November 17, 2004

Saddam's illusions has an excellent take on Saddam's end days.

Interrogations of Saddam Hussein, and examination of the tons of Iraqi government documents have revealed more details of how Saddam ruled Iraq, and misjudged American concern over Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, and support of terrorism. Saddam stayed in power via combination of paranoia, and a shrewd use of terror and rewards. He was always in fear of assassination, a fear that was confirmed by over a dozen serious attempts to kill him. Saddam safeguarded himself by constantly moving around, and letting very few people know where he was. He used his intelligence agencies and secret police to constantly look for disloyalty, and swiftly punish any they found (either real or suspected.) Offenders could lose a limb, or other body part (like their tongue, ear or an eye), or be jailed for months or years. Executions were frequent, and the next of kin were often kept in the dark, to prolong the terror effect. But Saddam knew how to reward loyalty as well, especially with family members or fellow Sunni Arabs. Investigators believe Saddam stole $21 billion via scams like smuggling and stealing from the oil-for-food program. He used that money to keep his followers happy. Most Iraqis learned that it was best to say nothing bad about Saddam, and do whatever he asked (as he would usually give a generous reward for any service.) Saddam was also an astute manipulator of the media, and knew how to put on a good show. Many Iraqis found it convenient to believe his proclamations, like the one where he said Iraq had won the 1991 Gulf War.

But the strain eventually caught up with Saddam, and by the late 1990s he was increasingly withdrawn, and dependent on his two eldest sons to take care of his security. It was understood that one of those two sons would succeed him, but in typical fashion, Saddam never made it clear which one it would be. Saddam was also very inept when it came to predicting the reaction of foreign governments. He pretended he still had a chemical and biological weapons program because he feared an Iranian invasion otherwise. Iranians hated Saddam because of the 1980s war with Iraq, but were not interested in another one. Saddam also misunderstood the impact of September 11, 2001 on the United States, and, until the end, did not believe American troops would invade Iraq. He thought, at worst, there would be another extended bombing campaign. He also believed that the rest of the Arab world would come to his aid if American troops did invade. Saddam still considers himself the president of Iraq, and capable to maneuvering himself back into power.

Posted by Ted at November 17, 2004 10:11 PM