In much of the world, he’s viewed as a tyrant, a man capable of gassing and killing his own people. But, inside Iraq he’s seen as a great leader. Who is Saddam and what motivates him? What is fact and what is fiction? Political physiologist Jerrold Post has written books and lectured on Saddam’s persona.
“We have a leader who is not a madman by any means, he’s a rational calculator, but who often miscalculates for two reasons. One, he is surrounded by sycophants who will tell him what he wants to hear rather than what he needs to hear, and this confers gravely distorted decisions. The second reason is he’s quite ethnocentric, and tends to see things through a middle eastern eye. But, this has shifted over time.
According to many Saddam uses fear to control every aspect of his regime. Over the years, thousands of people have disappeared. Kanan Makiya is an Iraqi author who wrote the book “Republic of Fear.”
“Saddam’s method of dealing with his enemies, of eliminating whole layers of people who he feared might one day turn against him, is very typical of what Stalin used to do during the great purges, where the slightest hint that somebody might in the future turn against him was sufficient to send him and whole layers of people around him off to the Gulag.”
Despite our repeated requests for an official response to this report, the Iraqi government never granted us an interview. However, in the past, Saddam has sought to deflect personal criticism by suggesting critics have ulterior motives. Consider this speech to the Iraqi people in January.
“The enemy has many objectives behind this uproar and self- defending pandemonium. Iraq is not the only target in this confusion. Even with this uproar, he wishes to scare or use this as a cover-up for his aggression what his evil side pushes him to it.”
Saddam’s tactics have been in the spotlight since he took full control of Iraq in 1979. One of his first actions was to stage a Stalinist-style purge to eliminate Baath party officials he didn’t trust.
“This is an amazing event which has been captured on television where in this large hall he gathered together his 200 or so senior officials. He then goes through every person in this large hall, and on this video he’s sitting off to a side smoking a big, black cigar.”
“He gets up and moves to the podium and announces much to the bewilderment and amazement of everyone there that a plot has been uncovered against the regime and then he begins to name the members of this plot who are by the way sitting in the audience right in front of him. As he is reading their names they are dragged out of the hall sometimes protesting their innocence and so on. And this macabre scene unfolds in which Saddam reads off names and he does this in a very slow, quiet methodical voice. He actually manages to squeeze out tears as he talks. He’s crying as he names these people. Now we know the whole plot was fabrication ”
Since 1947 and his early involvement in the Arab Nationalist Movment, Saddam had a reputation for using violence as a political tool.
“To understand Saddam you have to understand the way in which political motives become connected with the willingness to do anything to achieve those motives.”
Fawazi al-Shamari was a senior Iraqi army general in the 1980’s. He met with Saddam many times, and believes he enjoys watching torture.
FAWAZI AL-SHAMARI, IRAQI ARMY GENERAL
“The Chief of Intelligence at that time, he was my friend. And he told me, the first time he installed the acid pool, and explained exactly how he is going there with Saddam Hussein and with a few bodyguards, in a security place. And they bring the political and military leaders and they hang them from their hair and drop them in the acid pool. And then, after that, he was smoking his cigar and laughing.”
Again, Iraq declined a request to respond to this report. After taking power, Saddam used public fear of this sort of violence and intimidation to his advantage. Intifadh Qanbar was an Iraqi Air Force General who was imprisoned in Iraq.
INTIFADH QANBAR, IRAQI AIR FORCE GENERAL
“Basically they own your life they can kill you without a court without anything at any moment they desire to, or they could confiscate your property or liquidate anything you own at their convenience if they feel like it. It is impossible for any Iraqi to imagine himself or herself living in a place where fear is not existing.”
One evening Intifadh says he and his brother were picked up by Saddam’s Security Services for talking with a friend who wanted to leave Iraq.
“I was not basically tortured to be honest with you. My brother was tortured. They use all types of methods. Using pliers to pull out nails. Using techniques of dentists to pull out teeth. Burns, they would use acetylene burners that blacksmiths use to burn parts of your body. They would put irons on your back, hot irons. It is amazing the ways. It is really, really very difficult, almost impossible, for somebody not to confess.”
Allegations of repression and torture have been made many times by dissidents in exile. But ask the average Iraqi inside the country about their leadership and you will get a different answer. This woman was voting in the presidential elections held in October, 2002.
“We pay not attention to the American threats and we are confident of our leadership and our people and we are united against the American threats.”
Saddam’s desire for dominance spilled beyond Iraq’s borders with invasions of Iran in the 1980s and Kuwait in 1990. According to General al-Shamari, the invasion of Kuwait was driven by Saddam’s other passion—weapons of mass destruction.
“In his calculation, he said—this is what I heard and I read—that if I control Kuwait, I will assign the budget for that oil for weapons, and I will leave the budget for Iraqi oil to develop the country. The Kuwaiti budget will be assigned to create a larger army, with focus on nuclear. And this was his vision.”
Saddam would be expelled from Kuwait by a U.S.-led coalition. In his retreat, psychologist Jerrold Post says Saddam left an ominous clue about his personality.
“When he is backed into a corner, and when he is doing badly, he can exhibit what I call a narcissistic rage, and he can strike out really in vindictive ways, and almost bring the house of cards down upon himself. This is what he did when he set the Kuwaiti oil fields on fire, doing vast damage to the infrastructure, and to the environment, as well.
If there is an invasion of Iraq, what will Saddam do this time? General Al-Shamari believes Saddam will never give up.
“In the military, we have to target him as the first step. But if we don’t get him, he will try to avoid that and to escape. But I think he will not have that opportunity.”
“There have been a number of notions of him going down to that last flaming bunker. I don’t see that. On the other hand, he will certainly not accept exile like Idi Amin did, sunning himself in his retirement years around some pool in Saudi Arabia or something like that. As Idi Amin does. The only meaningful life for him is a life in power.
And what about weapons of mass destruction?
“I tell you as I said on may occasions before, that Iraq has not weapons of mass destruction whatsoever.”
But General al-Shamari believes he will use whatever he has to fight off an invasion.
“Saddam Hussein bought the chemical weapons, or millions he spent, not to play with that. That’s illogic. He buys them to use them. And he will use them.”
“I feel quite confident he will order the use of chem-bio weapons against alliance troops in the area, and attempt to deploy such weapons against Israel. I think it is also possible he could, if he were going down, set Iraq’s oil fields afire, as he did with Kuwait’s. If I can’t have them, nobody will.”
Over the last twenty years, Saddam has demonstrated his ability to stay in power. But those who have studied him carefully believe this current crisis may be his toughest challenge yet.