The Iran Brief®

Policy, Trade & Strategic Affairs

An investigative tool for business executives, government, and the media.

The Death Lobby: How the West ArmedIraq

by KennethR. Timmerman

Copyright © 1991 by Kenneth R. Timmerman. All rightsreserved.

Chapter 1: The Search is On (pp1-22)

Saddam Hussein was born on April 28, 1937 in the tiny village ofTikrit, along the Tigris river north of Baghdad. He grew up to thesound of cannon fire from British soldiers, who used the country as abridgehead for the occupation of Iran. Unlike Europe, the Middle Eastwas not transformed into a pile of smouldering rubble by the war. TheNazi conflagration left Arab dreams and Arab resentments intact.

By the time he was eight, Saddam Hussein had already marshalledthe boys from his village into a mock militia, marching up and downthe dusty streets of Tikrit with wooden guns. At ten, he found amentor in his maternal uncle, Khairallah al-Tulfah, arecently-cashiered army officer whose hatred of British colonial rulewas only matched by his admiration for Adolf Hitler and his Naziideals.

Saddam turned toward his uncle at least in part because ofproblems at home. His father had deserted the family when he wasyoung, and his mother's second husband, an illiterate shepherd namedIbrahim Hassan, took to beating the boy if he wasn't out tending thesheep. By the time he was twelve, Saddam took refuge in his uncleKhairallah's house. He learned to read by the light of an oil lamp,and fed his spirit on tales of his uncle's exploits with pro-Germanofficers in the Iraqi army. Khairallah al-Tulfah had a dream thatArabs would one day be free of foreign occupation and foreign rule.The Germans, Khairallah said, were the only ones who respected theArabs as equals. The British were just after their oil.

In the early fifties, Khairallah al-Tulfah decided to pick uproots. The tiny village of al-Auja, near Tikrit, had become tooprovincial for his tastes, so he packed up house and belongings andheaded for Baghdad, where many Tikritis were emigrating to becomemerchants. He took his young nephew, Saddam, along with him, where hesoon became known as "al-Tikriti," after the t own of his origin. Itwas a common thing for provincial Arabs to do, since it gave them abond of common heritage.

Saddam grew into manhood with Khairallah's son, Adnan. The twoboys were the same age, and resembled each other physically in manyways. But because he had started school late and his grades werepoor, Saddam could only look on in admiration as his cousin went onto join the National Military Academy, one of the oldest and mostprestigious in the Arab world.

Baghdad in the early 1950s was a hotbed of political revolt, andSaddam soon recovered from his disappointment. The Anglo-Frenchinvasion of Suez in 1956 had galvanized the Arab world. Moved by hisuncle's fierce anti-British sentiments, Saddam joined thenewly-formed Baath Party. Two years later he committed his firstpolitical murder, the assassination of a distant cousin who hadbecome a police informer. (The Iraqi leader has always been proud ofthis fact, which gets prominent mention in all the officialhagiographies). Saddam's early life was a paradigm of an old Arabicsaying: I and my brother against my cousin, I and my cousin againstmy neighbor, I and my neighbor against the world.

The Baath Party, or the Party of Arab Renaissance, called for thecreation of a single Arab political union, stretching from NorthAfrica to the Iranian border. Formed in 1947 as a response to theemerging state of Israel, it fired the imagination of many youngIraqis like Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti. For the young Baathists, theprimal scene that forever marked their way of looking at the worldwas what they called "the takeover of Palestine by internationalZionism." As one Baathist writer put it, the influx of Jews toPalestine during the Holocaust in Europe "was bound to generate agreat deal of bitterness, resentment, hostility. This sort of feelingnaturally led certain sectors of Arab public opinion to sympathizewith the Axis" powers allied to Hitler's Germany.

British colonialism bore an unspeakable responsibility for the"disaster" of Palestine, the Baathists felt, and in their speechesand ideological writings they consistently identified the two. "It isour unshakeable belief," the founder of the Baath Party, MichelAflak, wrote in 1956, "that if the battle takes place sooner orlater, it will not be to liberate Palestine alone but the whole ofthe Arab homeland." This struggle for freedom against foreigndomination was, as Saddam would put it later, "the mother of allbattles."

