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Power - Saddam Hussein's Priority

(December 2, 2002) Editor's note: This article was originally published in International Review in 1992. Ten years and little has changed, except for the increased tragedy endured by the Iraqi people.

Saddam Hussein derives his power not from the consent of the governed but from the apparatus that enables him to govern without the people's consent. Hence his purpose in postwar Iraq is not to improve life for the people but to tighten his control over them. Absolute power is his absolute priority.

Chronic malnutrition afflicts Iraqi children. Scarce stables such as rice and flour cost 22 to 44 times more now than before the war. A laborer's wages for an entire month will buy only enough subsistence-level food for two weeks. Inflation has reached 2,000 percent, and families are bartering their most prized possessions for the next day's groceries. But these are not matters that concern the Iraqi despot.

Instead, he is refurbishing and strengthening the apparatus through which he wields power. In this general overhaul, he has twisted the law to enshrine within it the the political monopoly of his own party, diverted state resources from meeting theneeds of the people to purchasing the loyalties of the military, and drawn even closer the circle of sycophants surrounding him in key government and military positions. He has spilled the blood of Shi'ites in the south, of Kurds in the north, and of army generals wherever he senses a hint of dissent.

Saddam Hussein. Iraq, Saddam's hostage.

The Iraqi National Assembly has passed, and Saddam Hussein as chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council has signed, a law that government propagandists said would end 23 years of one-party rule. To the contrary, this law excludes Kurdish and Shi'ite factions from the political process, for it bans parties based on "religion, racism, or ethnicity." The text, as reported by the official Iraqi News Agency, removes any political challenge to the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party. Moreover, the law states that only the Ba'ath can place its representatives in the "armed forces, the police, or any other security agency." So much for the political reforms that Saddam Hussein had promised.

As civilians search desperately for their next meal, the army newspaper Al-Qadissiyah has proclaimed a shower of benefits for military officers and volunteers: salary increases, cars, food and clothing subsidies, land, and interest-free loans to build their houses. "The new gift from our leader President Saddam Hussein to his sons in the brave army is not the first and will definitely not be the last," Al-Qadissiyah said as it praised the regime effort to boost the social and economic standing of the armed forces. Business and professional classes used to look down on soldiering.

Clearly, the Iraqi dictator sees the loyalty of the army as crucial to his survival. Along with the bribery, Saddam Hussein has indulged in another round of purges to obtain loyalty. Unhappy with the performance of 15 senior officers, he invited them to a Baghdad banquet and had them shot. Some 1,500 luckier officers suffered only dismissal or demotion. Saddam Hussein sacked the defense minister, the army chief of staff, and the head of military intelligence. As usual, he filled the vacancies with relatives from his Tikrit home region. He obviously feels more comfortable with his cronies in charge of men with guns.

Yet the army forms only the outer ring of his apparatus of power. The inner rings contain some 200,000 operatives of the four branches of his security services. Saddam Hussein's effort to consolidate his rule has heaped benefits on the secret police too, with doubled salaries, houses, cars, and permission to acquire imported goods that are denied to most Iraqis.

Saddam Hussein's half-brother runs the Public Security directorate, which spies on the people, detains suspects without recourse to law, specializes in torture, and carries out summary executions. The special security force of some 35,000 well-trained and lavishly equipped troops, recruited mainly from the Tikrit region and commanded by the dictator's son Qusay, guards Saddam Hussein, his family, his palaces, and the principal ministries. The directorate of military intelligence seeks out the intentions and capabilities of foreign powers and, perhaps more important to Saddam Hussein, snuffs out plots within the Iraqi armed forces. The Organization for Intelligence and Information watches foreigners in Iraq and conducts espionage abroad.

Saddam Hussein maintains his elaborate apparatus of power and oppression with great care. It appears impregnable. Even flawed as it is with paranoia and clogged with the congealed blood of the tyrant's victims, it has functioned successfully for him since 1979 and has sustained his rule through two disastrous wars. Only fools dare predict his early downfall. Still, the hunger that now gnaws at the Iraqi people changes the political equation for Saddam Hussein. Ignoring the consent of the governed is one thing; facing their rage is something else.
Khadim Anwar

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