Will they hunt 50 years for WMD, Saddam asked, when `we don't have anything'?

Exasperated, besieged by global pressure, Saddam Hussein and top aides searched for ways in the 1990s to prove to the world they'd given up banned weapons.

"We don't have anything hidden!" a frustrated Iraqi president interjected at one meeting, transcripts show.

At another, in 1996, he wondered whether U.N. inspectors would "roam Iraq for 50 years" in a pointless hunt for weapons of mass destruction. "When is this going to end?" he asked.

It ended in 2004, when U.S. experts, after an exhaustive investigation, concluded the men in those meetings were telling the truth, that Iraq had eliminated its weapons of mass destruction long ago, a finding that discredited the Bush administration's stated rationale for invading Iraq in 2003 to find WMD.

The newly released documents are among U.S. government translations of audiotapes or Arabic-language transcripts from top-level Iraqi meetings dating from around 1996-97 back to the period soon after the 1991 Gulf War, when the U.N. Security Council sent inspectors to disarm Iraq.

Even as the documents make clear Saddam's regime had given up banned weapons, they also attest to its continued secretiveness: A 1997 document from Iraqi intelligence instructed agencies to keep confidential files away from U.N. teams, and to remove "any forbidden equipment."

Since it's now acknowledged the Iraqis had ended the arms programs by then, the directive may have been aimed at securing stray pieces of equipment, and preserving some secrets from Iraq's 1980s work on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Saddam's inner circle entertained notions of reviving the programs someday, the newly released documents show. "The factories will remain in our brains," one unidentified participant told Saddam at a meeting, apparently in the early 1990s, reports AP.

O.Ch.