CAIRO, Egypt – Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said in an interview published Monday that a "depressed and broken in spirit" Saddam Hussein had appealed to him for mercy, saying his regime had meant no harm during the years it was in power.
Allawi also told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that he's been the target of four assassination attempts since becoming leader of Iraq — the most recent just five days ago — but he insisted his homeland's chaos would be controlled.
Since Saddam's capture in December, he has been held in U.S. detention at an undisclosed location awaiting trial on broad charges of killing rivals, gassing Kurds, invading Kuwait and suppressing uprisings. Eleven top lieutenants also face trial.
"Saddam sent me a verbal message asking for mercy," Allawi told Al-Hayat. Saddam said in the message that his regime had been "working for the general good and they didn't aim to harm."
Allawi said the message was carried by a member of the current government. He didn't say who or when was the message relayed.
"My answer was these are things the court will determine," Allawi was quoted as saying.
Saddam's cousin, Barzan al-Tikriti (search), also imprisoned, had sent a similar message in which he tried to distance himself from Saddam and exonerate himself, Allawi said. "Others did the same," he added.
Although Allawi said he has not yet met Saddam in prison, he said the deposed president was "depressed and broken in spirit."
He said he might meet in prison with Saddam after a court decides his fate "so as not to have any influence on the trial, which we want to be fair and legal."
Allawi also said that when he saw Saddam escorted to court July 1 in Baghdad to face charges, the ousted leader "was shaking noticeably."
"He thought things would run as they did during his times, that is, that they were going to execute him. He was not reassured until he saw the judges and the media and television," Allawi said.
In video of the appearance that was released afterward, however, Saddam appeared confident and at times combative during the hearing.
In an interview Sunday with ABC's "This Week," Allawi said that Saddam and his lieutenants would go on trial soon.
"Roughly speaking, I think October," he said, adding that the evidence against Saddam was "overwhelming."
The death penalty has been restored in Iraq after it was suspended during the U.S. administration of Iraq. It is not clear if Saddam would be executed if convicted.
In his remarks about surviving four assassination attempts since taking office June 28, Allawi said the most recent foiled attack involved a car explosion near the Baghdad area where ministry buildings are located.
Allawi told Al-Hayat an ensuing clash between his bodyguards and armed men resulted in the arrest of "two Arabs" he would only identify as Muslim extremists.
Purported Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), who has been linked to Al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for more than one assassination attempt against Allawi and has vowed to keep trying.
Allawi told Al-Hayat that three leading Al Qaeda figures have been arrested in Iraq, but did not name them or elaborate on when or under what circumstances they were arrested.
He told Al-Hayat progress was being made on one front: securing Iraq's border with Syria. He said he recently had "very positive" talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad (search) and hoped for similar progress with Iran.
Both Syria and Iran have been accused of doing too little to keep Muslim militants bent on fighting the United States from crossing into Iraq.
Allawi told Al-Hayat the relationship between Iraq and Iran "is mired with tension."
Allawi also contributed a column published Monday in the British daily newspaper The Independent.
In it, he repeated his offer of amnesty for Iraqis who don't have blood on their hands, but pledged that "the small minority of hardcore Saddam loyalists and foreign ... terrorists whose aim has been to instill terror will not succeed."