The interview was conducted in Baghdad at the weekend by politician and veteran peace activist Tony Benn. It was filmed by an Iraqi camera crew who gave the tapes to London-based television production company ATV.
Following is a full transcript of the interview:
BENN: I come for one reason only # to see whether in a talk we can explore, or you can help me to see, what the paths to peace may be. My only reason, I remember the war because I lost a brother. I never want to see another war. There are millions of people all over the world who don’t want a war, and by agreeing to this interview, which is very historic for all of us, I hope you will be able to help me, be able to say something to the world that is significant and positive.
SADDAM: Welcome to Baghdad. You are conscious of the role that Iraqis have set out for themselves, inspired by their own culture, their civilisation and their role in human history. This role requires peace in order to prosper and progress. Having said that, the Iraqis are committed to their rights as much as they are committed to the rights of others. Without peace they will be faced with many obstacles that would stop them from fulfilling their human role.
BENN: Mr President, may I ask you some questions. The first is, does Iraq have any weapons of mass destruction?
SADDAM: Most Iraqi officials have been in power for over 34 years and have experience of dealing with the outside world. Every fair-minded person knows that when Iraqi officials say something, they are trustworthy. A few minutes ago when you asked me if I wanted to look at the questions beforehand I told you I didn’t feel the need so that we don’t waste time, and I gave you the freedom to ask me any question directly so that my reply would be direct. This is an opportunity to reach the British people and the forces of peace in the world. There is only one truth and therefore I tell you as I have said on many occasions before that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever. We challenge anyone who claims that we have to bring forward any evidence and present it to public opinion.
BENN: I have another which has been raised: do you have links with al Qaeda?
SADDAM: If we had a relationship with al Qaeda and we believed in that relationship we wouldn’t be ashamed to admit it. Therefore I would like to tell you directly and also through you to anyone who is interested to know that we have no relationship with al Qaeda.
BENN: In relation to the inspectors, there appears to be difficulties with inspectors, and I wonder whether there’s anything you can tell me about these difficulties and whether you believe they will be cleared up before Mr Hans Blix and Mr Elbaradei come back to Baghdad?
SADDAM: You are aware that every major event must encounter some difficulty. On the subject of the inspectors and the resolutions that deal with Iraq you must have been following it and you must have a view and a vision as to whether these resolutions have any basis in international law. Nevertheless the Security Council produced them. These resolutions # implemented or not # or the motivation behind these resolutions could lead the current situation to the path of peace or war. Therefore it’s a critical situation. Let us also remember the unjust suffering of the Iraqi people. For the last thirteen years since the blockade was imposed, you must be aware of the amount of harm that it has caused the Iraqi people, particularly the children and the elderly as a result of the shortage of food and medicine and other aspects of their life. Therefore we are facing a critical situation. On that basis, it is not surprising that there might be complaints relating to the small details of the inspection which may be essential issues as far as we are concerned and the way we see the whole thing. It is possible that those Iraqis who are involved with the inspection might complain about the conduct of the inspectors and they complain indeed. It is also possible that some inspectors either for reasons of practical and detailed procedure, or for some other motives, may complain about the Iraqi conduct. Every fair-minded person knows that as far as resolution 1441 is concerned, the Iraqis have been fulfilling their obligations under the resolution. When Iraq objects to the conduct of those implementing the Security Council resolutions, that doesn’t mean that Iraq wishes to push things to confrontation. Iraq has no interest in war. No Iraqi official or ordinary citizen has expressed a wish to go to war. The question should be directed at the other side. Are they looking for a pretext so they could justify war against Iraq? If the purpose was to make sure that Iraq is free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons then they can do that. These weapons do not come in small pills that you can hide in your pocket. These are weapons of mass destruction and it is easy to work out if Iraq has them or not. We have said many times before and we say it again today that Iraq is free of such weapons. So when Iraq objects to the conduct of the inspection teams or others, that doesn’t mean that Iraq is interested in putting obstacles before them which could hinder the efforts to get to the truth. It is in our interest to facilitate their mission to find the truth. The question is does the other side want to get to the same conclusion or are they looking for a pretext for aggression? If those concerned prefer aggression then it’s within their reach. The superpowers can create a pretext any day to claim that Iraq is not implementing resolution 1441. They have claimed before that Iraq did not implement the previous resolutions. However after many years it became clear that Iraq had complied with these resolutions. Otherwise, why are they focusing now on the latest resolution and not the previous ones?