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Is Saddam Hussein a Creation of the CIA?

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The head of the first team of United Nations nuclear inspectors to visit Iraq in two years said today that Iraq was cooperating with its work. [includes rush transcript]

Five experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the peaceful use of nuclear energy under a 1968 treaty, arrived in Baghdad on Friday to verify that the nation’s nuclear stocks are not being used for weapons. The monitors are the first to visit Iraq since U.N. weapons inspectors left the country in late 1998 on the eve of U.S.- British air strikes. This comes following a UN Security Council resolution last month that charges the agency with the task of monitoring Iraq’s nuclear facilities.

Well, today we are speaking with a man who once worked as a consultant to Saddam Hussein when the U.S. Government was an ally and patron of Baghdad. Said Aburish is the author of a new biography on the Iraqi leader called “Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge.” He also collaborated on a Frontline documentary called “The Survival of Saddam,” which airs tomorrow on PBS.


  • Said Aburish, author of numerous books, including The House of Saud, Children of Bethany, Arafat: From Defender to Dictator, and Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge.
  • Hussein Ibish, of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The head of the first United Nations nuclear inspectors to visit Iraq in two years said today that Iraq is cooperating with its work. Five experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the peaceful use of nuclear energy under a 1968 treaty, arrived in Baghdad on Friday to verify that the nation’s nuclear stocks are not being used for weapons. The monitors are the first to visit Iraq since U.N. weapons instructors left the country in late '98 so that the United States and Britain could bomb. This comes following a U.N Security Council resolution last month that charges the agency with a task of monitoring Iraq's nuclear facilities.

Today, we’re speaking with a man who once worked as a consultant to Saddam Hussein when the U.S. Government was an ally and patron of Baghdad. Said Aburish is the author of a new biography on the Iraqi leader called Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge. He also collaborated on the Frontline documentary called The Survival of Saddam, which will air tomorrow night on PBS stations around the country. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Said Aburish.

SAID ABURISH: Thank you very much. Nice to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s good to be with you, and the book that you wrote is full of information, to say the least, from the beginning to end. Why don’t we start out by specifically focusing on the U.S. relationship with Saddam Hussein and how they helped to maintain him in power?

SAID ABURISH: Well, the relationship lasted practically thirty years, from 1962, when he was a minor official of the Baath Party, until the Gulf War. And then it turned him in power in several ways. It was a relationship of cooperation, but never trust. Neither side never trusted the other. And they helped him stay in power by providing him with electronic systems to guard against a coup d’état. They helped him stay in power by providing him with armament that he needed badly. They helped him stay in power by refusing to raise the issue of human rights. And they helped him to stay in power by supporting him during the war with Iran. So they really helped him, practically politically, practically financially, any way you can look at it.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you come to know Saddam Hussein? I mean, you were born in Jerusalem. You went to university in the United States. You were a correspondent for Radio Free Europe and the Daily Mail. How did you get into his inner circle?

SAID ABURISH: Well, after becoming correspondent for Radio Free Europe and the Daily Mail, I went into business, and I was head of a consulting firm. And I ran into an old classmate who asked me to work with him, and he was working with Saddam Hussein. And his brief was a very simple one: to bring to Iraq the best companies in the world to undertake development projects. This was in the 1970s. And, indeed, the development program at the time was very, very impressive and very, very effective. And that’s how the relationship started, and then it developed into other things.

Saddam Hussein in the early '80s became aware that I was an American citizen and a loyal one, by the way, just in case there's any question, and asked me to do public relations for him or government relations for him in the United States, and I did that. But he was our friend at the time. He was our favorite man throughout the Middle East, practically.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened?

SAID ABURISH: What happened is a conflict of interest, which was really basically always there. I mean, they never trusted each other, and he really wanted to be the regional leader. And because of the importance of oil, in particular, there was no way the United States and other Western powers would allow a local leader to control the flow and price of oil, and they came into conflict. He was an unreliable ally, and the United States did not play straight with him either. While they were supporting him during the war with Iran, they were giving arms to Iran. So it was inevitable that they would clash. I think the wonder was not that they clashed. The wonder was the extent of it and the seriousness of it.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Said Aburish. He has written the book Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, and is collaborator in a Frontline documentary that will be airing tomorrow night called The Survival of Saddam.

