U.S. forces in Baghdad might now be searching high and low for
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but in the past Saddam was seen
by U.S. intelligence services as a bulwark of anti-communism
and they used him as their instrument for more than 40 years,
according to former U.S. intelligence diplomats and
United Press International has interviewed almost a dozen
former U.S. diplomats, British scholars and former U.S.
intelligence officials to piece together the following
account. The CIA declined to comment on the report.
While many have thought that Saddam first became involved with
U.S. intelligence agencies at the start of the September 1980
Iran-Iraq war, his first contacts with U.S. officials date
back to 1959, when he was part of a CIA-authorized six-man
squad tasked with assassinating then Iraqi Prime Minister Gen.
Abd al-Karim Qasim.
In July 1958, Qasim had overthrown the Iraqi monarchy in what
one former U.S. diplomat, who asked not to be identified,
described as "a horrible orgy of bloodshed."
According to current and former U.S. officials, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, Iraq was then regarded as a key buffer
and strategic asset in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. For
example, in the mid-1950s, Iraq was quick to join the
anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact which was to defend the region and
whose members included Turkey, Britain, Iran and Pakistan.
Little attention was paid to Qasim's bloody and conspiratorial
regime until his sudden decision to withdraw from the pact in
1959, an act that "freaked everybody out" according
to a former senior U.S. State Department official.
Washington watched in marked dismay as Qasim began to buy arms
from the Soviet Union and put his own domestic communists into
ministry positions of "real power," according to
this official. The domestic instability of the country
prompted CIA Director Allan Dulles to say publicly that Iraq
was "the most dangerous spot in the world."
In the mid-1980s, Miles Copeland, a veteran CIA operative,
told UPI the CIA had enjoyed "close ties" with
Qasim's ruling Baath Party, just as it had close connections
with the intelligence service of Egyptian leader Gamel Abd
Nassar. In a recent public statement, Roger Morris, a former
National Security Council staffer in the 1970s, confirmed this
claim, saying that the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and
anti-communist Baath Party "as its instrument."
According to another former senior State Department official,
Saddam, while only in his early 20s, became a part of a U.S.
plot to get rid of Qasim. According to this source, Saddam was
installed in an apartment in Baghdad on al-Rashid Street
directly opposite Qasim's office in Iraq's Ministry of
Defense, to observe Qasim's movements.
Adel Darwish, Middle East expert and author of "Unholy
Babylon," said the move was done "with full
knowledge of the CIA," and that Saddam's CIA handler was
an Iraqi dentist working for CIA and Egyptian intelligence.
U.S. officials separately confirmed Darwish's account.
Darwish said that Saddam's paymaster was Capt. Abdel Maquid
Farid, the assistant military attaché at the Egyptian Embassy
who paid for the apartment from his own personal account.
Three former senior U.S. officials have confirmed that this is
The assassination was set for Oct. 7, 1959, but it was
completely botched. Accounts differ. One former CIA official
said that the 22-year-old Saddam lost his nerve and began
firing too soon, killing Qasim's driver and only wounding
Qasim in the shoulder and arm. Darwish told UPI that one of
the assassins had bullets that did not fit his gun and that
another had a hand grenade that got stuck in the lining of his
"It bordered on farce," a former senior U.S.
intelligence official said. But Qasim, hiding on the floor of
his car, escaped death, and Saddam, whose calf had been grazed
by a fellow would-be assassin, escaped to Tikrit, thanks to
CIA and Egyptian intelligence agents, several U.S. government
Saddam then crossed into Syria and was transferred by Egyptian
intelligence agents to Beirut, according to Darwish and former
senior CIA officials. While Saddam was in Beirut, the CIA paid
for Saddam's apartment and put him through a brief training
course, former CIA officials said. The agency then helped him
get to Cairo, they said.
One former U.S. government official, who knew Saddam at the
time, said that even then Saddam "was known as having no
class. He was a thug -- a cutthroat."
In Cairo, Saddam was installed in an apartment in the upper
class neighborhood of Dukki and spent his time playing dominos
in the Indiana Café, watched over by CIA and Egyptian
intelligence operatives, according to Darwish and former U.S.
One former senior U.S. government official said: "In
Cairo, I often went to Groppie Café at Emad Eldine Pasha
Street, which was very posh, very upper class. Saddam would
not have fit in there. The Indiana was your basic dive."
But during this time Saddam was making frequent visits to the
American Embassy where CIA specialists such as Miles Copeland
and CIA station chief Jim Eichelberger were in residence and
knew Saddam, former U.S. intelligence officials said.
Saddam's U.S. handlers even pushed Saddam to get his Egyptian
handlers to raise his monthly allowance, a gesture not
appreciated by Egyptian officials since they knew of Saddam's
American connection, according to Darwish. His assertion was
confirmed by former U.S. diplomat in Egypt at the time.
In February 1963 Qasim was killed in a Baath Party coup.
Morris claimed recently that the CIA was behind the coup,
which was sanctioned by President John F. Kennedy, but a
former very senior CIA official strongly denied this.
"We were absolutely stunned. We had guys running around
asking what the hell had happened," this official said.
But the agency quickly moved into action. Noting that the
Baath Party was hunting down Iraq's communist, the CIA
provided the submachine gun-toting Iraqi National Guardsmen
with lists of suspected communists who were then jailed,
interrogated, and summarily gunned down, according to former
U.S. intelligence officials with intimate knowledge of the
Many suspected communists were killed outright, these sources
said. Darwish told UPI that the mass killings, presided over
by Saddam, took place at Qasr al-Nehayat, literally, the
Palace of the End.
A former senior U.S. State Department official told UPI:
"We were frankly glad to be rid of them. You ask that
they get a fair trial? You have to get kidding. This was
A former senior CIA official said: "It was a bit like the
mysterious killings of Iran's communists just after Ayatollah
Khomeini came to power in 1979. All 4,000 of his communists
suddenly got killed."
British scholar Con Coughlin, author of "Saddam: King of
Terror," quotes Jim Critchfield, then a senior Middle
East agency official, as saying the killing of Qasim and the
communists was regarded "as a great victory." A
former long-time covert U.S. intelligence operative and friend
of Critchfield said: "Jim was an old Middle East hand. He
wasn't sorry to see the communists go at all. Hey, we were
playing for keeps."
Saddam, in the meantime, became head of al-Jihaz a-Khas, the
secret intelligence apparatus of the Baath Party.
The CIA/Defense Intelligence Agency relation with Saddam
intensified after the start of the Iran-Iraq war in September
of 1980. During the war, the CIA regularly sent a team to
Saddam to deliver battlefield intelligence obtained from Saudi
AWACS surveillance aircraft to aid the effectiveness of Iraq's
armed forces, according to a former DIA official, part of a
U.S. interagency intelligence group.
This former official said that he personally had signed off on
a document that shared U.S. satellite intelligence with both
Iraq and Iran in an attempt to produce a military stalemate.
"When I signed it, I thought I was losing my mind,"
the former official told UPI.
A former CIA official said that Saddam had assigned a top team
of three senior officers from the Estikhbarat, Iraq's military
intelligence, to meet with the Americans.
According to Darwish, the CIA and DIA provided military
assistance to Saddam's ferocious February 1988 assault on
Iranian positions in the al-Fao peninsula by blinding Iranian
radars for three days.
The Saddam-U.S. intelligence alliance of convenience came to
an end at 2 a.m. Aug. 2, 1990, when 100,000 Iraqi troops,
backed by 300 tanks, invaded its neighbor, Kuwait. America's
one-time ally had become its bitterest enemy.