1 December 2003

As the war was closing in on Iraq, former Zambian President Kenneth Kuanda sent an appeal for the usual funds from Saddam Hussein, who sent him $100,000; he considered him the "African Ghandi." Another head of state, Hussein Hebre received one million dollars in cash handed over by the interpreter, Saman Abdel Majid, who is now talking from the safety of Doha, Qatar. His papers were taken by the coalition forces he said, but could still recall at least the diplomatic side when he interpreted for visiting dignitaries. One of them was Kofi Annan, who complimented the interpreter to his host -- who agreed. Majid said no one left Saddam empty handed. He was generous with his guests, offering cash, gifts, and spots of oil concessions that could be sold at high profit without necessarily identifying the vendor. Majid mainly spoke to two French journalists about his 15 years of privileged access and was convinced until the last minute "Saddam would at the end pull the card that will stop the war." The former president reportedly left with a driver when U.S. troops entered Baghdad. "Al Wasat," a weekly supplement of daily "al-Hayat" which carried a photo of Annan, Saddam and the interpreter on its cover, gave some of the insider details mentioned in "Les Annees Saddam."

Once during the crisis over Kuwait, Saddam who had an excruciating back pain, took off his 9mm Browning gun, and handed it to one of his interpreters who later told his colleague: "It suddenly passed my mind that I could have changed history." Only two individuals were allowed to keep their guns in his presence: his son Qusai and his closest aide Abed Hammoud. Only two individuals were entitled to speak bluntly to him: Dr. Hoda Ammesh, the only woman in the ruling Committee, and former Ambassador to Washington and the U.N., Nizar Hamdoun (who died recently of cancer in New York). According to the book, President Clinton sent a personal envoy in 1993 to Baghdad carrying "a message of peace" and suggested opening "a new page" in the relations between the two countries. Yet Saddam "did not know how to pick that opportunity." Majid thought Saddam wanted to show that he was "not selling himself to the Americans" and "appearing to be difficult" was a matter of honour. There is a lengthy analysis of relations with France and a recount of an incident with a French delegation which was treated correctly but without the usual flowery courtesies. Apparently the Iraqi felt slighted when the advice offered by his "strategic ally" seemed condescending, "unlike Annan who succeeded in preventing a crisis."

The modus operandi with the former Iraqi leader seemed to be based internally on caution and externally on generosity with potential friends. There was also a keen interest to avoid computers; work in the presidential palace was written by hand, lest any typed material may be picked up by enemies. Particular attention was paid to fitness. He imposed strict standards on all senior military officers and leadership personalities. Height and weight had to be kept within "internationally recognized" measurements, as a condition for retaining a post. It was reported that Chad leader Hebre (remember, the million dollar man) asked Saddam Hussein whether it was true that he exercised daily to maintain the required fitness standards. The Iraqi responded: "Of course, I am keen on keeping my job!"