Iraq Survey Group Final Report
How Saddam Saw Himself
Saddam’s psychology was shaped powerfully by a deprived and violent childhood in a village and tribal society bound by powerful mores. Many of his associates noted how early experiences had a lasting effect on Saddam’s outlook.
- ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid thought that “As any village child, he was affected by the traditions and customs of his tribe . . . you see him having an influence on most . . . Iraqis because they have come from the same country and tribal origin.”
- ‘Abd-al-Tawab ‘Abdallah Al Mullah Huwaysh believed much of Saddam’s personality was shaped by the circumstances of his childhood, particularly his violent and xenophobic guardian uncle.
- Saddam had few friends among top leaders even in the 1970s and 1980s. These ties diminished further after 1995 and he focused more on relatives, according to Tariq ‘Aziz.
Saddam’s Personal Security
Saddam thought he was under constant threat and he prioritized his personal safety above all administrative issues. ‘Abd-al-Tawab ‘Abdallah Al Mullah Huwaysh said Saddam put the priority for personal safety at the absolute peak of a hierarchy of interests. Some of his fear was well founded, but he grew increasingly paranoid as the 1990s progressed. His personal security measures were extreme. For example, the SSO operated a laboratory specifically for the testing of Saddam’s food. An outgrowth of his fear was the building of multiple palaces, in part designed to foil attempts by attackers or assassins to locate him. The palaces also reflected the fact that Saddam increasingly saw himself as the state and that what was good for him was good for Iraq.
- Saddam went on a palace and mosque building extravaganza in the late 1990s, employing 7000 construction workers, when much of the economy was at the point of collapse. His rationale for this was concern for his personal security. He stated that by building many palaces the US would be unable to ascertain his whereabouts and thus target him.
- Military officers as senior as the Commander of the SRG, who was responsible for physical protection of Presidential palaces, were barred from entering any palace without prior written permission.
- ‘Abd-al-Tawab ‘Abdallah Al Mullah Huwaysh attributed much of this paranoia to Saddam’s sense of betrayal following the defection of Husayn Kamil in 1995, shohe had previously seen as close to him as a son. The attempt on ‘Uday’s life in December 1996 also had a deep impact on Saddam, because the extensive security infrastructure designed to protect him and his family failed in a spectacular and public way. The attack marks the start of Saddam’s decreased visibility with senior officials and increased preoccupation with Regime security.
Saddam the Dynasty Founder
Saddam’s resort to dynastic and familial means of running Iraq did the most to undermine institutional decision-making. Saddam saw the state in personal terms and his career was marked by a steady retreat from the Ba’thist ideal of a modern state to governance modeled on a rural Arab clan. His administration became reliant on family and clan members throughout the 1990s. Tariq ‘Aziz and Taha Yasin Ramadan commented on the growing and corrosive influence of the Tikriti clan on state control at this time. Relatives dominated leadership positions and progressively diminished the policy (as opposed to coercive) role of the Ba’th Party. Every senior non-Tikriti in the Regime has pointed to Saddam’s increasing and destructive resort to family and clan members to staff sensitive government positions. Nevertheless, while inclined toward a dynastic succession, Saddam prioritized preservation of his legacy. He was still searching for a competent and reliable succession that would guarantee his legacy at the time of his fall.
- Saddam gradually shifted his reliance on advice from technocrats to family members from 1995 onward, according to Tariq ‘Aziz. This favored family, who was not necessarily competent, such as ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid, weakened good decision-making, according to former Vice President Ramadan. Nonetheless it was accepted as a seemingly normal part of administration in Iraq.
- Ramadan thought, “The last three years with Saddam bothered me the most. There were too many relatives in sensitive jobs. When I was put in charge of inspections, I was qualified to do the job. My staff will tell you I could have fixed it.”
- He said, “Saddam was weak with his family members. He punished them, but let them go right back to doing what they were doing in the first place.” Moreover, ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid thought the only occasions he saw Saddam yield under “pressure” was in dealing with relatives. “He used to stand by their side regardless of any reason.”
