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February 09, 2003

Life Under Saddam

Saddam isn't simply some misunderstood bully he is a very dangerous one. What's he up to? A recent article in the Washington Post describes a conversation between Saddam's bombmaker Khidhir Hamza and Richard Perle:
Afterward, this odd, portly pair -- Perle the Washington insider, Hamza the former paladin of Saddam's palace -- get down to the details. They delight in swapping the latest intelligence about how Iraq may have modified aluminum tubes to enrich uranium.
It's something of a preview of Powell's U.N. assertions: that those tubes, which Iraq said were for ordinary missiles, were crucial to building a nuclear weapon. "This was part of the deception program," Perle says. Hamza nods in agreement. "I know, I know."
So Hamza thinks that Saddam's after a nuclear weapon. Unfortunately, the article, "The Smoking Gun," doesn't give much information about Iraq. For more on Iraq and the kind of man read Daniel Pipes's review of Hamza's book "Saddam's Bombmaker," or "Tales of the Tyrant" by Mark Bowden from the Atlantic. Here is a description of Saddam's first purge:
On July 18, 1979, he invited all the members of the Revolutionary Command Council and hundreds of other party leaders to a conference hall in Baghdad. He had a video camera running in the back of the hall to record the event for posterity. Wearing his military uniform, he walked slowly to the lectern and stood behind two microphones, gesturing with a big cigar. His body and broad face seemed weighted down with sadness. There had been a betrayal, he said. A Syrian plot. There were traitors among them. Then Saddam took a seat, and Muhyi Abd al-Hussein Mashhadi, the secretary-general of the Command Council, appeared from behind a curtain to confess his own involvement in the putsch. He had been secretly arrested and tortured days before; now he spilled out dates, times, and places where the plotters had met. Then he started naming names. As he fingered members of the audience one by one, armed guards grabbed the accused and escorted them from the hall. When one man shouted that he was innocent, Saddam shouted back, "Itla! Itla!"—"Get out! Get out!" (Weeks later, after secret trials, Saddam had the mouths of the accused taped shut so that they could utter no troublesome last words before their firing squads.) When all of the sixty "traitors" had been removed, Saddam again took the podium and wiped tears from his eyes as he repeated the names of those who had betrayed him. Some in the audience, too, were crying—perhaps out of fear. This chilling performance had the desired effect. Everyone in the hall now understood exactly how things would work in Iraq from that day forward. The audience rose and began clapping, first in small groups and finally as one. The session ended with cheers and laughter. The remaining "leaders"—about 300 in all—left the hall shaken, grateful to have avoided the fate of their colleagues, and certain that one man now controlled the destiny of their entire nation. Videotapes of the purge were circulated throughout the country.
It was what the world would come to see as classic Saddam. He tends to commit his crimes in public, cloaking them in patriotism and in effect turning his witnesses into accomplices. The purge that day reportedly resulted in the executions of a third of the Command Council. (Mashhadi's performance didn't spare him; he, too, was executed.) During the next few weeks scores of other "traitors" were shot, including government officials, military officers, and people turned in by ordinary citizens who responded to a hotline phone number broadcast on Iraqi TV. Some Council members say that Saddam ordered members of the party's inner circle to participate in this bloodbath.

I read in another account that the last detail did indeed happen. So this is the man President Bush is proposing to disarm and people have a problem with that? It seems that the antiwar movement is really more the pro-Saddam movement. These "pacifists" should make the case why he should be left alone.
Cross posted on David's Israel Blog.