You write about different aspects of the bombing and what happened in the aftermath of the bombing of Iraq. For example, you talk about the bombing the roadway of death. Can you talk about that?

SAID ABURISH: Yes, I can. When the allies attacked Iraq, I mean, the brief essentially from the United Nations was to eject Saddam from Kuwait. And Saddam was defeated really after the first twenty-four hours, and there were tens of thousands of people, Iraqis and others, by the way, who were trying to flee from Kuwait back into Iraq. And there was only one highway they could take, and there were really somewhere like about 15,000 cars trying to take that highway. And that convoy, if 15,000 cars is indeed a convoy — it’s a huge one — was attacked repeatedly by allied planes, you know, for almost two days. And the number of casualties is unknown, of course, but we are talking about over 15,000 people killed and many more thousand wounded. And no one saw fit to stop this attack, because most of the people who were fleeing were civilians. And that is deplorable. We were fighting against a dictator, and an evil dictator, and to bring ourselves to his level is deplorable, and that particular incident of the Mutlaa Ridge should have been investigated, and thoroughly, and the people responsible for it should have been held, you know, in front of the public and asked why they did what they did.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Said Aburish, and we’re going to take a listen to an excerpt of the documentary airing tomorrow night on PBS called Saddam Hussein, the documentary on PBS that will air. This is it.

NARRATOR: June 1996, Washington is determined to get rid of Saddam Hussein. The White House orders the CIA to organize a coup d’etat.

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s frequently the case that the CIA is called upon to develop some kind of a covert action program in response to intractable and maybe even insoluble problems that confront the government.

NARRATOR: In Baghdad, a special unit of Iraqi intelligence has studied every coup of the twentieth century. Saddam Hussein is ready.

UNIDENTIFIED: Saddam is a far better plotter, more apt and accomplished plotter than the CIA will ever be. He is good.

NARRATOR: Saddam believes he knows who will betray him even before they know it themselves. The CIA thinks it has recruited officers within Saddam’s tight inner circle.

UNIDENTIFIED: They don’t know the officers in the army. How could they manage a coup d’etat, a military coup d’etat? Whom do they know?

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about the CIA plot against Saddam Hussein when we come back from our break. And we’ll also talk about the Shia uprising and what happened with George Bush at that time, how close was Saddam Hussein to being toppled. We’ll continue with Said Aburish in just a minute.


NARRATOR: In the last decade, Saddam Hussein has survived everything the world has thrown at him: the onslaught of half a million troops in the Gulf War, a popular uprising that almost broke his grip on Iraq, economic sanctions controlling all trade into the country, assassination attempts on his ministers, UN arms inspectors bent on destroying his strategic weapons, CIA-sponsored coups and a major insurrection. Today, American jets continue to bomb Iraq. In the past year alone, they have flown more sorties over Iraq than NATO flew during the war in Kosovo. Nothing has worked.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to The Survival of Saddam, a documentary that will air on Frontline tomorrow night on PBS TV stations around the country. Our guest is Said Aburish, who is speaking to us from London, England. He was a close confidant of Saddam Hussein and has now written a book about him called Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, and was a collaborator on that Frontline documentary.

Two issues, Said Aburish: the issue of the coup against Saddam Hussein and the Shia uprising right after the U.S. bombing.

SAID ABURISH: Well, first, let me correct you. I was not a personal confidant, though I worked very, very closely with the government on unimportant things, if I may say so.

The coup attempt against him failed, because the officers who were supposed to be working with the CIA were infiltrated, and that is very, very easy to do. About one out of every four Iraqis is working for some kind of branch of the security system. So it is very difficult to really establish connections with them, and he has eliminated so many people over the years that we really don’t have anyone else left to work with. It isn’t that he eliminated our people, it is the number of people he eliminated included our people by accident, if you wish. And he keeps rotating officers, so there really is no one to work with.

