If Saddam had remained in power, rise of ISIS ‘improbable’ – Hussein’s CIA interrogator
Published time: 18 Dec, 2016 21:50
Saddam Hussein © David Furst
Islamic State would not have enjoyed the success it did if Saddam Hussein had remained in power, John Nixon, the former CIA agent who grilled him, claims. Nixon says the West should deal with leaders it “abhors” to have a stable Middle East.
Nixon was the first to debrief Saddam after his capture in December 2003, 13 years ago. His book, entitled “Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein,” is a first-hand account of what the invasion of Iraq and the execution of Saddam Hussein have entailed.
No flourishing ISIS under Hussein
“In the course of interrogations, Saddam 'turned our assumptions upside down',” Nixon wrote in one of the excerpts from the book, published by Time and the Daily Mail. In particular, ex-CIA agent asks what would have happened if Saddam had remained in power and comes to the conclusion that, among other outcomes, it would have made the rapid rise of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) almost impossible.
“It is improbable that a group like ISIS would have been able to enjoy the kind of success under his repressive regime that they have had under the Shia-led Baghdad government,” Nixon wrote.
A combination photo shows a British soldier and fighters of the Islamic State © Reuters
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According to the ex-agent, Saddam was well aware of the potential risks posed by the flourishing jihadist movements and was keen to suppress any such attempts. “Saddam felt that Islamist extremist groups in Iraq posed the biggest threat to his rule and his security apparatus worked assiduously to root out such threats.”
A recently published Chilcot report, conducted by British MPs on the country’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq war, backs Nixon’s assumption on IS.
The documents show that by 2006 – three years into the occupation – UK intelligence chiefs were increasingly concerned about the rise of Sunni jihadist resistance. Those radicals and parts of the disbanded Iraqi military later joined radical jihadist groups, including ISIS, the report said.
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Despite being no friend of Hussein, Nixon writes that he had “a grudging respect for how he [Saddam] was able to maintain the Iraqi nation as a whole for as long as he did.” The former CIA agent noted that he did not “wish to imply that Saddam was innocent,” since the measures used included “murder, blackmail, imprisonment.”
Yet in light of internal chaos and violence between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims which erupted following the 2003 US-led invasion, one may consider Hussein not the worst option, according to Nixon.
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“In hindsight, the thought of having an ageing and disengaged Saddam in power seems almost comforting in comparison with the wasted effort of our brave men and women in uniform and the rise of Islamic State, not to mention the £2.5 trillion spent to build a new Iraq,” he wrote. Nearly 4,500 American personnel, 179 British troops and estimated 150,000 Iraqis were killed during the active phase of the war and in the years which followed.
Nixon says he was also warned by the late leader that American attempts to stabilize the country were doomed to fail. “You are going to fail in Iraq because you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind,” the ex-CIA agent quoted Hussein as telling him.
Despite the Iraqi army and militia backed by Washington now achieving some success in destroying Islamic State, “we [the US] are still far from achieving this goal," Nixon said.
According to Nixon, incoming US President Donald Trump will now have a chance to “play a very large role” in creating a new order in the Middle East. “This will require making tough decisions and, ultimately, recognizing that we may have to deal with people and leaders that we abhor if we want to help bring stability back to the region and limit the scope of terrorism’s reach.”
Following his election, Trump warned against pursuing regime change in Syria and said the US should focus on tackling the threat of Islamic State.
“My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS,” Trump said. He added that while Washington is backing rebels against President Assad, it has “no idea who these people are.”