- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein told his FBI captors in 2004 that his government had condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and had no connection with Osama bin Laden, according to a transcript of his interviews released Wednesday.

The interviews, obtained by George Washington University’s National Security Archives, quoted the now- deceased Iraqi leader as saying that he would reach out in a crisis to China or North Korea, rather than to bin Laden, whom he called a “zealot.”

Saddam, who was executed for crimes against humanity in 2006, said his vice president and former Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz wrote two personal letters to condemn the Sept. 11 attacks by al Qaeda on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The FBI, according to the transcript, speculated that one of the letters was sent to former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who later represented Saddam at his trial in Iraq.

“These letters served as informal means of communications for Iraq to denounce the attack. Saddam stated he could not make any formal announcement as Iraq considered itself at war with the United States,” the transcript said.

Iraqi officials after Sept. 11 were quoted in the international media as bragging that they could rebuild their cities faster than New York could. Iraqi state-run newspapers also praised the attacks, though in his interviews with the FBI, Saddam insisted that he penned editorials condemning them.

The new documents paint a picture of the Iraqi dictator in the final years of his life as arrogant, defiant and often delusional.

He said, for example, that as president of Iraq, he would often drive himself around and mingle with his countrymen to get ideas on how to govern. At some points in the questioning, he even insisted that he was still president of the country the United States invaded in 2003.

The former Iraqi leader also said his eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s stopped Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from taking over the entire Arab world. Saddam also claimed that his soldiers were welcomed by Kuwaitis, who he said despised their royal family, when Iraq invaded its small neighbor in 1990.

Saddam angrily disputed a Human Rights Watch account of his suppression of a Kurdish rebellion following the liberation of Kuwait by a U.S.-led coalition. He denied that the Iraqi army tied children to the front of tanks in 1991. “It’s a lie,” Saddam said. Iraq “does not have orphans walking the streets.”

Saddam also said his government had “no connection” with al Qaeda and disputed evidence put to him in casual conversation by the FBI’s special agent, George Piro. Mr. Piro, an Arabic speaker, conducted most of the bureau’s questioning with the ex-leader.

An analysis of 600,000 documents from Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party, released in 2008 by the Institute for Defense Analysis, a Pentagon think tank, found that while there was no “operational relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda, the Iraqi state collaborated with other jihadist organizations affiliated with bin Laden’s organization. The 9/11 Commission said Iraq played no operational role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Specifically, Saddam rejected the argument that al Qaeda and Iraq should have cooperated because both were enemies of the United States. Saddam said that “if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the United States, [he] would have with North Korea, which he claimed to have a relationship with, or China.” Saddam obtained missiles from North Korea.

Mr. Piro has spoken to the media before about his questioning of Saddam, but the documents released Wednesday painted the fullest picture to date of the Iraqi dictator’s time in U.S. custody.

The deposed leader was hanged Dec. 30, 2006, after a hurried trial.

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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