Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was big news from the 1980s through the 2000s. But it wasn’t until years after his death that the world got to hear his story in his own words.
DEBRIEFING THE DICTATOR
Saddam Hussein (1937–2006) became the president and dictator of Iraq in 1979—a position he held for 24 years. In that time, he invaded Iran in 1980, waged a genocidal campaign against the Kurdish people of northern Iraq in 1988, and invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The United States went to war with him twice. After he invaded Kuwait in August 1990, President George H. W. Bush organized a military coalition of 39 states that drove Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991. That was the first time—the Gulf War.
Part of the cease-fire agreement that ended the Gulf War was that Hussein had to destroy all of his weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs. But by early 2003, President George W. Bush (son of George H. W.) had become convinced that Hussein was stockpiling the banned weapons, and in March 2003 the United States invaded Iraq a second time to seize them. The Iraqi government fell in April 2003 and Saddam went into hiding, but was captured and arrested eight months later. The WMDs that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq were never found, because they did not exist. The United States’ intelligence agencies got it wrong: Hussein had not been stockpiling the weapons after all.
The capture of Saddam Hussein by American forces offered FBI interrogators a rare opportunity to peer into the mind of a dictator and better understand his motives for invading Iran and Kuwait, and for expelling UN weapons inspectors from Iraq in 1998. Had the inspectors been allowed to continue their work, they might have helped to prevent the war, by providing proof that Saddam wasn’t stockpiling WMDs. So why did Saddam kick them out? He gave answers to these and other questions while under interrogation in what was called “Operation Desert Spider.” The following are excerpts from FBI agent George Piro’s interrogation transcripts, which were declassified in 2009.
ON THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR
“According to Hussein, Iran would have occupied all of the Arab world if it had not been for Iraq. As such, Iraq expected the Arab world to support them during and after the war. However, Iraq saw the opposite, especially from Kuwait. At the end of the war as Iraq began the rebuilding process, the price of oil was approximately $7 per barrel. In Hussein’s opinion, Iraq could not possibly rebuild its infrastructure and economy with oil prices at this level. Kuwait was especially at fault regarding these low oil prices.”
ON THE INVASION OF KUWAIT
“Hussein stated that he devised the plan for the invasion of Kuwait…The invasion was accomplished within two and a half hours, equivalent to that previously estimated. Hussein stated it should have taken no more than one hour. He believes it should have occurred more quickly than originally estimated due to support for the invasion from the Kuwaiti people. Hussein reiterated a previous statement to the interviewers that Iraq was asked by the Kuwaiti people to invade their country in order to remove the Kuwaiti leadership. When asked to clarify how Kuwaiti citizens communicated their desires to the Iraqi government prior to the invasion, Hussein stated some, not all, Kuwaitis felt this way. He added, ‘we felt they were asking.’ ”
“During Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, Hussein denied knowledge of the commission of atrocities by the Iraqi military. These atrocities include the punishment [and] executions of Kuwaiti individuals who prayed on their roofs, who failed to hang pictures of Hussein, who displayed pictures of the previous Kuwaiti royal family, or who wrote anti-Iraqi graffiti. Hussein stated, ‘This is the first time I have ever heard this.’ He added, of the mentioned punishable offenses, he particularly does not believe two of them were designated as crimes. First, the Iraqi government did not force Iraqis to display pictures of Hussein, therefore, the government would not have forced Kuwaitis to do this. In Iraq, citizens voluntarily chose to display Hussein’s picture in their homes. Second, neither Iraqis, nor Kuwaitis are prohibited from praying anywhere, including their roofs.”
ON THE PERSIAN GULF WAR
“When questioned regarding Iraq’s usage of Kuwaitis, Japanese, and Westerners as human shields during the first Gulf War including the positioning of them at key sites such as communications centers and military positions, Hussein denied that such individuals were taken to Iraqi military positions. He added that the Iraqi government did not, however, prevent individuals from volunteering as human shields to protect facilities such as communications centers. When questioned whether such volunteers existed in 1991, Hussein replied, ‘I do not remember.’ ”
“Regarding the igniting of  oil wells in Kuwait by withdrawing Iraqi forces and the subsequent…
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