FBI notes: Saddam Hussein feared Iran more than U.S. attack

WASHINGTON — The farm where Saddam Hussein hid from U.S. forces before he was captured in December 2003 was familiar ground for the Iraqi dictator: It was the same place, he told an FBI agent, where he sought refuge 44 years earlier after taking part in a failed attempt to kill Iraq’s president.

Hussein also told the U.S. official that he had used telephones only twice in the last 14 years, and moved his locations daily. With troops closing in on him, Hussein returned to the farm outside Tikrit where he hid in 1959 after joining in a failed bid to assassinate Iraqi president Abd Al-Karim Qassem.

Those details are among more than 100 pages of notes written by George Piro, an FBI special agent who interviewed Hussein after he was nabbed at the farm. The notes of the FBI interviews were made public by the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute.

Hussein told Piro that instead of relying on phones, he communicated by courier or met with his officials personally. “He was very aware of the United States’ significant technological capabilities,” the agent wrote in notes after one interview.

The former Iraqi dictator was captured nine months after the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq in March 2003. Hussein was executed by hanging on orders of Iraq’s successor government in December 2006.

In a series of interviews between February and June of 2004, Hussein also told Piro that he falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, the hostile neighbor he considered a bigger threat than the U.S.

Hussein denied having unconventional weapons before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but refused to allow U.N. inspectors to search his country from 1998 until 2002. The inspectors returned to the weapons hunt in November 2002 but still complained that Iraq wasn’t cooperating.

“By God if I had such weapons I would have used them in the fight against the United States,” he told Piro.

Former President George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq in large part on the assertion that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and could provide them to terrorists. Hussein had used chemical weapons previously and the Bush administration maintained that he was pursuing biological and nuclear weapons. No such weapons were found after the war.

In the interviews, Hussein dismissed Osama bin Laden as a “zealot,” said he had never personally met the al-Qaida leader and that the Iraqi government didn’t cooperate with the terrorist group against the U.S.

The institute obtained the FBI summaries through a Freedom of Information Act request and posted them on its Web site Wednesday. The New York Daily also wrote about the Hussein files last week after similarly obtaining summaries of the interviews through a FOIA request.

Hussein also stated that the United States used the Sept. 11 terrorist attack as a justification to attack Iraq and said the U.S. had “lost sight of the cause of 9/11.” He claimed that he denounced the attack in a series of editorials.

Hussein denied using body doubles, something the U.S. government said he did to elude his captors.

Piro earlier had described their talks in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last year. Hussein told him he had “miscalculated” Bush’s intentions and expected only a limited U.S. attack.

“Hussein stated Iraq could have absorbed another United States strike, for he viewed this as less of a threat than exposing themselves to Iran,” according to a June 11, 2004, FBI interview report.

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