photo of saddam hussein in a suit
gunning for saddam
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saddam's life
interview: khidir hamza

What's your opinion of whether Saddam Hussein has a connection with bin Laden?

What I think is there is somehow a change in the level of the type of operation bin Laden has been carrying [out]. What we are looking at initially is more or less just attempts to blow some buildings, just normal use of explosives for a terrorist. What we have in the September 11 operation, [is a] tightly controlled, very sophisticated operation; the type an Iraqi intelligence agency, well versed in the technology [could pull off]. ... So my thinking is a guy sitting in a cave in Afghanistan is not the guy who will do an operation of this caliber. It has to have in combination with it a guy with the sophistication and know-how on how to carry these things.

... Iraq [also] has a history of training terrorists, harboring them, and taking good care of them, by the way. A terrorist is well cared for with Saddam. So he has a good reputation in that type of community, if you like.

What do you think about the possibility of Iraq sharing anthrax with bin Laden's people, whoever the terrorists are in the United States that are now using them? What's the possibility of that?

I think [the possibility is] high. I think very high. ... I don't believe for a minute that Al Qaeda has the support, in Afghanistan or anywhere else, do to this sophisticated kind of weapon.

But why share such technology with someone else? If you're going to do it, you do it yourself. Why put yourself in danger?

We are speculating. There are two ways to do it. Saddam would prefer to do it directly, if he can guarantee the deniability angle. ... He will not want things to be traced directly back to him, because he knows the repercussions will be just too strong. So what he will do is he will try to achieve some deniability, at least to create suspicion that he may be, he may be not, but not give direct evidence that this came from Iraq. My expectation is that he did part in Iraq and had somebody do the complementary parts somewhere else. If it's traced to that source, he's out. He's not involved directly in it. There might be leads and suspicious but no direct evidence. But again, this is speculation. It could be he made a certain amount of spores and sent them abroad directly, if he could do in a way that could not be traced back to him.

Hamza is an American-trained nuclear physicist who headed the Iraqi nuclear weapons program before defecting to the West in 1994. In this interview, conducted in October 2001, Hamza discusses the possibility that Iraq may develop a nuclear weapon in the near future, and whether Saddam has connections to Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 terrorists. In an earlier FRONTLINE interview, he detailed Iraq's efforts to build a nuclear weapon and to hide its weapons development from U.N. inspectors. Hamza is the author of Saddam's Bombmaker (Scribner, 2000), a memoir recounting his experiences working in Saddam's inner circle. [Editor's Note, November 2005: More than two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, no evidence has surfaced showing that Saddam Hussein had had the capability to deploy nuclear weapons. After Saddam's fall, Hamza was appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority to be senior adviser to Iraq's Ministry of Science and Technology. In this role, he had partial control of Iraq's nuclear and military industries. In March 2004, Hamza's contract was not renewed. To date, he has not addressed questions about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.]

So if you believe it's quite possible that he would share such anthrax, and possibly other biological, with another group? What would the goal [be]? What does Saddam Hussein get out of this?

Destabilize the U.S., at least create a problem for the U.S. Very difficult to destabilize the U.S. -- it's impossible -- but create problems for the U.S., major ones, if possible. Make it busy with its own problems, get it out of the region. ...

The natural question is, why? Why does he want to have a relationship with other groups that he has not total control over? They could get him in trouble. One might say that, politically, Iraq has been doing well. The French and the Germans seem to be helping them in the United Nations in some of the debates. Why take a chance?

Saddam believes that security starts abroad. Always he thinks that way. Think outside. ... If somebody is endangering you, go after him one way or the other. And Saddam is vengeful. Remember, he tried to kill former President Bush even after he left office. It's his nature. And, I think, it's an impression he wants to leave, "Don't do me a bad turn; I never forget it."

I think Saddam's given up on lifting the sanctions. The U.S. will never lift the sanctions on Iraq, no matter what the French say or the Russians. ...

So the best policy for him, knowing him and the way he operates, is to attack. He cannot get the type of loyalty that people will blow themselves up for him. This is not the type of regime he runs. He doesn't have that kind of people. ... Very few Iraqis will go inside Iran and blow up on suicide missions.