The Shia uprising is a moment of shame in 1991, is a moment of shame. It followed the Gulf War, and we called on the people of Iraq to rise against Saddam Hussein and get rid of him. And they believed the words of George Bush, and that’s exactly what they did. And in the process, they conquered, they occupied, about fourteen of the seventeen provinces of Iraq.

Saddam was courageous. Saddam did not flinch. However, we failed to help those people completely. We allowed his helicopters to attack them. We allowed his troops to go through our lines to attack them. We threw a line around arms depots to keep them from reaching them. We did everything, except say that we still want Saddam in power, that Saddam in power is preferable to a Shia government in Iraq, because a Shia government in Iraq would be allied to Iran, and that’s a bigger danger. And the uprising failed, and as a result of this failure we are having a very, very difficult time to convince popular and important Iraqis to work with us to overthrow Saddam. They no longer trust us, and that is totally justified.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the Kurds and their relationship with the CIA?

SAID ABURISH: Well, the Kurds were the same. If the Shias were betrayed this one time in 1991, the Kurds were betrayed several times, because the Kurds were part of the 1991 uprising. The Kurds were betrayed in 1975 in a major way. The Kurds were betrayed in between. And this is why the Kurds, why they’re autonomous in northern Iraq at this moment in time. They will not allow us to use their territory to take any moves against the regime of Saddam Hussein, because they don’t know when we are going to turn our back on them and betray them again.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking Said Aburish, who is the author of Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, who worked with the Iraqi government for a number of years. When did you stop?

SAID ABURISH: I stopped in 1983, early 1983, when it became very clear to me that he was using chemical weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about — how did it become clear to you?

SAID ABURISH: Well, I mean, there were reports that he was using them. I used to travel to Baghdad myself. I saw for myself. It became clear that he was using unconventional weapons — chemical weapons, in particular — and that is something I could not tolerate, and I walked out. And I wrote about it. And the United States government at the time did everything except withdraw my passport. He was still a friend, and they wanted to defend him. They told everybody I was unreliable, that I should not be believed, and they tried to protect him and maintain his image as a good guy.

AMY GOODMAN: You were a go-between, a go-between for U.S. arms sellers in Iraq. Can you talk about that relationship?

SAID ABURISH: Well, it wasn’t U.S. arms sellers. We sold him very little, except we did give him the design from the United States — I had nothing to do with it — the design for his first chemical weapons plant. We did indeed do that. I was involved in buying him arms from the United Kingdom and France and other places, and that was with the knowledge of the United States government. And the reason I did it is because until then Iraq had relied on the U.S.S.R., the Soviet Union, as it was then, for its armament, and I thought we’re better off with Iraq, you know, securing and procuring its armament in the West and relying on the West, rather than on a communist country and leaning towards the U.S.S.R., and that is what happened. And it was a successful effort.

And let me make one thing clear. I mean, I am no different than many other people who over the centuries who have aided and abetted dictators to come around and regret it. And I regret it very, very deeply. But it was U.S. policy, and that is what encouraged people like me to go ahead and try to help Saddam.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think of U.S. policy today?

SAID ABURISH: I think U.S. policy today is rather misguided. I think we should really try to separate the person of Saddam from the Iraqi people and, in doing that, encourage them to overthrow him. That is the only way to get rid of him. By equating him with the Iraqi people, we don’t give them any incentive to get rid of him. And get rid of him, we should. He has to go. But we have to replace him with a democracy. We cannot replace him with another officer who is not called Saddam. I mean, Saddamism without Saddam is pretty much the same. Just because we demonize him, that doesn’t make that much difference.

AMY GOODMAN: You say “we” have to replace him.

SAID ABURISH: Well, the Iraqi people have to replace him, but we have to give them breathing space to replace him. They are not going to replace him as long as the sanctions are there, because we’re imposing the sanctions.

