DUBAI, UAE - The Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and the Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid tried to convince Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq and move to Dubai, to avoid a war with the United States.
Sheikh Mohammed makes the revelation in his autobiography My Story released this week.
In it he said he met with the Iraqi leader in secret in the weeks leading up to the March 2003 invasion. He offered him asylum in Dubai, if he would resign as president of Iraq.
The Dubai ruler says he met Saddam in Basra in southern Iraq, a meeting that was to last five hours. Saddam he said was jumpy and continually to change chairs as he was in fear of a sniper's attack. He said the Iraqi leader was agitated, and walked out of the meeting four times.
Mohammed said he had a good relationship with Saddam, but it had not always been the case. He said he and former UAE President Sheikh Zayed tried to forge a working relationship with the Iraqi president.
"I still remember the end of the exhausting war between Iraq and Iran that left more than a million people dead," he writes in his new book.
"At the time, Saddam was at the peak of his pride and glory. I still remember how he frankly expressed his reservations against me to Sheikh Zayed. He said I leaned too much to the West and did not treat Arabs properly."
"Sheikh Zayed then asked me to meet with Saddam, as was his habit to settle any differences that could affect our interests."
Sheikh Mohammed said he met Saddam eventually. "After some pleasantries, Saddam charged that he had a report that implicates me in supporting Iran in various ways. He then placed the report in front of me".
He claimed the UAE had helped Iran during the war and that the report provided evidence to that effect.
"I answered him that I did not need a report and that I was sitting right there with him," he wrote.
"'If you mean arms shipments, then I challenge anyone to prove that. If you mean food aid shipments, then, yes. You do not need these reports because our ships go there and to Iraq as well,' I replied."
"Saddam was shocked at my words because they were bold. He was used to hearing what he wanted to. Perhaps my response was surprising to him because he had formed a weak impression of me."
Sheikh Mohammed says the pair "became friends after this confrontation."
"This was followed by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and bridges of communication then collapsed. In the world of politics, however, you must leave one small channel open for times of crisis. After Kuwait's liberation in February 1991, the Gulf was treating its wounds and rebuilding what was destroyed."
"In 2003, the Americans returned to the Middle East. They wanted to build a model that meets their own vision in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks that altered their view of the region and changed their priorities," wrote Sheikh Mohammed.
"I knew that the invasion of Iraq was among President George W. Bush's goals. We tried to dissuade him against invading Iraq. I asked him to maintain his efforts to support the Iraqi people by building schools and hospitals and paving roads. I knew, however, that he had already made up his mind to resort to force."
"I asked the Americans to give us a chance to act accordingly. I then asked them: 'What do you want from Saddam?' I sensed that the region was on the verge of war and I was prepared to do anything to avoid it for the sake of the people. The Americans replied that they wanted to search for weapons of mass destruction."
"I knew that the consequences of the war would be felt in the entire region, especially Iraq. It would be destructive. I tried to convince them to task Emiratis to carry out negotiations. We Arabs are alike in our traditions and understand how Saddam and his like think."
The Dubai ruler then met Saddam in Basra.
"I was determined to personally visit Saddam. We had a clear and frank discussion. We spoke of everything I agreed with him on, and others I did not. I reminded him of the ghost of war and I knew that I was addressing a man who had spent most of his life waging wars. It was obvious that he could not win the war against the Americans and that if he did not do anything to avert the impending invasion, Iraq would be lost. I tried to use reason with him."
"I told him that if he was ultimately forced to leave Iraq, Dubai was his second city and he was always welcome there. He looked at me and said: 'But Sheikh Mohammed, I am speaking about saving Iraq, not myself.' I held him in much higher regard after he said this."
The UAE vice president became convinced Saddam was not going to go quietly.
"When the meeting ended, he escorted me to my vehicle and bid me farewell. I heard that this was not usual of him," he said.
Sheikh Zayed then offered Saddam asylum in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, but he too was turned down. He publicly called for Saddam to step down during the Arab League summit in Sharm El Sheikh just before the invasion.
The rest is history. The so-called Iraq War went ahead and fifteen years later the country and the region are still counting the cost.
Soon Iraq was overrun with insurgents. Al-Qaeda proliferated the country where there was no sign of them before. And then came ISIS.
In January 2004 former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill revealed the Bush administration began planning regime change in Iraq just days after being sworn into office, at its first National Security Council meeting. He also said that as an NSC principal he was privy to all the interlligence briefings the president received leading up to the Iraq invasion, and that none of the briefings contained anything that would "qualify as evidence" of weapons of mass destruction.
Just over three weeks after the Bush inauguration, coalition aircraft struck targets in Iraq knocking out radar facilities.
A few days later on 2 February 2001, President Bush announced he was sending newly-installed Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East.
"We're reviewing all policy in all regions of the world, and one of the areas we've been spending a lot of time on is the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. The Secretary of State is going to go listen to our allies as to how best to effect a policy, the primary goal of which will be to say to Saddam Hussein, we won't tolerate you developing weapons of mass destruction and we expect you to leave your neighbors alone," Bush told a press conference at the time.
"I have said that the sanction regime is like Swiss cheese. That meant that they weren't very effective. And we're going to review current sanction policy, and review options as to how to make the sanctions work. But the primary goal is to make it clear to Saddam that we expect him to be a peaceful neighbor in the region and we expect him not to develop weapons of mass destruction. And if we find him doing so, there will be a consequence."
"We took action last week, and it may be on your mind as to that decision I made. The mission was twofold - one was to send him a clear message that this administration will remain engaged in that part of the world. I think we accomplished that mission. We got his attention," President Bush said
Following the invasion Saddam went underground. He was caught in December 2003 and put on trial, convicted and sentenced to hang. He was hanged three years later.
"Following the invasion, Iraq was not the same as before and the region was not the same either. I used to warn the Americans against the invasion and tell them: 'Do not open a closed box, for it is full of surprises,'" Sheikh Mohammed says in his new autobiography.
"Iraq had lost many of its citizens, and the Americans lost more than a trillion dollars and thousands of people. Iraq unleashed terrorism in all parts of the world. No one was a winner. As history tells us, over and over again, nobody is a winner in war," he wrote.