Ex-Iraqi official: Saddam didn't agree with al-Qaida

WASHINGTON — Former Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz, a prominent member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle, told the FBI that the dictator "delighted" in the 1998 terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa but had no interest in joining Osama bin Laden, declassified documents show.

"Saddam did not trust Islamists," Aziz said, according to handwritten notes of a June 27, 2004, interrogation, although he viewed al-Qaida as an "effective" organization.

The FBI notes are among hundreds of pages of interrogation records of top Iraqi officials — including Saddam — provided to the AP this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. While most of the Saddam records had been previously released, the National Security Archive, an independent research institute at George Washington University, said the FBI had previously refused to declassify Aziz's records.

The records are from an FBI operation code-named Desert Spider, which sought to compile evidence of the Saddam regime's war crimes and to test the theory that Saddam and his intelligence services had some form of cooperation with al-Qaida prior to the U.S. invasion.

The FBI had previously released summaries of its 20 sessions with Saddam, in which he denied any relationship with bin Laden.

More than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, suspicions Saddam might have secretly collaborated with al-Qaida or other terrorist groups remains central to the continuing debate over the wisdom of launching the war, which has cost more than 4,400 U.S. lives.

The administration of President George W. Bush based its case for war in part on fears that Iraq might provide nuclear arms to al-Qaida for use against the U.S.

No nuclear weapons — or any sign of an active nuclear program — have been found in postwar Iraq, and the Aziz interrogation records support arguments that while Saddam viewed the U.S. as his enemy, he was also hostile to al-Qaida and its radical religious ideology.

Saddam considered bin Laden and other Islamic extremists to be "opportunists" and "hypocrites," Aziz told the FBI.