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Saddam worried about legacy

A report by Charles A. Duelfer on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction has provided inside glimpses of the life of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein Hears Charges Read In Iraqi Court
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is seen in a Baghdad courtroom on July 1. Karen Ballard / Pool via Getty Images file
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was so worried that a phone call might be detected by the United States and pinpoint his location for an attack that he used a phone only twice after 1990. Toward the end of his rule, he grew more reclusive, fearing increasingly for his own safety and relying more than ever on members of his Tikriti clan.

But even as he felt threatened by U.S. military power, Hussein showed a fondness for U.S. movies and literature, one of his favorite books being Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." He hoped for improved relations with the United States and, over several years, sent proposals through intermediaries to open a dialogue with Washington.

These are among the inside glimpses of Hussein that emerge in the report by Charles A. Duelfer, released yesterday, on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Seeking to place the weapons program in the context of an Iraqi government that for years was totally dominated by one man, Duelfer provides a revealing, detailed portrait of Hussein, describing his grand aspirations, autocratic governing style, personal tastes and idiosyncrasies.

Much of the information appears drawn from interviews not only with former Hussein aides in custody but with Hussein. Since his capture last December, Hussein has been held in isolated confinement on the grounds of one of his former palaces about 10 miles from the center of Baghdad.

He has been questioned by a single debriefer, the report says without revealing the debriefer's identity. Hussein has had no incentive or motivation to cooperate, "except to shape his legacy," writes Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq. But the Iraqi leader "is concerned with his place in history and how history will view him," Duelfer adds.

Indeed, Duelfer says, Hussein views himself "as the most recent of the great Iraqi leaders like Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar and Saladin." In the reconstruction of the historic city of Babylon, for instance, bricks were molded with the phrase "Made in the era of Saddam Hussein" — mimicking the ancient bricks forged in Babylon and demonstrating Hussein's "assumption that he will be similarly remembered over the millennia," Duelfer writes.

Complete control
Duelfer's account confirms the widespread perception of Hussein as having been in total control in Iraq. Hussein made all the strategic decisions and was "fond of micromanagement," Duelfer says.

Hussein lavished rewards on loyalists and was swift to punish those deemed disloyal. He used violence to ensure compliance with his orders. His lieutenants were "tightly constrained" by fear of Hussein and loss of power.

"It was not just an urban legend that, if someone became too popular or too powerful, he would quickly be removed," Duelfer says.

Hussein also was highly secretive and, for subordinates, difficult to read at times. "He would ponder key decisions — such as the [1990] invasion of Kuwait — for months but share his thoughts with few advisors," Duelfer writes.

Hussein did not lead by espousing detailed goals and objectives. "He tended to allow ideas to float up and he would consider them — often never pronouncing on them one way or the other," Duelfer says. "This meant that much guidance to the government was implicit rather than explicit."

Hussein encouraged a multiplicity of reporting systems. "Since no one ever knew for sure how certain their position was, it bred anxiety and uncertainty even among the longest serving ministers," Duelfer says. "He fostered competition and distrust among those around him."

This facilitated Hussein's survival. But it also "greatly colored and contorted the perspectives of reality his top aides had," Duelfer writes.

Hussein's command style with subordinates was "verbal and direct," Duelfer says. This reliance on verbal instructions, particularly involving such key issues as security and weapons of mass destruction, was driven largely by security concerns, according to Duelfer.

Hussein's preference for informal chains of command encouraged a "gossip culture" among close aides, Duelfer found. Decision-making also was hampered by the "growth of a culture of lying," which Duelfer attributes to fear and an inability to achieve results.

Tariq Aziz, a former deputy prime minister, is quoted as asserting that before last year's invasion by U.S.-led forces, Iraqi commanders lied to Hussein about Iraq's preparedness, leading Hussein to badly miscalculate his military's ability to deter an attack. Other former Iraqi officials also are cited saying key commanders overstated their combat readiness and willingness to fight.

Many former associates, according to Duelfer, have described Hussein as deeply affected "by a deprived and violent childhood in a village and tribal society bound by powerful mores." Hussein had few friends among top leaders, Duelfer says.

Fear of assassination
Hussein's deepening seclusion in the late 1990s came in part out of heightened fear of assassination following an attempt on the life of his son, Uday, in December 1996, Duelfer says. Another factor, Duelfer notes, was Hussein's growing interest in writing.

Among Hussein's extensive security measures, Duelfer reports, was the establishment of a laboratory specifically to test the food served him. His construction of multiple palaces also reflected, in part, an attempt to keep himself hidden. It was a manifestation as well of Hussein's "view of himself as the state," Duelfer says.

Even Hussein's senior aides had difficulty locating him at times. Duelfer quotes one former official saying government ministers were picked up and driven to meeting locations in vehicles with blacked-out windows and were never told where they were once they arrived.

According to Duelfer, Hussein had a long view of history and "a strong sense of the glory of a long struggle." He accepted setbacks as "noble challenges to be overcome." He refused, for instance, to admit that Iraq had lost the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which a U.S.-led coalition ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait, viewing the conflict as "only a temporary setback," Duelfer writes.

Fixation on weapons of mass destruction
Hussein's view of international affairs was focused on the Arab world, Duelfer says, and that becomes key in understanding his interest in weapons of mass destruction.

Hussein, Duelfer concludes, believed Iraq's possession of such weapons was necessary principally to counter Iran, a longtime enemy. "Secondary considerations," Duelfer adds, "included a desire both to balance Israel and acquire status and influence in the Arab world."

In Hussein's view, Duelfer says, weapons of mass destruction saved Iraq a number of times. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, chemical weapons had halted Iranian ground offensives. In the 1991 Gulf War, Hussein believed, his potential use of such weapons deterred U.S. and allied forces from pressing their attack beyond the goal of freeing Kuwait.

One of the great puzzles surrounding the disclosure that Iraq had no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction by the time U.S. forces invaded last year is why Hussein would not have revealed that fact. Duelfer suggests an answer by depicting Hussein as engaged in a "difficult balancing act."

On the one hand, Duelfer says, Hussein recognized the need to disarm to achieve relief from U.N. sanctions. On the other, he felt the need to retain such weapons as a deterrent.

"The regime never resolved the contradiction inherent in this approach," Duelfer says.

Hussein's view of the United States was complicated, Duelfer writes. While Hussein "derived prestige from being an enemy of the United States," he also recognized that "it would have been equally prestigious for him" to be a U.S. ally.

Both Aziz and Hussein's former presidential secretary, Abid Hamid Mahmud, have told interrogators that Hussein hoped for improved relations with the United States, Duelfer says. Indeed, in the 1990s, Hussein repeatedly tested Washington's willingness to open a dialogue.

Duelfer reveals that between 1994 and 1998, Duelfer as well as Rolf Ekeus, a former chief U.N. weapons inspector, were "approached multiple times by senior Iraqis with the message that Baghdad wanted a dialogue with the United States and that Iraq was in a position to be Washington's 'best friend in the region bar none.' "

"Baghdad offered flexibility on many issues, including offers to assist in the Israel-Palestine conflict," Duelfer recalls. "Moreover, in informal discussions, senior officials allowed that, if Iraq had a security relationship with the United States, it might be inclined to dispense with WMD programs and/or ambitions."