BAGHDAD — After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein stayed in Baghdad until he saw "the city was about to fall." Months later, he was caught hiding at the same farm where he had fled in 1959 after taking part in an attempt to kill the country's prime minister.
Unclassified FBI interviews conducted during his incarceration at a U.S. detention center offered new details Thursday about the late Iraqi dictator's life on the run.
The documents also confirm previous reports that Saddam falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction -- the main U.S. rationale behind the war -- because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, the hostile neighbor he considered a bigger threat than the U.S.
Saddam was captured by American soldiers Dec. 13, 2003, just over eight months after his regime was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion. An Iraqi tribunal convicted him of crimes against humanity, and he was hanged at the end of 2006.
He said he was never in the neighborhood on the outskirts of Baghdad that was bombed on March 19, 2003, in an attempt to kill the Iraqi leader at the start of the war. The U.S. military had received a tip that he was hiding there.
But, he said, he stayed in Baghdad until April 10 or 11, when "it appeared that the city was about to fall." He held a final meeting with leaders from his inner circle and told them, "We will struggle in secret."
Then he fled the capital, gradually shedding his bodyguards along the way to avoid attracting attention, telling them they had fulfilled their duty.
The new details were among more than 100 pages of notes written by George Piro, an FBI special agent who interviewed Saddam after he was found huddling in a "spider hole" on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad.
The notes of the FBI interviews were made public Wednesday by the National Security Archive, a nongovernmental research institute.
Saddam said the farm was the same place he took refuge after participating four decades ago in a failed assassination attempt against then-Prime Minister Abdul-Karim Qassim.
Saddam denied the widespread belief that he used body doubles to avoid detection. "This is movie magic, not reality," he was quoted as saying.
Instead, he said, he evaded enemies by using the telephone just twice and constantly moving from one dwelling to another. He communicated mainly through couriers or met personally with officials.
In a series of interviews between February and June of 2004, Saddam also told Piro that he falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, which Iraq fought in an eight-year war in the 1980s that involved the use of chemical weapons.
Saddam denied having unconventional weapons before the U.S. invasion but refused to allow U.N. inspectors to search his country from 1998 until 2002. The inspectors returned to the weapons hunt in November 2002 but still complained that Iraq was not cooperating.
"By God, if I had such weapons, I would have used them in the fight against the United States," he told Piro.