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Oct 6, 11:22 PM EDT
Saddam told interrogators of Iran fixation
By LAURA MECKLER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Saddam Hussein was obsessed with his status in the Arab world, dreaming of weapons of mass destruction to pump up his prestige. And even as the United States fixated on him, he was fixated on his neighboring enemy, Iran.
That is the picture that emerges from interrogations of the former Iraqi leader since his capture last December, according to the final report of the chief U.S. arms inspector, which gives a first glimpse into what the United States has gleaned about Saddam's hopes, dreams and insecurities.
The report suggests that Saddam tried to improve relations with the United States in the 1990s, yet basked in his standing as the only leader to stand up to the world's superpower.
It says Saddam was determined that if Iran was to acquire nuclear weapons, so was Iraq.
And it says he was a narcissist who cared deeply about his legacy, making sure bricks were molded with his name in hopes people would admire them for centuries to come.
Weapons hunter Charles Duelfer had access to information from U.S. interrogations of Saddam over several months. The former Iraqi dictator apparently talked not because he wanted to help the United States, but because he was concerned with his legacy, the report says.
Much of his motivation in the quest for weapons of mass destruction came from neighboring Iran and the two countries' "long-standing rivalry over the centuries," including the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
"From Saddam's viewpoint, the Persian menace loomed large and was a challenge to his place in history," the report says.
"This was an important motivation in his views on WMD - especially as it became obvious that Iran was pursuing the very capabilities he was denied," said the report, which found no evidence that Iraq had produced any such weapons after 1991.
Saddam has been out of sight since his capture from a spider hole near Tikrit last December, except for an appearance in July at a preliminary hearing in Baghdad. Then, he defiantly scoffed at charges of war crimes and mass killings and said the charges had been engineered by President Bush "to help him with his campaign."
Officials have said that interrogations of Saddam, first by the CIA and then by the FBI, have yielded little helpful information about weapons programs and the insurgency in Iraq. But Tuesday's report shows they have provided new insight into his thinking.
Saddam was angry that other Persian Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, enjoyed good standing in the West.
"His regime views the Gulf Arabs as undeserving," the report said. "They did not earn respect; the West simply wanted their oil."
Iran, as much if not more than the United States, motivated his interest in nuclear weapons.
"Nuclear programs were seen by Saddam as both a powerful lever and symbol of prestige," the report. "He also did not want to be second to the Persians."
Despite years of hostility with the United States, Saddam had mixed feelings about the Americans and through the 1990s tested U.S. willingness to open a dialogue, the report said. He sent "very senior Iraqis" to make various proposals, such as assistance with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, working through intermediaries including Duelfer - the report's author.
At the same time, Saddam got a boost from America's hostility.
"He accrued power and prestige far beyond his inherent weight by positioning himself as the only leader to stand up to the last superpower," the report said.
At a Senate hearing, Duelfer was asked why - if Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion - he did not simply comply with U.S. and U.N. demands in an attempt to avert the war. Duelfer said Saddam's instincts were always to negotiate - to seek something in return before giving something up.
"He had not realized the nature of the ground shift in the international community," after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Duelfer said.
Until the end, Saddam saw himself as a great leader of a great nation, the report says. With an eye to history, he had bricks made for use in the historic city of Babylon molded with the phrase, "Made in the era of Saddam Hussein," mimicking the ancient bricks there.
"This narcissism characterizes his actions," the report says. "And while it is not always visible, it is always there."
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