Saddam Hussein personally initiated an attempt to reach a last-minute deal with Washington to avoid the U.S.-led invasion that ousted his regime, a former Iraqi government official said Friday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iraqi officials had Hussein's "full consent" when they approached the United States with the deal, offering oil contracts for U.S. companies and open access for United Nations weapons inspectors.
The aide was not part of the national leadership, but his job provided him daily contact with the dictator and insight into the government's decision-making process during the past decade and its crucial final days.
The former aide's comments came a day after a Lebanese American businessman, Imad Hage, confirmed the last-minute offer, saying he was the go-between for the Iraqis in approaching the Bush administration.
Hage said the deal fell through because the Iraqis refused to comply with a U.S. demand that Hussein step down.
It was impossible to immediately confirm the statement from the aide about Hussein's involvement. Most of the ousted leader's allies from the Baath Party leadership have either been captured and are being held incommunicado, or are in hiding.
In Washington, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Thursday that during the run-up to the war, a wide variety of people sent signals -- via foreign intelligence services, other governments and third parties -- that some Iraqis might want to negotiate.
All leads that were "plausible and even some that weren't" were followed up, the official said, on condition of anonymity. But no one offering a deal was in a position to make an acceptable one, the official said.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan declined to say whether the purported Iraqi effort to avert the war was brought to President Bush's attention.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said: "We never received any legitimate or credible opportunity to resolve the world's differences with Iraq in a peaceful manner.
"What we did see were vague overtures through third parties that appeared to be focused on attempts to forestall military action."