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Living under Saddam

Woman explains intense personal relationship with former Iraqi leader
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Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is expected to stand trial next Wednesday for a slew of alleged crimes.

Zainab Salbi knows the man on trial beyond the headlines and history books.  She's the daughter of Saddam's personal pilot and spent many weekends of her childhood under Saddam's watchful eye.

Salbi wrote about her encounters with the Iraqi dictator in her book, “Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny, Growing up in the Shadow of Saddam.”  She also founded the Women for Women International. 

MSNBC-TV's Tucker Carlson spoke with Salbi about her experiences on "The Situation."

TUCKER CARLSON, SITUATION HOST: Now the charges, we think—we don't know — but we think they're going to be premeditated murder, forced expulsion of residents of Iraq, torture, a whole laundry list of horrible things Saddam is accused of doing.  In the great amount of time you spent in his company, did you have any sense that this stuff was going on?

ZAINAB SALBI, AUTHOR, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS:  I did actually.  I went to a school that I often heard from my classmates how there were public executions in the streets, for example.  Anybody who had a gun could just shoot at the person who's being executed. 

I went to school with a friend whose father was executed because he disagreed with Saddam politically.  I almost lost my mother for deportation.  As you know, Saddam deported more than 200,000 Shiites between 1980 and 1982.  My mother's family was part of those, and I grew up fearing that I could lose my mother at any time.

So I knew some of it.  My best friend in college was a Kurd who told me about the Kurdish atrocities.  But you learn to be afraid of expressing your feelings, because the simplest feeling, the wrong smile or the wrong eye look or gesture could actually upset him, and that could take your life away.  So you learn how to control your feelings. 

CARLSON: Did he strike you when you were a child as a brutal man? Did he personally seem like the kind of guy capable of atrocities?

SALBI: Well, there's definitely a part of him that I saw as just a regular man.  You know, he called me with my nickname.  He kissed me on both cheeks.  Things like that. 

But I also grew up seeing my parents very nervous in front of him.  Seeing my parents or having them teach me that I have to smile when he smiled, I have to cry when he cried, I have to say things that are nice when he asked for it.  So I learned that I knew he was someone who was in power.  I knew he killed some of his best friends, some of his relatives.  You have to survive, and it's a very tight walk on how to survive while you are in this relationship. 

CARLSON: Did your parents feel guilty about their association with him, and do you feel bad about your family's association with Saddam?

SALBI: My parents had no choice.  When Saddam asked my father to be his pilot, my father had no choice but to say yes. 

My father never wanted to do anything with politics.  He's not interested in politics until today, and he's not interested in being next to powerful people.  But to say no to Saddam could mean your execution, could mean your imprisonment, and it could mean that your assets and your house and everything that you own can be taken away by the government. 

So you try to survive, and you try to say yes.   The day that this was announced to me as a child was a very serious day in our family.  It was a day of mourning.  My parents told me, this is not something to be celebrating. 

This is not something to talk about or announce about, so I grew up, if anything, actually, with the trauma that my association to Saddam through my father's profession, took over my identity.  And if anything, I have trauma, the reason I didn't tell anybody for the longest time, because I was convinced that if I tell anybody, they will see Saddam in my face and not my face.  And that was my biggest nightmare.

CARLSON: Will you feel better when he's convicted? If he's convicted, if he's executed, will that help you deal?

SALBI: Definitely. 

CARLSON: Will Iraq be a better place when he's gone?

SALBI: Definitely.  I think his trial is such a historical opportunity for Iraqis to document his atrocities against Iraqis, against humanity.  We have got to take this opportunity and document our past, and I feel this is the only way where we can actually move forward for the future. 

If there's anything that unites all Iraqis is our hatred of Saddam.  Every single household has a story of how Saddam penetrated it and how he tried to destroy it.