Baghdad, Iraq — A close aide to Saddam Hussein says the Iraqi dictator did in fact get rid of his weapons of mass destruction but deliberately kept the world guessing about it in an effort to divide the international community and stave off a U.S. invasion.
The strategy, which turned out to be a serious miscalculation, was designed to make the Iraqi dictator look strong in the eyes of the Arab world, while countries such as France and Russia were wary of joining an American-led attack. At the same time, Saddam retained the technical know-how and brain power to restart the programs at any time.
Both Pentagon officials and weapons experts are considering this guessing-game theory as the search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons continues. If true, it would indicate there was no imminent unconventional weapons threat from Iraq, an argument President Bush used to go to war.
Saddam's alleged weapons bluff was detailed by an Iraqi official who assisted Saddam for many years.
The official was not part of the national leadership but his job provided him daily contact with the dictator and insight into the regime's decision-making process during the past decade and in its critical final days.
The official refused to be identified, citing fear of assassination by Saddam's paramilitaries who, he said, remain active throughout Iraq.
But in several interviews, the former aide detailed what he said were the reasons behind Saddam's disinformation campaign -- which ultimately backfired by spurring, rather than deterring, a U.S. invasion.
According to the aide, by the mid-1990s "it was common knowledge among the leadership" that Iraq had destroyed its chemical stocks and discontinued development of biological and nuclear weapons.
But Saddam remained convinced that an ambiguous stance about the status of Iraq's weapons programs would deter an American attack.
"He repeatedly told me: 'These foreigners, they only respect strength, they must be made to believe we are strong,'" the aide said.
Publicly Saddam denied having unconventional weapons. But from 1998 until 2002, he prevented U.N. inspectors from working in the country and when they finally returned in November 2002, they often complained that Iraq wasn't fully cooperating.