Wed, Nov 05, 2003 - Page 6 News List

France, Russia told Saddam he could block US assault

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Saddam Hussein was convinced by the French and Russian governments that he could avoid or survive a US-led assault and so failed to respond to the initial ground thrust in March, thinking it was only a ruse, it was reported on Monday.

According to the Washington Post, the account of Saddam's last days in power came from his former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, who has been interrogated by US forces since his surrender on April 24.

The report quotes officials who are familiar with the interrogation. They say Aziz insists that Saddam Hussein did not have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons nor weapons programs, but that he had ordered the development of missiles with ranges longer than those permitted by the UN.

According to this account of the interrogations, Aziz claimed that French and Russian officials repeatedly assured Saddam in late 2002 and early this year that their governments would be able to block an invasion with vetoes and delaying tactics at the security council.

Saddam appeared convinced that if the US went to war it would wage a long air campaign first and by taking cover and maintaining his defiance, he would buy time in which Paris and Moscow could broker a ceasefire and a compromise settlement.

The Iraqi leader appeared so confident of his assumptions that he refused to order a response to the first reports that US and British troops had crossed the border from Kuwait.

The Washington Post notes that Aziz might have an incentive for telling his US interrogators what they wanted to hear about Paris and Moscow's role in the run-up to war.

The former deputy prime minister, who for years was the best known face of the Saddam regime, reportedly claims to have argued with the Iraqi leader over the UN restrictions on missiles.

He said that Saddam claimed the restriction on long-range missiles applied only to those armed with weapons of mass destruction, but Aziz insisted that the limit applied to the range of all missiles.

Interrogations of other Iraqi officers and scientists have also suggested motives for Saddam's reluctance to demonstrate beyond doubt that he had disposed of his weapons of mass destruction -- a reluctance which ultimately helped trigger the invasion.

His ambivalence, according to this version, was intended to convince Iraq's Arab neighbors that the regime still had powerful weapons and therefore deserved fear and respect. He did not want those countries to know that his cupboard was bare.

Major-General Walid Taiee, who is not in detention, told the Washington Post that Saddam "wanted the whole region to look at him as a grand leader''. He added: "And during the period when the Americans were massing troops in Kuwait, he wanted to deter the prospect of war.''

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