One curiosity of Baathist ideology helps shed some light on theorigins of Saddam Hussein's political culture in the Baghdad of themid-1950s. To the Baathists, the Arab world formed a single "nation,"united by language, culture, and religion. (That religion wasIslam,the Baath founders insisted, even though they themselves wereChristians). Opposed to this single Arab "nation," which had beensplit apart by a imperialist conspiracy, were the Arab "regions."These were the Arab states that had come into being during the 20thcentury, and whose borders the Baathists considered as artificialrelics of the colonial era. When the Baathists talked about the"Regional Command," what they meant was the Iraqi or the Syrian BaathParty. When they spoke of the "National Command," they were referringto a theoretical body where "regional" leaders (drawn from thevarious Arab states) would meet to determine the fate of their larger"nation." Like many prophets before them, the early Baathistsbelieved that their prayers would become flesh in the body of a greatman, a great leader who was destined to rule the Arab nation with aniron will. Under his thumb, fifty million Arabs would rise up andexpel the Jews and the colonial powers from the Middle East. Untilthen, the Arab world would remain fragmented, weak, submitted.

Hero worship was not the only similarity between Baathist and Naziideology. Both believed in racial identity. Both believed in foreigndevils. And both believed in the purity of war. As Aflak wrote on theeve of his party's creation, at a time when the ashes of the Nazidream had not yet gone cold, "Real struggle can never be destruction,negativeness, or inaction. It is creativeness, building, a fruitfuland positive action." War was great, the young Baathists surroundingSaddam believed: long live its purifying fire.

The great event occurred on July 14, 1958, when a group of FreeOfficers headed by Brigadier General Abdel Karim Qassem and ColonelAbdel Salaam Arif, took Baghdad by storm. With their jack boots andtanks, they stamped out the pro-British Hashemite monarchy. Crowdscheered when the death of King Faisal II was announced. They leeredwhen his pro-British Prime Minister, Nuri Said, was captured tryingto escape the city disguised as a veiled woman. He, too, wasinstantly put to death.

The young Baathists saw in the 1958 revolution an historicopportunity to achieve their goal of Arab unity. But their dreamssoon turned into bitter disappointment. Iraq's new leader, GeneralQassem, allied himself with the pro-Soviet Iraqi Communist Party, aforeign force which the Baathists considered just as dangerous asBritish colonialism. Communist and Baathist gangs began fighting inthe streets of Baghdad; in parts of the north, law and order brokedown entirely. Special "Red Terror" courts were set up by Qassem'scommunist allies to hunt down the Baathists and bring them to trial.The very existence of the small Party was at stake.

The young militant from Tikrit, Saddam Hussein, was at theforefront of the street battles with the communists. In October 1959,he got wind of an assassination plot being hatched against AbdelKarim Qassem, and begged to be given a part. The Baathists wereplanning to take over the government by force, and Saddam Husseinwanted a piece of the action.

The plan was to lay an ambush on Baghdad's principle thoroughfare,Rasheed Street, as Qassem drove through the narrow shopping district.With Qassem out of the way, the Baathists intended do a littleblood-letting of their own against their bitter rivals, theCommunists They would make Qassem's "Red Terror" courts look likemodels of democratic justice.

According to Saddam's semi-official biographer, Fouad Matar, thefuture Iraqi President was told to cover the four-man hit team asthey made their escape. But he was "too enthusiastic to controlhimself" and opened fire with the others on Qassem's motorcade. Thewould-be assassins fired wildly, excitedly, with their brand-newmachine guns, but failed to kill Qassem. In the ensuing melée,as Qassem's bodyguards fired back and the Baathists tried to escape,Saddam was wounded in the left foot (Some say he shot himself byaccident in the excitement). The legend has it that Saddam extractedthe bullet himself with a knife later on that night, after hobblingto a Baathist safe house in a popular quarter of the city. Later, the22-year old future hero escaped over the border to Syria, with helpfrom his family in Tikrit.

In exile first in Damascus, later in Cairo, the young man fromTikrit climbed the ranks of the clandestine apparatus of the BaathParty and made the friendships and alliances that would serve himwell in later years. His most powerful ally in the Baath was adistant cousin from Tikrit, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. Al-Bakr was one ofthe Free Officers who had taken part in the 1958 Revolution, but hadgrown disenchanted with the Qassem regime and threw his lot in withthe Baath. He was a welcome addition to the ranks, since he was anoutspoken admirer of the then-popular Egyptian leader, Gamel AbdelNasser. More importantly, however, he gave the Baathists access tothe Army. Without the Army they would never manage to seize power,let alone hold onto it.

