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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 22:14 GMT
Analysis: Saddam's TV interview
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein did not stray from his usual image

Former British MP Tony Benn was honest in announcing from the start that his scoop in questioning the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was no ordinary interview.

He wanted it to be part of the diplomatic process.

"I am here for only one reason," he told the smartly-suited Saddam Hussein "to see whether, in a talk, we can explore, or you can help me to see what the paths to peace may be."

This approach may help to explain the curiously soft nature of the questions and the deferential tone, which if asked by a reporter would have ensured the reporter was not employed in this fashion again.

Former Labour MP Tony Benn in the UK after meeting Saddam Hussein in Baghdad
Mr Benn spoke to Saddam for two hours
But, taking the concept at its own ambitious level, did it offer anything of substantive use in this grave crisis?

The answer has to be probably not. It did give a fascinating insight into the mindset of the Iraqi leader, but it did not offer any hope that war can be averted.

Saddam Hussein was all blandness and denial. He denied that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction (using a nice line about them being too big to hide in one's pocket).

He also denied any links to al-Qaeda. And he denied he was obstructing the weapons inspectors.

Those who believe him perhaps did not expect him to elaborate, but in the present situation it would have served the cause of peace for him to have engaged in some of the issues - the so called "missing material" for a start.

Those looking for a last-minute openness will have been disappointed, though hardly surprised.

Saddam's monologue

The image Saddam Hussein presented was his usual one of the Iraqi people being put upon by the aggressive Americans who wanted to get at their oil and who were being pushed by the "Zionist entity", that old phrase for Israel which even the Palestinians have given up.

Mr Benn's oil question was perhaps the softest of all since it began by conceding the argument in advance - "many people believe that the present conflict is about oil".

His argument may or may not have truth in it, but Tony Benn did not help the ambitious aim he had set himself by not challenging at least some of it. He might have then got Saddam Hussein off his monologue into a dialogue.

The most significant thing, and for some the most depressing about the interview perhaps, was that it showed how little Saddam Hussein has changed.

He probably seriously believes that, as he put it: "Iraqis are as committed to their rights as much as they are committed to the rights of others."

That statement somehow misses out recent history which has seen Iraq attack both Iran and Kuwait.

The Iraqi president seemed at one point almost to accept the inevitability of war, saying the Iraqi people would fight as bravely as the British had fought during World War II.

Mr Benn's paths to peace appear to narrow indeed.


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04 Feb 03 | Middle East
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