CAIRO (Reuters) – Deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is depressed and has begged the Iraqi government for mercy, Iraq’s Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said in an interview published Monday.
“He is distraught and depressed,” Allawi said of Saddam, the man who was Iraq’s president for 24 years and is awaiting trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
“Saddam and his colleagues are not the giants that the media sometimes talks about. Saddam sent us an oral message in which he begged for mercy. He said that they were working in the public interest and did not mean any harm,” Allawi said in an interview with the pan Arab al-Hayat newspaper.
He also said he had survived four assassination attempts since his interim government came to power in June, the last just five days ago when his guards became suspicious of a car outside Baghdad’s Green Zone compound housing the government and the U.S. and other embassies.
The car then blew up and a battle between gunmen and his guards ensued. Two non-Iraqi Arabs were arrested, he said.
Allawi would not give their nationality, but said they belonged to Islamist militant groups.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant Washington says is allied to al Qaeda, has threatened to assassinate Allawi, which he described in the interview as “despicable above all for the Iraqi people and for Iraq.”
“For someone who appears to be connected with international organizations to come along and threaten Iraq’s prime minister, whoever he may be, is unacceptable,” Allawi said.
Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group has claimed responsibility for most of the bloodiest suicide attacks in Iraq since Saddam was ousted in the U.S.-led war last year.
POSITIVE TONE ON IRAN
Allawi struck a cautiously positive tone on relations with neighboring Iran, which was angered by U.S. and Iraqi charges it has been stirring up tensions in Iraq.
Allawi said what he called Iranian interference in some Iraqi affairs did not mean Iran’s government was involved.
“Rather it comes from some circles that support particular religious tendencies,” he said.
“That was the case with the Moqtada al-Sadr issue, which we treated not as a matter of a religious movement but as a violation of the rule of law, which is something we cannot tolerate,” Allawi said.
Some politicians in Shi’ite Iran have said it should actively support rebel Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Sadr’s movement in its battles with U.S. forces and uprisings in the holy city of Najaf. Iran officially says it supports no group in Iraq.
Allawi is due to visit Tehran, which has given his interim government lukewarm backing, but no date has been set.
He reaffirmed his commitment to hold elections in the vast majority of Iraqi territories in January as planned, even if insecurity prevented them taking place in a few places.
“Those who cannot participate can take part in the next elections. But we hope to have stabilized the security situation by January,” Allawi said.