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The Latest Release in the Saddam Files Collection

A new batch of documents added to the Saddam Files Collection from the former CRRC archives.

Saddam meets with founder of Ba'athist thought, Michael Aflaq, in 1988
Saddam talking to Michel Aflaq, the founder of Ba'athist thought, in 1988

This posting marks the release of a second tranche of documents contributed by Steve Coll for The Saddam Files on the Wilson Center Digital Archive. Professor Qais Nasir of Basra University translated the first accompanying post into Arabic and has generously agreed to translate this post and all subsequent ones as well.

EXPLORE THE Saddam files

Like the first batch of records released in February 2024, this second installment contains documents and tapes from the former Conflict Records Research Center that span roughly the full duration of Saddam’s formal rule as president in Iraq (1979-2003). 

Early Records in the Saddam Files

The earliest document is an October 19, 1978, handwritten letter from Yemeni Baʿth Party Secretary General Qasim Salam Said to Saddam. Said addressed Saddam as the Deputy Chairman of Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council and reported to him on political developments in Yemen, especially Saudi policy, which he stated was inimical to the interests of the Baʿth Party and Iraq. 

Said, who died in January 2024, served as the Yemeni Baʿth’s representative to the Baghdad-based pan-Arab National Command of the Baʿth Party. Led by Syrian Baʿth Party founder and National Command Secretary General Michel ‘Aflaq until his death in 1989, Saddam later assumed this role as well. A National Command file from January 2003 still listed Said as the representative of the Yemen “region,” ostensibly part of the future unified Arab nation according to Baʿthist ideology. 


With respect to ideology, another file containing the minutes of a Baʿth Party cell’s meetings between 2001 and 2002 illustrates how memory of Michel ‘Aflaq was maintained within the party apparatus. As the writings of both ‘Aflaq and Saddam “form a common ground,” the notes emphasize that “it is important to any Baʿth member, no matter what organizational rank he occupies, because it is considered as a guideline that steers the party struggle.” 

The activities of the National Command appear among the tapes in this batch of records as well. In a 1993 meeting chaired by Saddam, he and the other members discussed logistical challenges of printing and distributing Baʿth Party publications outside Iraq, along with coordinating their activities with allies who were both members and non-members of the party’s various branches. In an undated tape, Saddam spoke at length about his personal political philosophy, including his understanding of terms like “freedom” and “democracy,” telling attendees that the latter as defined by Western countries was used to infiltrate and exploit non-Western ones.

The Iran-Iraq War

Multiple tapes are of meetings related to the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. In a 1984 meeting, Saddam and officials discussed military and diplomatic issues related to the conflict, making historical comparisons with both World War I and World War II, along with the need to improve the quality of military officer training. 

In another meeting that took place in the latter stages of the conflict, Saddam and his inner circle of advisers debated the terms and English translations of United Nations Security Council resolutions that called for the end of hostilities. Saddam voiced concern about the implications the cessation of fighting would have for Iraqis held prisoner by the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially if they were not immediately released. “But the fact that Iran has 70,000 prisoners, is an important point for us as a people and their families; every prisoner definitely has a family of four, at least. Therefore, about a quarter million Iraqis remain shackled to Iran and will follow this issue until it is settled.” 

Another meeting discussed UN Security Council resolutions, the positions of various countries toward the conflict, chemical weapons, and the accidental Iraqi attack on the USS Stark, a consequence of the “tanker war” in which Iraq and Iran attacked ships carrying oil from the other’s port terminals.

The 1990-1991 Gulf War

Near the end of the subsequent 1990-1991 Gulf War, the contemporary nature of regime efforts to rationalize away the defeat of Iraqi forces in Kuwait by the US-led coalition can be clearly perceived during a meeting in which Saddam compared himself to early Islamic leaders. In a May 1991 meeting, Saddam and military leaders discussed the high quality of the Republican Guard stemming from its experience in the war with Iran, along with the poor morale of Iraqi troops that had been stationed in Kuwait. Despite the heavy losses suffered by Iraq, they suggested that the “bravery” of Iraqi troops led President George H.W. Bush and the US-led coalition to “request” a ceasefire from Iraq.