It seems clear that Saddam was grooming Qusay as his heir by gradually giving him increasing responsibilities starting in the late 1990s. According to ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid, “He was paving the way for his son Qusay more than ‘Uday, because Qusay was lovely, having a noble character.” For many senior Iraqis, however, Qusay’s significance stemmed from his perceived influence on his father. These former senior officials dismiss Qusay’s intelligence and leadership ability. Saddam gave him security, and some military responsibilities, but never significant political, scientific or economic tasks in government. There was also a view that Qusay already had more responsibility than he could handle.
- Saddam gave Qusay control of the RG, SRG, and SSO. He was elected in 2001 to the Ba’th Party Command, a stepping-stone to eventual RCC membership, which would have been the most significant mark of his growing importance in the Regime hierarchy.
- Saddam also assigned Qusay to the Higher Committee as a watchdog in 2002 in response to Saddam’s dissatisfaction with committee concessions to the UN, according to Ramadan.
The Heir Apparent
Different sources portray Qusay Saddam Husayn, Saddam’s potential successor, as ambitious, distrustful and fawning.
- Qusay in 1998 began to marginalize certain senior Regime officials who had been appointed by Saddam and installed his own trusted aides in key positions, including within the SSO, according to a former senior official.
- Qusay was a member of the (military) Committee of Three, which controlled armed forces officer promotions and recommended to Saddam General Officer appointments and promotion. He showed himself profoundly suspicious of recommendations from within the army and often disregarded them, according to a former senior officer.
- Qusay was keen to provide Saddam with good military news, according to Walid Hamid Tawfiq. However, he lived in fear of incurring Saddam’s displeasure and optimistically exaggerated information that he gave to Saddam.
- The former MIC director, Huwaysh, recounted that on one occasion in late 2002 when he met with Saddam and Qusay, Qusay boasted to his father, “we are ten times more powerful than in 1991.” Immediately disagreeing, Huwaysh said, “Actually, we are 100 times weaker than in 1991, because the people are not ready to fight.” Saddam did not respond, but Qusay was angry that Huwaysh had contradicted him.
Saddam and His Sense of Legacy
Saddam was most concerned with his legacy, and he saw it in grand historic terms. His management of the present was always with a view to its appearance in the future, and this tended to distort foreign protagonists’ perceptions of his current motivations. He wanted to be remembered as a ruler who had been as significant to Iraq as Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar and Salah-al-Din [Saladin]. His problem lay in how to define and to achieve this greatness. Even what it was to consist of was hazy. His drive to preserve his place in Iraqi history outweighed even his feelings toward his family. Saddam wanted a dynasty as seemingly the best way to guarantee his legacy, but he was clear about the distinction between dynasty and legacy and of the two, he was most concerned about legacy. At the time of the fall of the Regime, he was leaning toward Qusay as successor, but with his second son still very much on probation.
- A US interviewer noted Saddam spoke of his place in Iraqi history and his family in the same context, but showed a far greater concern for the former.
- ‘Abd-al-Tawab ‘Abdallah Al Mullah Huwaysh thought Saddam saw himself in “larger than life” terms comparable to Nebuchadnezzar and Salah-al-Din [Saladin]. More modestly, Saddam when speaking to ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid compared his rule to Al Mansur, the Abbasid Caliph who founded Baghdad, and Al Hajjaj, the Umayyad founder of Arab rule in Iraq. ‘Ali also thought Saddam “dreamed of making Iraq the biggest power in the region and the Middle East.”
- According to Huwaysh, Saddam’s economic vision for Iraq—looking out ten years—was a recreation of Iraq’s industrial strength and a planned manufacturing economy that would not be dependent on oil exports. Saddam, however, had no plans for an information-based or service sector economy, nor was there a place for tourism. The likelihood was that even with peace and no sanctions, Iraq would have been as self-isolated and unconnected to a free world as it ever had been under his rule.
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