But ... a guy like bin Laden would be an excellent complement to the operation he wants. They supply him with the foot soldiers ready to blow themselves up. He could train those foot soldiers, support them with his operations, ongoing, including the arm of the military industry, which is very sophisticated, and know-how for acquiring technology, knowing where to go and where to get things. And his intelligence operatives, which can do very tight operations, extremely tight. ...

There's a story out in the London Times recently, where an Egyptian reporter asked one of the bin Laden folk that have been arrested in Egypt about if Al Qaeda has nuclear weapons, and the response was yes, that Al Qaeda, as well as the Islamic Jihad, have obtained nukes through several countries. What do you make of that report?

I don't believe it, unless they buy it or steal it from somebody. I doubt they are capable of putting together a nuclear weapon, even given the nuclear material. Look at Iraq. We had teams of thousands working at it, and we still haven't got it together in the form to make it into a weapon. Now, a weapon, for Al Qaeda, is another story also. For Al Qaeda, they need a transportable one. ... They need a suitcase type of bomb. This is the only thing that makes sense to them. We are talking high technology here. Not Pakistan, not India, nor Iraq can do this.

But the Soviets would. And they supposedly reported that they're missing 40 some-odd suitcase nuclear weapons.

We tried the Soviets. We tried to get something out of them, the former Soviet republics. It is very hard to really know your way around and get something safely out. So I would doubt it. ... A buyer is at a severe disadvantage there. There are so many sting operations running around, you don't know, even your friend might be part of it. ... In the end, nobody, as far as I know, even got nuclear material out. ...

The problem for us was the enrichment capability was downgraded by the inspectors after the war ... so the intention became to also getting some nuclear material directly. That turned out to be not easy. Bomb-grade uranium or plutonium turned out not to be [easily available]... You hear it is all over the place, when you go there. ... But actually getting your hands on this stuff turns out to be very hard. And we lost millions in deposits to black marketeers who came to us with offers to sell us this and that, and they took the money on the run, and we never saw them again. It's not as easy as it looks.

But it's possible.

It is possible. But ... I don't believe bin Laden has the capability to take bomb-grade material and make a nuclear weapon out of it, and I don't believe he really stole a bomb, an actual working nuclear bomb. I don't think it is that simple or that easy, despite what I hear. ...

In terms of the training of terrorists in camps -- what was taking place? Who was involved? And why the Iraqis? Why were they doing it?

The training and the terrorism angle would be the only option left for a country that lost a war. ... Outright wars are out now, with the sanctions and the huge losses, and Iraq demoralized and almost destroyed. Terrorism is always for the weak. It's not an option for a major power. It's never been. Always, when you get weaker, you go to terrorism. ... So terrorist camps come natural in Iraq.

What was happening that you remember seeing yourself at Salman Pak [site of an alleged terrorist camp]?

For me, the major training was not Salman Pak ... I believe the major training centers are elsewhere, including Deltaje [ph] I have a ranch [near] there ... and that's a major training camp. ... Some of the guys being trained in that camp would come over and talk to us ... . These guys are getting prepared to do some terrorist attacks on neighboring states, or anywhere else, actually. ... They were trained to go into Kuwait and acquire a target, or Saudi Arabia and acquire a target, and come back; [go to] Iran, acquire targets and come back. Now, it looks to me like ... the part I saw is the tip of the iceberg of what's going on in other camps, where all kinds of training is going on in these kind of operations. It is typical commando or terrorist-type of training where you are told where to go, given a map, live from the land.

Was it only Iraqi soldiers?

No, actually they were not Iraqis. One of them, he said he's Palestinian, but he could be from anywhere. He could be an Egyptian. He could be from anywhere, the one we knew. And there are others of all kinds come and go.

What is the nuclear capability, at this point, of Iraq?

I believe Iraq now has fully functional design, and complete manufacturing capability for the parts, or parts of the nuclear equipment. The only thing in Iraq remains [to acquire] is the nuclear core. ... German intelligence, which I believe made a very good assessment ... is [that] Iraq should be able to acquire complete this part by 2005, and have three nuclear weapons. It might not be three, though; it might be one or two.

[When] I left Iraq, Iraq had the design for a [nuclear] device, not a weapon. They had not hardened the design, and miniaturized it enough to make it a weapon -- a hardy enough weapon for transport, say, a missile. But there was a lot of work going into hardening this design.

"Hardening" meaning...?

Meaning making it able to withstand a trip. Checking parts against all kinds of shocks and movements and stuff like that. Making it tighter. Making it hardier.

