New details about Saddam Hussein, gleaned from the CIA
Iraq's dictator developed an aversion to using telephones and a penchant for writing novels as he sparred with the UN.
Saddam Hussein opened the meeting by complaining about collars. The neckline of a suit designed for use in an upcoming ceremony was too high, the Iraqi dictator told assembled senior officials. It should be lowered, just a little, so the underlying shirt would be visible without being too obvious.Skip to next paragraph
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Then he segued into more important matters.
"I want to make sure that - close the door please - the germ and chemical warheads ... are available [to those concerned], so that in case we ordered an attack, they can do it without missing any of their targets?" Mr. Hussein asked.
This conversation, recorded on a 15-minute audiotape obtained by the CIA's Iraq Survey Group, probably took place during the second week of January 1991. US officials say it is evidence of the keen interest Hussein took in weapons of mass destruction - although he never did order use of WMDs against US forces in the Gulf War.
But it is also evidence of something broader: the nature of Saddam Hussein himself. Today, as they sift through the detritus of a dictatorship deposed, intelligence analysts are piecing together a much fuller picture of the man who made Iraq his fiefdom, and of how he constructed and controlled his government.
This is both a historical and a judicial exercise. At his coming trial the new Iraqi government will likely portray him as not so much a cartoonish tyrant as a detail-oriented executive, a strongman personally responsible for the evils and excesses of his regime. And the world may see what Hussein's FBI interrogator already knows: In person he is tough, querulous, and compelling.
"This is a very cagey guy," said a US official with access to Hussein's debriefing transcripts at a recent meeting with reporters.
New details about Hussein's work habits, ego, underlings, and goals have become public in recent weeks with the release of the report by Charles Duelfer on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. While the work focuses on the fate of Hussein's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs, buried in its 1,000+ pages are revelations about the man himself, many apparently derived from interviews with captured Iraqi officials.
Hussein, for instance, apparently developed an aversion to telephones following the Gulf War. By his own account, he used a phone only twice in the past 14 years, for fear of being pinpointed for US attack.
Even the highest regime officials said they gave up trying to phone Hussein long ago, and often had difficulty finding him, even in times of crisis. Fear of assassination made him inaccessible.
"Sometimes it would take three days to get in touch with Saddam," ex-Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan al-Jizrawi told the Iraq Survey Group.
Yet until the last years of his regime Hussein dominated Iraqi institutions, and ruled by personal fiat, according to the CIA. He would ponder key decisions, such as whether to invade Kuwait, for months - yet share his thoughts with few others.