This week we devote much of our program to a look at one of the world’s most controversial leaders, Saddam Hussein. The future head of Iraq left home at the age of nine to live with an uncle in Baghdad. There his uncle filled him with dreams of Arab glory. With that upbringing, a young Saddam was on his way to fulfilling his ambitions. To many, he is a murderous tyrant others see him as a champion of the Pan-Arab cause.
VOA-TV’s Jeff Swicord tries to answer the question, “who is Saddam Hussein?”
In much of the world he’s viewed as a tyrant. A man capable of gassing and killing his own people.
NATURAL SOUND: (people cheering for Saddam)
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 psychologist Jerrold Post writes and lectures 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 turn against him was sufficient to send 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 if, with this uproar, he wishes to scare or use this as a cover up for his aggression when 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 proceeds to name the members of this plot who are by the way sitting in the audience right in front of him. And as he is reading their names they are dragged out hall sometimes protesting their innocence and so on.
“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. An we know this whole plot was fabrication.”
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.
“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.”
And what about weapons of mass destruction?
“I tell you as I have said on many occasions before, that Iraq has no 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 them. 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, (b), attempt to deploy such weapons against Israel.
Over the last twenty years, Saddam has demonstrated his ability to stay in power. But those who have studied him carefully believe the current crisis may be his toughest challenge yet.