Useful on a missile?

Useful on a missile. That was a target. The design we had even then could withstand an airplane trip. ... So the whole effort was directed to hardening and miniaturizing. I believe Iraq has it now.

You think they have one or two now?


You think they're growing, or have the possibility within the next couple of years...

Yes. ...

... of actually building this?


How successful or unsuccessful was the United Nations in eradicating the nuclear and the biological threat that Iraq presents here?

The United Nations inspectors had a very misguided opinion about what is disarmament. ... They thought if you have something, I take it away from you, and you are disarmed. Despite the knowledge you have, the expertise you gained through the years, your contacts that could repurchase parts for you and put the thing back together. They discounted all this. If you have a piece of equipment, they take it away, and you are disarmed.

This is simplistic. They are not naïve; I talked to them. I talked to many of the inspectors. We had some kind of give and take in this. But they were restricted. ...

For example, on the nuclear ... the critical parts, that Iraq could not replace easily, we did not tell about -- for example, the molds that you make explosives with, the machines that you make explosives with. Nobody is going to sell you these anymore. Very difficult. So Iraq did not give these up. Not a single explosive was given to the inspectors for the nuclear weapon program. Not a single mold, not a single machine.

"Given?" I thought they were found.

A little bit found, but not explosives. Iraq claimed that these were destroyed in the war. Other parts were given, or were found and given to inspectors. Not everything the inspectors found, by the way, was given to them. They might find something and it disappears on them. And that happened several times.

Anyway, suppose even they were given? The expertise is there. Iraq kept a very essential part of the program. The computer-controlled lathe machines and machining device ... these are critical in making the high technology part.

In biology, what do you need in biology? Aside from some few equipment, you need to import mostly fermenters, dryers and stuff like that. All these could be re-manufactured in Iraq. And this is what the inspectors took away.

You don't need a high-grade growth media to do biological agents. What you need is a growth media, and a growth media can be done in Iraq. It wouldn't be the high-grade Western standard or your standard growth media. The germs that grow wouldn't be up to standards here, but they would be workable. ...

Why the special interest in biological weapons?

Biological are much less easily detectable than any other. You could have a plastic bag of anthrax in your pocket and take it, if it is well sealed, or doubly sealed, and take it anywhere without being detected.

Chemical is harder. There are always traces of chemicals, which would be a give-away. Nuclear, you have the radiation problem. And I don't believe radiological weapons are effective anyway; we tried them. They don't create the terror that biological weapons can create. ...

Did Saddam Hussein understand that? Did he understand that terror was his friend? Did he understand that, in some ways, as far as a weapon of choice, perhaps biological was the choice?

If there is anything Saddam understands, it is terror. This is what he lives on. This is how he made himself into what he is now. This is how he came to power. ... Everything we did in the chemical weapon program, all the death caused, we could have done them with conventional. But dropping chemicals on the Iranians, they started fleeing. ... You might kill less with these, but the others are completely demoralized. You started for the first time seeing fleeing troops at the front. So terror is what actually was the major weapon we used in the chemical against the Iranians.

To keep with the subject of terror, tell us about being shown the tape [of Saddam purging the government of those he viewed as "traitors" when he took power.]

That tape was made [on] the "night of the long knives." Saddam, when he took power, he thought there was this... He believed it was a conspiracy to put him out of the loop, get him out of the system completely.

So he needed more or less a coup. He took over and became president and arranged for this charade of the general secretary of the party claiming that these are the conspirators, agents of Syria, to topple the Iraqi government.

You had the Revolutionary Council, which is made of nine members, voted by the majority. The minority of four, including Saddam, decided that the majority of five are the traitors, and put them under arrest. So five out of the nine Revolutionary Council were killed that night.

The tape was made in several versions, I am told. I was shown one of the versions. ... People were called by name, they were asked to leave, somebody came and escorted them out, a couple of people, they were taken outside.

In another version of the tape, there is a camera outside. They were lined up and shot. How? The question is, who shot them and why? And that's Saddam's baptism by blood. Saddam doesn't believe you are loyal unless you kill for him. Any other test is meaningless. ...

So some ministers, some people who are now in the Cabinet, who are outside holding the guns that shot the others, other ministers, including his cousins. The main henchmen and controllers were his half-brothers and cousins. ... You see people being shot, and then somebody coming over, Barzan, especially, his oldest half-brother, and do the coup de grace. So you have this terrible bloodbath outside.

