The rise and fall of Saddam Hussein
— Saddam Hussein
SI expect to die a violent death, with nothing but the tip of my pinky finger remaining behind.
addam Hussein grew up barefoot in a mud hut in the town of Tikrit, north of Baghdad on the Tigris River. He never met his father. His mother, Subha Tulfah, was deeply disturbed — suicidal and homicidal. She repeatedly tried to kill the child in her womb. In one episode, she jumped in front of a bus, where, according to an apocryphal account, the deranged woman screamed: “I am giving birth to the devil.” Some witnesses recalled the pregnant woman banging a door against her distended belly.
Against all odds, the child survived his mother. When he was born, she gave him the name “Saddam” — meaning “the one who confronts.”
Abandoned by his mother, Saddam was raised by a politically active uncle, who became his role model, and taught him to be a genocidal racist. When the budding despot was an adolescent, his uncle wrote a pamphlet titled, “Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies.” Saddam later turned the title into a credo, etched on a plaque on his office desk.
Upon taking power, Saddam transformed Iraq into a monument to himself. The megalomaniac sought to rebuild the Biblical city of Babylon — a $200-million project in which every 10th brick was inscribed, “Babylon was rebuilt in the reign of Saddam Hussein.” This would be his apotheosis, but it was never completed, stopped by the man Saddam hated as much as Jews: George W. Bush. By dispatching U.S. troops to Iraq in 2003, Mr. Bush ended 2 1/2 decades of nonstop terror by Saddam, including the widest use of chemical weapons by any nation since World War I.
As part of the 1991 Gulf war cease-fire, Saddam agreed to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to dispose of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which he claimed he did not possess. As the inspectors soon learned, however, his arsenal was staggering, including bioweapons like anthrax and botulinum toxin. His country remains the only in history to weaponize aflatoxin, a substance that gradually causes liver cancer and has no battlefield utility whatsoever; it could be used to give cancer to certain ethnic groups.
U.N. inspectors also uncovered an enormous Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Spread among 25 facilities, the $10-billion program employed 15,000 technical people. Based on a Manhattan Project bomb design, Iraqi scientists pursued five different methods for separating uranium.
The world feared how Saddam’s clandestine support of WMD might be coupled with his open support of terrorism. The final terrorism report of the Clinton State Department devoted more words to Iraq than any other country. In April 2002, Saddam publicly offered $25,000 to families of Palestinian suicide bombers who blew themselves up while killing Jews. Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal, the two most wanted terrorist ringleaders of the last 20 years, both lived with safe haven in Baghdad.
Saddam operated his own terror camps. One of the most chilling was a facility south of Baghdad called Salman Pak, where terrorists (prior to September 11, 2001) had conducted training missions on a 707 fuselage, where they practiced the art of hijacking an aircraft without guns, using only knives and utensils. Just like the September 11 hijackers, these terrorists were mostly of Saudi origin.
By 1998, the watchful eye of the global community had frustrated and enraged Saddam, and he did his best to further obstruct U.N. inspectors. That December, inspections stopped. The world wrung its hands over how to get Saddam to comply.
Then came September 11, which, as George W. Bush said, “changed everything.” The Bush administration responded by first removing the Taliban government that harbored Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Estimating the next devastating attack could be ordered by Saddam, Mr. Bush decided the Iraqi dictator was an unacceptable danger in the post-September 11 world. He judged the only way to disarm Saddam was to dislodge him.
Sure, the Bush administration had other reasons for removing him — human rights, the objective of creating a “democratic peace” in the Middle East — but Saddam’s history with WMD and sponsorship of terrorism were the two primary factors in the 2003 invasion.
The wisdom of these goals continues to be hotly debated. Yet, one thing is now certain: Saddam Hussein’s ability to perpetrate violence against his nation, his neighbors and the world is finished — moribund. He was executed Dec. 30.
Saddam stands almost alone among modern tyrants in that he received due justice. He is dead as a result of American intervention, as are the two thugs we once feared as his heirs: his sons, Uday and Qusay. This is a magnificent achievement, unthinkable five years ago.
Contrary to popular perception, we did find some WMD in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, though we did not find the stockpiles we expected. Importantly, as former U.N. chief inspector David Kay reported, we did discover “intent and infrastructure” by Saddam to again “ramp up” WMD production once a tired, divided international community threw in the towel on the inspections process.
Thanks to a simpler process — a hanging — Saddam will never realize his nuclear ambitions. His prophecy of dying a violent death was realized, but, mercifully, not in the giant explosion we all long feared. The Bush administration’s daunting longterm task in Iraq outlives him, far from completed, and dangerously unstable. Yet, the danger posed by Saddam Hussein is finally over. That’s a big, big deal — one worth celebrating.
Paul Kengor is author of “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.