While in Cairo, Saddam wrote to his uncle, Khairallah al-Tulfah,asking for his daughter's hand in marriage. It was difficult in mostArab households for young men and women to get acquainted, withoutgoing through a tedious, formal courtship. The sexes were separated,and the girls forbidden from showing their faces to outsiders. Saddamhad come to know Sajida without a veil as a teenager, when he hadlived in the Khairallah house as a member of the family. The two weremarried in Cairo in 1963. Saddam may also have been counting onSajida for political support, since her brother, Adnan Khairallah,was by now a commissioned officer in the Iraqi Army, a corps Saddamknew he could never join.

In February 1963, fate struck again, when Baathists joined forceswith Qassem's former partner, Army Colonel Abdel Salaam Arif, in asuccessful coup. Just to make sure the message of the Baathistvictory got through to the Iraqi people, they exhibited Qassem'sbullet-ridden body on national television.

The news of Qassem's death reached Saddam in his exile in Cairo,and he rushed back to take part in the new regime. A love forconspiracy and a talent for psychological manipulation opened up anew vocation for the 26-year old Saddam: as a torturer in the BaathParty's main prison for political opponents, the Qasr al-Nihayyah, orPalace of the End.

The 1963 Baathist regime was a two-headed Hydra. Arif becamePresident, while Saddam's cousin, Ahmed Hassan al Bakr, became PrimeMinister. "The real power, however, was held by the [Baath]party leader," Ali Salih as Saadi." Saadi and the Baath leadershipwere inexperienced, and had to rely on a brutal armed militia totrack down, terrorize, and assassinate their enemies. The activemembership of the Party was estimated at a mere 1,000.

Within months, the alliance between the Baathists and the militaryfell apart. Al-Bakr launched a bloody war of attrition against theKurds in the mountains of the north, garrisoning troops who fell preyto determined guerilla bands at night. The Kurds were led by MustaphaBarzani, and were openly receiving arms and aide from the USSR, whereBarzani was living in exile. The Iraqi military bridled at theBaathist policy, which turned them into targets without giving themthe means to fight. In November, General Arif ousted the Baathistsfrom his government, and once again Saddam Hussein was forced to fleethe country. He took refuge in Damascus, and worked his best suit:the blood tie to Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. In 1965, al-Bakr became theBaath Party General Secretary. As a reward for his loyalty, Saddamwas promoted to the Party's number two spot. His long march toabsolute power had begun.

From 1965 on, until the Baathists successfully grabbed power onJuly 30, 1968, Saddam Hussein became the Party's principle organizer.He was the apparatchik who forged the Baath into a powerfulsubversive tool, capable of staging a military coup and holding powerthereafter. His tactics were a mixture of Trotsky and Goering.Returning to Baghdad in secret, he purchased weapons, rented safehouses, and organized clandestine training bases for Baathistsfighters. He also set up a Special Security Section called the JihazHaneen, or "Instrument of Yearning," whose main task was to policethe party, weeding out potential dissenters and breeding a fiercepersonal loyalty based on fear. The Baathists, who had begun theircareers as pan-Arabists, now found themselves opposing a plannedunion between Iraq and Egypt because of differences with EgyptianPresident Nasser, and supporting a war against the Kurds thatthreatened to break apart Iraq. With the Party line in confusion,"the Baath increasingly was pervaded by cliques from the samevillage, town, or tribe." Primary among them were the Tikritis ofSaddam Hussein. It was the old Arab saying all over again: I and mybrother against my cousin, I and my cousin against my neighbor, I andmy neighbor against the world.

Working underground was a capital experience that would form thebasis of Saddam's political culture later on, leaving him with astrong taste for secrecy and a flair for intelligence work. AlthoughSaddam later transformed the Baath into a mass movement, andsuccessfully used Goering's principle of the Big Lie to manipulatepublic opinion at home and abroad, he never abandoned the secretivecell structure of the Baath. The Baath was his ace in the hole, justin case he was forced to go underground again.

After a plot to overthrow the Aref regime failed, Saddam wastracked down by police to a safe house in Baghdad and jailed. By allaccounts, however, the Deputy Secretary General of the Baath Partywas considered a privileged "guest" at the jail, and was helped byBaathist agents he had infiltrated among the prison guards. Friendsand family members were allowed to visit, bringing him newspapers,food, and coded letters from his cousin and patron, Ahmad Hassanal-Bakr. One day his wife arrived with a particularly sensitive note."Feel under the baby's diaper," she whispered, as she pinched theirfirst-born son so he would cry. The concerned father reached a handinside the baby's clothes and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. Itwas from al-Bakr. The Baath had learned that disaffected Armyofficers were planning another coup against Aref, the note read. Itwas an occasion the Party should not miss. Saddam was ordered tobreak jail. The note from his cousin contained a detailed plan.