Why were you shown this tape?

Several reasons. [To show me] what could happen to me if I did something. I was in a critical [position]. I was doing one of the most crucial ... programs, and the largest. We learned in the U.S. a habit -- a bad one for Iraq -- of more or less being open, talking a lot, especially among our friends and inner circles. So they were telling me I'd better mend my ways, be a little bit more under control, or I'll be like one of these. ...


Did you ever sit with Saddam Hussein talking about the goals of the program?

No. He made a point of not doing that. ...

Did you talk to him at all? Did you meet with him?

Yes, we met, and talked, but not the goals.

Did he talk about the United States?

He talks all the time about the United States -- the United States did this, United States did that, United States with Israel. He talks all the time. ...

Did he talk about intentions of what Iraq should do, as far as the United States? Or did he talk about the irritation with the inability to strike back at the United States?

That would be out of character. Saddam doesn't declare his intentions that way. ... He would not do that openly. ... You know it from his associates; you know it from the orders you get it; you know it from what's going on actually. You don't know it on the declared policies. These are covert operations. They are designed to be that way. Not much is talked about, and it's actually dangerous to do so.

And the intentions?

Intentions [to] keep the U.S. busy, try to get it out of Iraq's backyard -- Gulf states and such -- get it out of Iraq's affairs, create a danger to the U.S., one way or the other. ...

[Does Saddam believe the U.S. wants to get rid of him?]

I don't think Saddam knows you want to get rid of him. I don't think Saddam believes you want to get rid of him.


Nothing is done together. There's no support for any movement that actually wants to topple Saddam. But Saddam knows you want to contain him. This, he is convinced. We keep him weak, but keep him in power. ...

And the assumption is that the United States will not want to get rid of him because...?

Because several factors. First, Iran. Even if relations look normal now with Iran, Iran is a danger to the Gulf states. An Islamic republic is not a vision the U.S. wants to be spread in the region. And the only real, actual, and proven definitely force against Iran -- beyond any doubt -- is Saddam. There is no other proven force that can understand Iran. So Saddam is convinced, and I believe many in the Iraqi opposition also are convinced, and they say it, that U.S. don't want to remove him, actually, but they don't want him to terrorize the region. They don't want him to have too much power over the region -- yes.


But there's a debate now in Washington very strongly held in the Defense Department and elsewhere, that Iraq has to go, that this war against terrorism will not be won unless one targets Iraq and Saddam Hussein. What is your take on that debate and its reality?

That's a very complex situation developing now. What you have now is ten years of no credibility to any U.S. policy to remove Saddam, despite the statements made on all levels by U.S. politicians. So any support for the Iraqi opposition in the region, serious support, eroded during all those years.

Nobody wants to go into ... being in opposition, to go openly against Saddam and support whatever is going to topple him, and in the end, [be] left like the Iraqi opposition was left in the north and the Kurds were left -- to deal with Saddam on their own. Why would they? Because the U.S. is now proven in the region to be unreliable. ...

In your opinion, what is the threat that Saddam Hussein poses at this point? Is it necessary to remove him from power? And if the United States loses this opportunity to go after him, what does the future hold?

You are having for the first time nuclear weapons coming -- not now -- in the future, near future probably. Even if it is not 2005, 2010 would be for sure. The estimate now -- 2005 Iraq will be nuclear. Say, 2010. We are talking about now the future of the region.

Now, Saddam gets nuclear weapons, and he has already the full range of the chemical and most of the range of the biological probably. ... The expertise are there, all the scientists are there, and he has oil money, to a degree, not as much as before. So what you are getting is a highly weaponized state with a huge terror organ -- the government itself is a terror organ, and several organizations that could be satellites to it, including Al Qaeda. ...

A nuclear bomb would turn Saddam into a huge figure in the region. Islamic fundamentalists and many of the Arab nationalists feel humiliated throughout this century -- the loss of Palestine, the occupation of Arab land by the West, the humiliation of the region throughout the century; they'll be vindicated with Saddam. Here is a man who can stand up to the West, who made it, who has it, who can do it. He will be a huge figure in the region.