Sanctions on Iraq

Between 1991 and 2003, the sanctions and weapons inspections that the UN Security Council imposed on Iraq, along with Iraqi efforts to break out of economic and political isolation – a subject documented in detail by Samuel Helfont in his book Iraq Against the World – were a recurring theme of Saddam’s meetings. A 1993 meeting revealed growing Iraqi frustrations with the inspections, with one participant stating, “we talked about it and it became known to many of our friends and sympathizers that no matter how much we do, there will be no resolution. We do what we need to, but in return there is no resolution.” 

A 1994 meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council included a discussion of ideas for exploiting divisions between the members of the UN Security Council in order to lift the sanctions on Iraq. 

In 1995, against the backdrop of the First Chechen War, Saddam and his advisers discussed the conflict, the wider Caucasus region, and how Russia’s internal conflict might affect its policy vis-à-vis Iraq. Perhaps naturally, Saddam and his inner circle perceived Chechnya through the prism of the Baʿth’s own experiences in Iraqi Kurdistan and Northern Iraq.

Recognizing the centrality of the Saudi role in hosting the US-led coalition during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, along with the military forces enforcing sanctions and the Operation Southern Watch no-fly zone over the following decade, Saddam personally attempted to clarify matters, if not improve relations, with Saudi Arabia in February 2001. The letter Saddam wrote to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, in which he pointed out the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia hosting American and British planes that killed fellow Arabs while “criminal Zionists” killed Palestinians, was firmly rebuffed. 

An even more polemical response to Saudi Arabia was drafted within the Presidential Diwan and sent under the name of Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri. Relitigating the history of Iraqi-Saudi relations, the Iraqi letter accused the Saudi royal family of being ungrateful for Iraq’s protection from Ayatollah Khomeini throughout the 1980s, threatened to open Iraqi archives to refute Saudi allegations, and repeated the common conspiracy theory that Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was a “Turkish Jew.”

Iraq’s Global Ties

Of a more quotidian nature are the minutes from when Liberian House of Representatives Speaker Nyundueh Morkonmana met with Saddam in April 2001. Finding a sympathetic ear with respect to sanctions, Morkonmana told the Iraqi leader, “America wants to impose sanctions against us, accusing us of smuggling diamonds from Sierra Leone.” Saddam in turn invited Liberian President Charles Taylor to visit as soon as possible. 

With respect to economic affairs, Shiri Ganti Mohana Balayogi, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s Parliament, voiced India’s support for lifting sanctions against Iraq during his August 1998 meeting with Iraq’s president. After answering questions from Saddam about Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons tests, Balayogi emphasized the longstanding nature of friendly India-Iraqi relations in the Non-Aligned Movement and used the meeting to request the release of two Indian nationals detained in Iraq, which was subsequently granted.

A Plot on George H.W. Bush’s Life?

A July 2002 Iraqi Intelligence Service memorandum discusses payment to an agent charged with bombing the Sheraton Hotel in Kuwait City. 

An IDA study of Iraqi records related to the Baʿth regime’s ties to terrorism revealed that stirring up trouble for the Kuwaiti royal family was one of the objectives of Iraq’s intelligence services until 2003. The same was true for the Saudi royal family and Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, both of which were viewed by Saddam as former allies that had betrayed Iraq during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. 

However, perhaps the most notorious incident in Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations between the First Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War, which was a very personal signpost in President George W. Bush’s road to overthrowing Saddam, was the alleged Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush during his April 1993 visit to Kuwait. 

In The Achilles Trap, Coll writes, “but was this attempt on Bush’s life authentic, or was it a concoction of Kuwait’s security services to further discredit Saddam Hussein?… It is perhaps notable that archives from the Saddam Hussein regime apparently contain no evidence of the plot.”[i] 

Pushing back against Coll’s skeptical account, Richard A. Clarke, the official in President Bill Clinton’s administration who led the White House effort to determine what happened in Kuwait in April 1993, writes, “That version of history suffers from selective sourcing, incomplete research, and a bias that comes from forcing history to support a theory.” Going on to address the absence of Iraqi archival evidence, Clarke stated, “the archives are extensive and are still partially unexplored. Moreover, evidence would have been in the Iraqi intelligence ministry, and it was that building that the United States blew up in retaliation for the Kuwait plot.” 

