Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Papers From Iraqi Archive Reveal Conspiratorial Mind-Set of Hussein

On Nov. 15, 1986, Saddam Hussein gathered his most senior aides for an important strategy session. Two days earlier, President Ronald Reagan had acknowledged in a televised address that his administration had sent weapons and spare parts to Iran.

“It can only be a conspiracy against Iraq,” said Mr. Hussein, who inferred darkly that the United States was trying to prolong the Iran-Iraq war, already in its sixth year, and increase Iraq’s enormous casualties.

In truth, the Reagan administration had arranged the arms shipment for a variety of reasons that had little to do with Iraq: to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon, to open a private channel to the new leadership in Tehran and to generate secret profits that could be sent to Nicaraguan rebels.

But Mr. Hussein would not be moved from his conspiratorial view. He mentioned the arms sales again in his fateful meeting on July 25, 1990, with April Glaspie, the American ambassador in Baghdad, when he again misread Washington and assumed it would stand aside when his army invaded Kuwait a week later.

The deliberations within Mr. Hussein’s inner sanctum are chronicled in a voluminous archive of documents and recorded meetings that American forces captured after they invaded Iraq in 2003. Much of the collection, housed in digital form at the National Defense University, has not been made public. But a small portion of it has been opened to outside researchers, and 20 transcripts and documents were released Tuesday in conjunction with a conference on the Iran-Iraq War at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Even in an age of WikiLeaks, such a detailed record of a foreign leader’s private ruminations — one that reveals his calculations and perceptions of American policy — rarely becomes public. It is the Iraqi version of the Oval Office tapes that helped bring down President Richard M. Nixon, and have given historians a window into the White House from 1940 to 1973, when a recording system was in place. more