And the Arab "street," which we used to think is not very important ... September 11 is telling us, now, is very important, because 14 out of the 19 killer hijackers, 13 or 14, are Saudis, which are basically U.S. allies. So the Saudi street is not stable, is not happy, neither with the government nor with the alliance. So what we are ending with us a breeding ground of groups that would work outside the alliance structure and could support whichever extremist regime they think is attractive to them.

So you seem to be saying that there's no choice.

There is no choice. Absolutely no choice to removing Saddam. No alternative. Saddam has to be removed. Otherwise, what you'll have is the region going down the drain, eventually, with all kinds of extremist groups, possible skirmishes, small wars, all kinds of actions.

When did this dawn on you? You were in the position of providing him what he needed to become this horror that you're now defining. When did this dawn on you? How did you think about it when you were still in Iraq?

The danger became clear in the crash program in 1990, [link to unscom interview] when we were asked to make one nuclear weapon out of the French fuel. It makes no sense. We made a device, actually, minus the core, and we sat down and did calculations. We have one to two kilograms, and we needed eighteen, extracted to make the bomb. And we would have had a small -- probably two-to-four kiloton explosion at the time. ... But the idea was [that] he wanted it on a missile, and he was mad at us for not making it small enough. ...

Now, we are talking about destroying Iraq and a madman who is taking everybody with him if he goes: a self-centered megalomaniac who is thinking only of himself. If he goes, nothing should remain after. That kind of thing we couldn't deal with -- I couldn't personally deal with -- so I started from then to start easing my way out and getting out of the country. ...

What do we, the United States, not understand about this man and his capabilities?

That he is vengeful, that he never forgets an enemy. That he will go to extreme measures to get back at whoever [he thinks has done him wrong.] That he's very devious, and that he is underestimated. You see, his loss and humiliation in the Gulf War made everybody interested in Saddam. He fumbled. That war he lost so badly. He had no control over his army. He has no control over most of the country. The Kurds left, and they're still out. The Shiites all left. They rebelled, and there was no control over that. He fumbled badly in that war.

And so everybody looked down at Saddam as finished, as a bungler, as a guy who couldn't get his act together. And that's, I think, an impression, probably left in the mind of some Western leaders, probably in the U.S., too -- thinking that the guy is not up to the caliber that he can go against the U.S, [that ...] he is too busy with his own internal problems, with the sanctions put on him. He could be too weak to act, to come back out.

But that's not true, as far as you're concerned.

That's not true.

How so?

This is not his make-up. He doesn't work that way. Saddam is very vengeful, and Saddam believes in getting back and attacking. ...

... You know the capabilities of Iraq. If all of a sudden we find ourselves at war with Iraq, what should we expect?

I don't think there will be serious danger, frankly. Of course, things have to change. If you want to protect yourself against bin Laden and Iraq and this, then you have to incorporate a large intelligence capability in that area -- incorporate the Arabs and Muslims, like the British did, now. There's a huge community of Arabs and Muslims within their intelligence structure. ... They incorporated the Iraqi expatriate community into their intelligence network. And they knew exactly who is going in and who is going out. They have a continual stream of intelligence about Iraq and what it's doing. ...They don't want the danger coming from Iraq to affect them internally. ... If [your capabilities] are augmented in that direction, I doubt if Iraq could do much damage to the U.S., much damage. ...

So what do you assume is going to happen? What is your best guess? Now that you've been in the United States, you've seen how things work; you see the pressure being built [towards going after him].

I don't think anything will happen. ... I think the minimum will be done. And I don't think an overt action of a larger scale required to get rid of him will be adopted, for many reasons. The end result will be [to] do nothing. ... This has been the U.S. policy for the last ten years, and it will be now. ...

If the United States for whatever reason decides that its war on terrorism should not include Saddam Hussein, his long-term goals, does he still feel that this war started ten years ago, supposedly finished ten years ago, is ongoing, whether we go at him or not? Is this war for Saddam Hussein continuing?

Yes, it will be continuing to him as long as you keep on him the sanctions. Limit him and how much weapons he can make. Limit his military capability. Limit his ability to domineer the region. Limit his movements. Limit his power. You are his enemies. It makes no different whether they go after him or not. Not going after him will relieve him from trying to defend himself, but it would not get him out of the box he is in. Because he believe if he stays weak, he's dead. So he'll fight you one way or the other -- through terrorism, all kinds of weaponry he has. ...

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