paragraph 21, they speak about reducing or lifting the
sanctions--that each 60 days, the Council would meet to review their policies
and practices. So the idea of reducing the sanctions is in the resolution
itself. They refused that. For eight years, sanctions were not reduced. They
made this plan for food, which was a distraction. It was not a reduction of
They always keep making one allegation after the other about Iraq keeping
and hiding, and they searched, they inspect, and they don't find. What does
that mean? UNSCOM was not created to do the disarmament business only. It did
it perfectly, and in the most intrusive manner. But UNSCOM was used as an
instrument. First of all, they had to have a pretext to keep the sanctions,
especially when the other members of the Council started nagging about the
necessity of a change of attitude towards Iraq, and then the UNSCOM spying. We
felt the spying from the very beginning.
. . . I'm not speaking about all of them, because some of them were
professionals. But the leadership was in the hands of those who were specially
picked by the Americans and the British to do this political job, to keep the
sanctions, to create one pretext after the other for keeping the sanctions and
spying on Iraq.
When UNSCOM pulled out of Iraq, the Desert Fox bombing followed, and there have
been continual bombings going on. Do you believe the U.S. has a new policy
that's actively trying to work towards a change in your government?
As a professional, I don't see a policy, because a policy should have an
objective in the end that serves something reasonable--whether it is good or
bad--but reasonable, or serious. I don't see any sense in what is being done.
There is no sense in working with the so-called opposition, because one year
after the other it will be a fiasco.
Secondly, as I said, America can hurt. They are hurting the people, hurting
the military, hurting the government. But for what purpose? In the end, this
is not going to change the government. If their policy is using the earth, the
no-fly zone, and the continuous attacks to weaken the government and change it,
it's not going to weaken the government politically, and it's not going to
change it. Then they should also take into consideration the realities that
when the Iraqi people face such dangers, there is the Iraqi ingenuity. They
fail to hurt us politically. They also fail to hurt us technically. . . . Iraq
is still militarily strong, as well as politically strong. So what the
Americans are doing against Iraq is absurd, in my professional opinion.
You mentioned earlier that, in the 1970s, your government had a dream of
development. What's the realistic possibility of that dream continuing--given
the situation we have--what role do you see in the future for America to play
in that game?
It depends what kind of relationship is going to exist between Iraq and the
United States. The United States has decided to create an enemy of Iraq. But
if we return to normality, as we had, relatively speaking, in the 1980's . . .
You need America if you want to build a refinery, or an oil pipeline, or
improve technology. And principally speaking, we have no objection to that,
because, as I said from the very beginning, ideologically, we are not the
enemies of the United States. We don't have an ideology that would tell us,
like the Marxist-Leninist ideology, that America is the enemy. America could
be an enemy and could be a friend, and could be neutral, meaning neither a
friend or an enemy from our ideological point of view.
It depends what America is doing, and here, I am speaking about the
administration of course, not the people. What sort of an attitude, or policy,
if there is a policy, is this or the next American administration going to have
toward Iraq? Then we will reciprocate in the same manner, for the very
interests of our nation.
I believe, professionally speaking, that dealing with the United States is good
in some areas, because the United States is a very, very developed country, and
very, very rich. It has a lot of things you can buy and benefit from. Under
our regime, and in the previous regimes, we used to send thousands of Iraqis to
study in the United States, and we would love to continue that.
You're an American, and you have been in this country, maybe mingling with
ordinary citizens. In spite of all the ugly policies of the United States
against Iraq and the Iraqi people, the ordinary Iraqi individual does not hate
the American people. They hate the American government, but not American
individuals. And they are not reacting to Americans who are visiting Iraq in a
hostile manner. You might have realized that.
secrets of his life and leadership ·
photo album ·
the kurds' story
join the discussion ·
tapes & transcripts ·
Some Photographs Copyright FRONTLINE/Iraqi News Agency
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation