Security Studies Program Seminar

A View from the Other Side of the Hill: The Records of Saddam Hussein

Colonel Kevin Woods
Institute for Defense Analysis

November 18, 2009



Expansion of the Project

About the Documents

Housing the Records

Iraqi Perspectives Report

An example: Saddam brought together officers for assessment of what happened in 1991 and what the Iraqis should do about it with regard to capabilities in the future.

-An officer lays out historical parallel and recommends Iraq maintain small heavy armored force, but we should go to dispersed more infantry based force.
-Saddam at end of conversation and says to generals and says if what this officer told you was true you would all be dead or in an American prison camp right now…and we used opposite approach in 1991 and you are all here, so why would we change our approach if the approach won.
-the state stood against 33 nations and a superpower at the time and we are still here.


The response Hill got:  1) yes it is possible – because a) we are compartmentalized govt and things going on that not everyone knows about  b) chaos – air campaign in 1991 destroyed a lot of records and post 1991 inspections drove Iraqis to extreme measures to preserve what was left and they went to extreme measures to hide and disperse - - the chaos of war made it worse  c) defection – when someone defects, there is a panic…there was panic to move and destroy things, but they did this in a haphazard way.  So, before the war when they tried to do final document for the UN, they really didn’t know and there was such chaos and discrepancy, they just didn’t know and couldn’t put it together in the fine level of detail required for the UN and the coalition  d) the U.S. president and went in front of the world and said it is true.   How do you stand up in front of the world and say a country has the following material if you know it to be not true…because what are you going to do if it is not there once you get there?  So they all though the U.S. must know something that I don’t. 


Highlights from Questions and Answers:

1)  Why did Iraqis not deploy WMD in battle  or scuds against the Israelis?

2003 no WMD to employ….and earlier, Saddam firmly believed Saddam could not go naked in front of his neighbors.  He had to convince the west that under terms of 1991 war they had no WMD.  He also wanted to keep Iran guessing and he was explicit about this in private conversations . In  1991, they did have WMD (stockpiles of chemical weapons) – they did deploy it ,but they did not use it.  It is not 100% clear why, but from initial evidence, they had plans for its use – contingency plans – Saddam stood up independent chain of command for use of WMD back in 1990.  They moved it out of certain warehouses for certain reasons in case it was hit…and to facilitate access for certain missile brigades for use with scuds. 

He thinks Saddam was deterred and there is debate over why…Iraqi military records in sept, oct, nov, timeframe assumed the U.S. would use CW in a major fight with Iraq.  Saddam didn’t use WMD against Israel because he believed Israel would use it back against him. 

2) If none of the commanders knew about WMD for reasons you gave – what exactly did Saddam know? And why didn’t he use info to stop U.S. invasion?

-Pride was a lot of it, as he wanted to keep Iran guessing.
-Saddam did not think the U.S. would invade….he felt it was the U.S. bluffing….Saddam actually believed that until about 27 or 28 of March that the war would end with him still in power – this was almost 10 days into the ground campaign.

3) Who uses the records?
-When the project started in 2003, we had very high level support (sec of defense and chairman of the joint chiefs said let the team have access).  They have briefed to highest levels of govt – all the 4 star commands and their staffs and commands around the world.  There have also been a lot of talks  on the records – at all the war colleges every quarter and regular briefings at school of advanced military studies and school of airpower and marine staff college….There are also lectures on the records at defense intelligence schools, CIA university, etc.  Hill is funded to do this as part of the project.  There is a little less interest in it now, as people are focusing more on Afghanistan. 

4) Going back to 1991, in terms of Saddam’s decision-making to invade Kuwait and to do it in that time frame – given he was relatively close to potential nuclear weapon, why not hold off until he had that?
-Don’t know – his timing was always bad.  Maybe partly because he didn’t see a large international response the way it ended up happening with regard to Kuwait.  He thought he had public opinion on his side.

5) Question on period between gulf wars – what is Saddam inferring from U.S. behavior during interwar years?

-There are series of conversations in the records about the about increasingly frail nature of the U.S. use of force and the U.S. tendency not to go for robust solutions.  Saddam believed U.S. influence was going to wane over time and he argued that time was on the Iraqis side…

6) Are there any lessons for intelligence collection on other hard targets like North Korea and Iran?
- Part of the purpose of the project is for policymakers or analysts to use what is learned for future situations.  We can study the Iraqi reactions to our signals and our approaches and see how they responded to us to learn about how others might react to us in future situations. 
----For example, in run-up to 2003 war,  Powell went in front of UN w/evidence for WMD program still ongoing.  He showed taped radio conversation  between two republican guard officers talking about bunker site that was known to have nerve gas before….
-by chance, in going through the records, the team came across files laying out inspection program in Oct /Nov 2002, which entailed  going back to prior inspection sites and double and triple checking to ensure there is no possibility that anything might be left.  The officers in the recording were coordinating the operation orders to clean up for inspections – which mistakenly provided the evidence that the U.S.. was looking for to confirm the activity.

7) a) The soviets had pretty good relations w/Iraqis – did you come across anything on the soviet role and any advice soviets gave Iraqis  b) did we miss opportunity to end this earlier with the uprisings in the north?

-Not sure how the counterfactual would play out…The society wasn’t as weak back then as it was in 2002….so, in 2002 it had already started to break up more.  In 1991, there was still nationalism from the 1980s war….
-On the Russians, there is a lot of material on the Russians.  Saddam had a very cynical attitude about the advice he got from the Russians.  He got more commercial support from some countries and mil support from some countries than other countries, but he broke relations with them at beginning of Iraq-Iran war.  He had an on and off again relationship with the Russians and the Iraqi military had also been frustrated by Russian equipment..

8) Eventually down the road, will these records be going back to Iraq to national archives there? 

-We prepared a paper on the question of where the documents will go.   Everything we currently have  is a pdf copy and the original documents are still in the Middle East under control of DOD.  The documents will go back to the country of origins (that is a matter of international law) how and when they go back is an interesting dilemma.
-During ww2: At the end of the war,  we had German documents and then after the intel community went through them, they turn it over to scholarly operations (first went to state) and then other groups went through them and get them microfilmed quickly and the Germans got them back in 50s and got most back by the 60s…..
-so, the Iraqi records will all go back as matter of law and U.S. policy
-Right now, the project is starting under DOD, but Gates wants to see it under a consortium of universities eventually. 
-Hill thinks the originals should go back to Iraq as soon as possible, but you can’t be naïve about what will happen with certain documents when they go back…there are issues of openness….


 Rapporteur: Tara Maller

back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Fall 2009