The jail break was the handiwork of Saddoun Shaker, a childhoodfriend from Tikrit. Shaker still recalls the story well. Baathistagents inside the prison had informed him that Saddam was to betransferred to another jail on a given day, and Shaker plantedhimself in a get-away car along the route. As the "jailers" weredriving him through the streets of Baghdad, Saddam was instructed toask that they stop for lunch at a popular restaurant on Abu Nawasstreet. While the guards waited at the table, he excused himself tothe lavatory and walked out the back door. Shaker picked him up on adeserted side street, and they were gone. The Baathist intelligenceapparatus had scored its first success.

On the morning of July 17, 1968, Saddam Hussein burst onto thegrounds of the Presidential palace on top of a tank. Although he wasnot an army officer he had donned military garb, and his Armycompanions must have thought he was one of them. Other Baathists,posing as soldiers, seized control of the radio, the television, andthe gendarmerie. In fact, the 1968 coup was the work of two formersupporters of Arif, Colonel Abdel Razzaq an Nayef, and Ibrahim adDaud. The Baathists merely "piggy-backed" their efforts, offering thesupport of their clandestine apparatus, to position themselves for apower play later on.

Saddam Hussein and his older cousin, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr weredetermined not to make the same mistakes as they had five yearsbefore. They knew the Baath could never rule in a coalition with theArmy. So the first thing they had to do was to get rid ofan-Nayef.

Many details of the Baathist putsch against the officers have beenprovided by Saddoun Shaker, who told the story with some pride toSaddam's semi-official biographer many years later. After winning theapproval of al-Bakr, Saddam organized a showdown at the Presidentialpalace. When an-Nayef naively agreed to enter al-Bakr's office aloneafter lunch, Saddoun Shaker and his ten bodyguards sealed off thecorridors and neutralized an-Nayef's men. Inside, Saddam drew hisrevolver and began beating officer in the face until he broke down."I've got four children,"he wailed. "Why are you doing this tome?"

"You and your children will be fine if you leave Iraq and acceptan ambassadorship," Saddam said coldly.

After some discussion, an-Nayef accepted an honorary position asAmbassador to Morocco. But that was not enough for Saddam. Heinsisted on driving an-Nayef to the Baghdad airport to catch a plane."Just act normally," Saddam hissed as they passed through the armycheckpoints, many of which were manned by an-Nayef's men. "Don'tforget: the pistol is inside my coat."

As Saddam watched the plane prepare for takeoff, Shaker recalls,tears welled in his eyes. It was not from sympathy for the new exile."I suddenly realized that a single bullet could have killed theentire operation," Saddam said later "It was fate that decreed itwould happen like this."

But Saddam Hussein was never one to trust in fate alone. Not longafter an-Nayef's departure, he sent killers from the Istikhbarat, orMilitary Security, to track him down. They followed him on every stepof his exile, reminding him that he was a marked man who could neverreturn home. In the end, Saddam's killers gunned down an-Nayef as hewas leaving his London apartment. Saddam Hussein had learned onelesson well: never give you opponents a second chance.

The second Baathist regime began on a fragile footing. Thepolitical climate inside Iraq in 1968 was rife with intrigue,rivalries, and corruption. Less than two months after seizing powerin the July 30 putsch, a coalition of Aref supporters andpro-Nasserite officers attempted a coup. In October, the regimeannounced they had broken up a "Zionist" spy ring. On January 7,1969, they organized the public hanging of eleven Iraqi Jews . It wasa way of galvanizing public support against an "external" enemy, whenin fact Iraq was plagued with deep internal divisions.

Al Bakr and Saddam ruled Iraq through a unique power-sharingformula, a dual leadership they maintained for the next eleven years.Al Bakr, who commanded a certain respect from the public as an armyofficer and well-known supporter of the Arab nationalist call, playedthe good cop as Iraq's President. He signed decrees, receivedvisiting heads of state, and gave rabble-rousing speeches denouncingJews, Zionists, and foreign "plots." In reality, however, his powerwas limited. By the time the Baathist putsch elevated him to thePresidency, the Party had fallen under the control of his youngercousin, Saddam Hussein. Nominally only Iraq's Vice President when theduo began their rule in July 1968, it was Saddam who inherited themost difficult task of all: ensuring the survival of the regime.

