Former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz told interrogators that after a meeting with Russian and French intermediaries, Hussein was convinced he could avoid a war, according to a report in The Washington Post on Monday citing US officials.

The report said Aziz, who surrendered in April, said that French and Russian intermediaries assured Hussein during late 2002 and early this year that they would block a US-led war through delays and vetoes at the UN Security Council.

On the eve of the war Hussein emerged from meetings with French and Russian contacts convinced that Washington would not launch an immediate invasion of Iraq, according to Aziz’s statements as described by US officials.

Feint invasion?

Aziz told interrogators that Hussein was so sure of himself that he refused to order an immediate military response when he heard reports that American ground forces were pouring into Iraq.

He concluded that the crossing was some sort of feint, said the daily.

US officials involved in the interrogations were cited as saying that Aziz’s account had not been corroborated by other sources.

According to the newspaper, US-led investigators also asked other former high-ranking Iraqi detainees why, if Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, was he willing to let the world believe that he did.

Some detainees said they believed that the toppled leader feared losing face with his Arab neighbours whom he thought paid him deference because they were afraid he had such arms.