WASHINGTON — Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein told an FBI interviewer before he was hanged that he allowed the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction because he was worried about appearing weak to Iran, according to declassified accounts of the interviews released Wednesday. Hussein also denounced Osama bin Laden as "a zealot" and said he had no dealings with al-Qaida.
Hussein, in fact, said he felt so vulnerable to the perceived threat from "fanatic" leaders in Tehran that he would have been prepared to seek a "security agreement with the United States to protect it (Iraq) from threats in the region."
Former President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq six years ago on the grounds that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to international security. Administration officials at the time also strongly suggested Iraq had significant links to al-Qaida, which launched the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Hussein, who during the interviews was often defiant and boastful, at one point wistfully acknowledged that he should have permitted the United Nations to witness the destruction of Iraq's weapons stockpile after the first Persian Gulf War in 1990.
The FBI summaries of the interviews — 20 formal interrogations and 5 "casual conversations" in 2004 — were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive, an independent nongovernmental research institute, and posted on its Web site Wednesday. The detailed accounts of the interviews were released with few deletions, though one, a last formal interview on May 1, 2004, was completely redacted.
Thomas Blanton, director of the archive, said he could conceive of no possible national security reason to keep Hussein's conversations with the FBI secret at this point. An FBI spokesman, Paul Bresson, said he could not immediately explain the reason for the redactions.
The 20 formal interviews took place in 2004, between Feb. 7 and May 1, followed by the casual conversations between May 10 and June 28. Hussein was later transferred to Iraqi custody, and hanged in November 2006.