Irrespective of the merits of the competing views on the existence of an Iraqi plot to assassinate Bush or lack thereof, Clarke’s points with respect to the archives are unsound. While the Iraq Survey Group did not translate every captured record, be it document or audio tape, in its possession, each one was reviewed and given an English language summary. Moreover, records about Iraqi support for terrorism were in a priority category alongside those related to Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). It is implausible that incriminating evidence on the Bush assassination plot sits unbeknownst in the Pentagon’s Harmony Database. 

The suggestion that the retaliatory strike ordered by the Clinton administration destroyed all relevant records also belies the sprawling bureaucratic nature of Saddam’s regime, along with its winding and overlapping paper trails. Although hypothetically possible that Saddam ordered all documentation on the plot destroyed, there is far more circumstantial evidence that by April 1993, Saddam was well on his way to convincing himself that he had in fact “won” the First Gulf War, viewing Bush as a vanquished foe who had lost his campaign for reelection.

The 2003 Iraq War

The final three records in this batch take us to the periods preceding and during the start of the 2003 Iraq War. Returning to the subject of prisoners of war from the Iran-Iraq War, an October 2002 General Military Intelligence Directorate memorandum attributes to the Iraqi opposition the dubious claim that Iraq was concealing chemical weapons stockpiles in the coffins of deceased Iranian prisoners, which had been exchanged with Iran. The Bush administration’s preparations for invading Iraq were not lost on Iraq’s intelligence services. 

A report ordered by the Director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which was in turn forwarded to the Presidential Diwan, detailed the growing hostility of American and British media and contained suggestions for countering it. 

On March 29, 2003, with the US-led invasion underway, the Iraqi Army’s Chief of Staff distributed a speech from Saddam. Recalling “the great victory in 1991,” and had been the case during the war with Iran, Saddam gave detailed tactical instructions to Iraqi troops.

These valuable historical sources used by Steve Coll in The Achilles Trap have rightly been at the center of both book reviews and coverage of the book tour. Stay tuned for the upcoming third installment, which will introduce another ten audio tapes and documents.

The Documents

Praising Saddam and Some of Aphorisms; Lists of Top Leadership Names, Ba'ath Party Main Principles and Meeting Minutes during 2003

Ba'ath Party Meeting Minutes

General Military Intelligence Directorate correspondence regarding information that Iraq placed chemicals and biological weapons in the coffins of Iranian POWs

IIS records regarding payment to a source charged with bombing the Sheraton Hotel and the Communication Center in Kuwait City

Suggestions from the Director of the IIS to the Iraqi Media to Face the American Media Campaign

Speech made by Saddam Hussein containing instructions for the Iraqi Army to attack the enemy

A record of a meeting between Liberian parliament president and Saddam

Minutes of meeting between Saddam Hussein and Indian Parliament Chairman  Shiri Ganata Muhana Balayogi

93-Minute Audio File Details National Command Meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1993

Meeting to Discuss Security Council Resolutions and POW Issues During the Iran-Iraq War

Saddam Lectures His Cabinet about the Virtues of Iraq and Promises that the Americans Will Learn a Lesson

Saddam Hussein meeting with the Revolutionary Council

Saddam and Officials Discussing Military Operations and Secret Project During the Iran-Iraq War

Meeting Between Saddam Hussein and His Cabinet Regarding Iran-Iraq War

Saddam Meets with Tariq Aziz and Iraqi High-ranking Officials Regarding Ekeus, Inspections, and other Matters

Saddam Hussein Meeting with his Cabinet and Ba'ath Party Members During the Embargo on Iraq and the Russian-Chechen War, and the Status of Iraqi Politics in Leadup to Elections

Saddam Talks About His Army and How the Iraqis Are Strong and United with Their Leader in a Regular Meeting Expressing Personal Philosophy

Saddam Hussein and Military Officials Discussing the Condition of the Iraqi Army and Its Possible Enlargement

A Handwritten Letter from Qasim Salam to Saddam Hussein

Letter to Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah Bin Abdul Aziz from Saddam Hussein Asking for Help and Admitting a Mistake; Letter from Izzat Ibrahim to the Same Prince



[i] Steve Coll, The Achilles Trap: Saddam Hussein, The C.I.A., and the Origins of America’s Invasion of Iraq (New York: Penguin Press, 2024), 276.

About the Author

Michael Brill

Global Fellow;
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University

Michael P. Brill is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, where his research focuses on Ba'thist Iraq.

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