AMY GOODMAN: I know you have to leave, and we’re going to continue the discussion with an Arab American activist who has been dealing with the sanctions issues. Said Aburish, thanks for being with us, author of numerous books, including The House of Saud, Children of Bethany, Arafat: From Defender to Dictator and Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge. He is one of the collaborators on a documentary that’s airing tomorrow night on PBS called The Survival of Saddam. You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, as we listen to another excerpt of the documentary. We’ll come back and speak with Hussein Ibish of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee about some of the latest figures. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announcing this week 14,000 Iraqi children died last December because of the sanctions.

NARRATOR: The key to Saddam Hussein’s survival lies in his past. He once had a vision that galvanized his nation and attracted true believers.

SAID ABURISH: We supported him because we wanted one Arab country to move ahead and be strong economically and militarily, and we saw Iraq as that one country. That’s why we supported him. We were not blind to what he was.

NARRATOR: Said Aburish, author of a new biography of Saddam and a consultant to this program, worked closely with Saddam’s government. Like many educated Arabs of his generation, Aburish, a Palestinian, looked to Saddam for leadership. Beginning in the mid-'70s, Aburish was a go-between for Western arms manufacturers doing business with Iraq. He was part of Saddam's secret plan to acquire chemical weapons and an atomic bomb.

SAID ABURISH: I don’t think there was any Arab in the ’70s who did not want Saddam Hussein to have an atomic weapon. Israel had atomic weapons. The Arabs wanted an Arab country to have atomic weapons. The scale tipped in the other direction. He became more dictatorial with time. He eliminated more people with time. And he stopped delivering the benefits to the Iraqi people with time. This sounds like a German talking about aiding and abetting the rise of Hitler. It is pretty much the same. But he represented potential, and we loved the idea of him being there.

AMY GOODMAN: The Survival of Saddam, airing tomorrow night on Frontline. That’s Said Aburish, who was just on with us live from London, England.

We are on the line from Washington, D.C., with Hussein Ibish of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Do you share Said Aburish’s analysis?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Yes, and particularly his final point, which I think is the one which really needs to be understood by people, which is that there’s absolutely no way you’re going to get a change of regime in Iraq as long as that country is under siege. The litany of attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein or weaken the regime that we heard in one of the earlier clips from the Frontline episode, which is coming up, including coups and insurrections and sanctions and bombings and I-don’t-know-what, all have, I think, frankly, served to insulate the regime from any possible change and really suppress the possibility of the emergence of any kind of alternative in Iraq. And I think this is very difficult for many people in the United States to understand, because it’s sort of counterintuitive. But the fact is that you don’t find changes of regimes in countries that are under siege, and I think that’s a simple fact that people need to accept in order to begin to understand what can happen in Iraq and what will not happen.

AMY GOODMAN: What about these latest figures, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry saying 14,000 Iraqi children died in December?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Yeah, I mean, I really don’t doubt it. The figures, specific figures, about the effects of the sanctions are very difficult to verify. But one thing is absolutely clear, and there is no doubt about this anymore at all, and, in fact, even people in the U.S. government have stopped bothering to deny it, which is that the sanctions have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, primarily children under the age of five and the sick and the elderly, you know, throughout this decade, and that one of the greatest evils to be inflicted anywhere in the world and particularly in Iraq has been these sanctions. I don’t think it would be an overstatement to call them genocidal and mass-murderous, and I think that figures like 14,000 dying in one month as a result is entirely plausible.

So, you know, I think people in the United States first need to confront, first of all, the morality of a policy which would deliberately execute and kill the innocent of Iraq in the name of overthrowing the Iraqi government or weakening it, and then also think seriously about what the actual effects of such a policy are likely to be on the domestic politics of a country like Iraq. And I think that they would find that these policies have precisely the opposite effect that they are purported to have. They don’t weaken the government at all. In fact, in a sort of counterintuitive way, I’m certain that they strengthen the hand of the government and they make the emergence of any alternatives very, very difficult indeed. And this is in addition to the obvious outrageous immorality, and I would go so far as to say criminal nature, of targeting the innocent in this manner.

AMY GOODMAN: Hussein Ibish is our guest, of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The latest news we have, an International Atomic Energy Agency team starting work today to verify nuclear stocks are not being used for military purposes, and Iraq will be providing Jordan with 4.8 million tons of oil, half of it free, just like last year, in an agreement that was signed this weekend. What’s the significance of both of these developments?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, I think the IAEA case is a very important one indeed, which is that what it sort of goes to is the impossibility of the logic of the current regime of disarmament from achieving anything. The IAEA knows perfectly well, and they’ve admitted this in all of their official documents since the mid-1990s, they know perfectly well that Iraq doesn’t have the capacity to go forward with any nuclear weapons program, and they know that Iraq is not going forward with any nuclear weapons program. They’re simply not in any condition to do it, and there is no nuclear weapons program in Iraq.

Now, they have failed to certify this. They have failed to ever say that there is no Iraqi nuclear weapons program, even though they know it’s true. And the reason for that is that they say — and I think this is right — that they cannot be everywhere all the time. So while they can be 99.9% sure of this and know it to a moral certainty, they cannot know it absolutely. They cannot know it 100%. So what you end up with here is a perfect demonstration of how these weapons inspections, as they’re currently structured, are absolutely open-ended and can never be concluded, no matter what, because no group of inspectors can ever be everywhere in a country at any time.

And so, what this says very clearly to the Iraqis, to the Arab world, to the entire world, which pays attention and looks at these things critically, is that these weapons inspections are an open-ended excuse to continue to impose the siege conditions on Iraq that we see today. So I think that the IAEA’s work in Iraq is absolutely fraudulent, and I think that what it points out is the problem with the rest of the disarmament regime and the entire rhetoric about Iraqi weapons that we see. So I think it’s very important to look at the IAEA’s work in Iraq very critically.

Now, as far as Iraq’s ties with Jordan and Iraq’s exchanges with Jordan, I think it’s very clear that Iraq is slowly moving back into some sort of rehabilitated state in the Arab world. I think that Iraq has closer ties with Syria, and there’s some sort of rapprochement going on there. I think that a lot of Arab states have come around to opposing U.S. bombing of Iraq. They’ve certainly — I think there is a consensus in most of the Arab world, if not all of the Arab world, but certainly most of the Arab world, that the sanctions policy is counterproductive. I think that there’s a great deal of skepticism about the no-fly zones, which threaten the partition of Iraq and are also a major disincentive for anyone who would try to think of an alternative.

AMY GOODMAN: Incredible fact that in the last months, more bombing of Iraq than there was of Yugoslavia, and yet if you ask most Americans, they wouldn’t even realize it was happening.

HUSSEIN IBISH: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have thirty seconds, and I wanted to go to actually a campaign issue. We are looking at the Iowa caucuses, the first vote that will be taking place on the presidential candidates. You can’t help but make some equations between what’s going on in Iraq right now or connections and George W. Bush. You had his father in charge of the bombing of Iraq nine years ago, but you also had him the head of Arbusto, the oil company that had exclusive rights to drill around Bahrain. Have you been looking at that at all?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, I mean, I think not in particular, but I think that it is, you know, sort of very — the role of George Bush — and I’m talking about George Bush, Sr., here — you know, with regard to Iraq and Iran is a very complicated one and a very rich one, and I think that one of the elements that people should remember is that not only was the Reagan-Bush administration very supportive of Iraq during the Gulf War but also of Iran, and it would certainly seem that George Bush was personally involved in the October Surprise negotiations about the hostages, which led to the secret arms transfers to Iran at the same time the United States was supporting Iraq.

So, you know, the Bush family history with regard to Saddam Hussein and Iraq is very, very deep and very duplicitive and very sinister, as one would expect from a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, and so I think that there’s that element, and obviously with an oil family, you have that connection, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Hussein Ibish I want to thank you for being with us, of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, nine years after the U.S. bombing of Iraq and protests taking place around the world, as well as inside Iraq, of the continued U.N. sanctions against the country. Hussein Ibish with the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Contact number?

HUSSEIN IBISH: (202) 244-2990, and on the web,

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.

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