Saddam's principle talent, and the one that would keep him inpower against tremendous odds, was an uncanny ability to scent outpotential rivals and physically eliminate them before they could evermount a serious challenge to his rule. Like a cancer specialist, hetried to localize the disease of dissent and cut large swathesthrough his body politic to keep it from spreading. From the verystart, he relied heavily on a wide range of secret policeorganizations to enforce his rule. Principle among them was the JihazHaneen. In the days following the 1968 putsch, it was expanded andgiven a new name: the Mukhabarat, or General Intelligence Department.The mission of this powerful state organization was to keep an eye onvirtually every aspect of Iraqi society, starting of course with theIraqi Communists. Saddam placed his trusted childhood friend, SaddounShaker, at the helm of this key institution. And just to make sureShaker didn't get any ideas, Saddam ordered his oldest half-brother,Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, to become Shaker's deputy. Youcould never be too sure.

Al Bakr had Saddam cut and purge. According to Samir al-Khalil'schilling account of the Baathist Republic of Fear, in 1969 alonepublic executions of the regime's opponents took place on January 5,February 20, April 14, April 30, May 15, August 21, August 25,September 8, and November 26. "The great and immortal squares of Iraqshall be filled up with the corpses of traitors and spies! Justwait!" one Baathist minister told the crowds after the firstexecution of Iraqi Jews on January 5. Al Bakr was no less practisedin the arts of demagoguery. "We shall strike mercilessly with a fistof steel at those exploiters and fifth columnists, the handmaidens ofimperialism and Zionism," he told Iraqi television viewers when heunveiled the "Zionist plot."

The Baathists faced threats from several corners. The mostdramatic, in these early years of their rule, was the guerilla war inIraq's northern province of Kurdistan which had raged for more thanten years. By early 1969, when the hangings began down in Baghdad, itthreatened to split the nation apart.

The Kurds were a distinct ethnic minority from the Arabs. Theyspoke a different language, had different habits and customs. Duringthe final years of Ottoman rule, the vast majority of Kurds lived inwhat has today become Turkey, and participated in the massacres oftheir Christian Armenian neighbors that culminated in the genocide of1915-16, when half of Turkey's three million-strong Armenianpopulation was decimated. At the end of the World War I, the Kurdswere denied statehood by the victorious Allied powers at Versailles.The lands they had occupied for generations were split among fourstates: Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.

Iraq's Kurdish minority, which accounted for slightly less than20% of the total population, had been waging a guerilla war againstsuccessive regimes in Baghdad for years. When Saddam Hussein firsttackled the problem in early 1969, the principle Kurdish guerillaforce was led by "General" Mustapha Barzani, who was receiving armsand political support from the USSR.

The Soviets used aid to Barzani as a means of putting pressure onSaddam, who had never been their favorite candidate to rule Iraq.When they wanted something from Saddam, such as an exclusive oilconcession, they stepped up aid to Barzani. When Saddam became morepliant, they slacked off. The Soviets never came out in the open andopposed the rule of Saddam Hussein. But for years they did their bestto keep him off balance. The idea was to remind the Iraqi leader thathe owed his power to Moscow. Iraq was not the only country where theSoviets were meddling in internal politics, but it was one where theyknew the players exceptionally well. Ever since the overthrow of themonarchy by General Qassem in 1958, the Soviets had been playingrival groups against one another in an effort to keep Iraq weak anddivided. Saddam had tasted Soviet iron during the street battlesbetween Baathists and Communists ten years earlier. Now he was aboutto taste it again.

Saddam's first instinct was to confront the Kurds on thebattlefield. In April 1969 he called out garrison troops and thesmall Iraqi Air Force, and declared war on the Kurds. On August 8,the army razed to the ground the Kurdish village of Dakan, near thenorthern city of Mosul. But the rugged terrain in Kurdistan was notpropitious for the tanks and heavy armor vehicles of the Iraqitroops. Kurdish guerillas, called peshmergas ('those who walk beforedeath,') used the high mountain passes and steep valleys to theiradvantage. When the Air Force tried to bomb them, they simply dug inor hid in caves. The valleys were so narrow that the Iraqi pilots haddifficulty in maneuvering. Sometimes they crashed their planes intothe mountain peaks, unable to pull up in time. To make matters worse,the Iraqi Communist Party (with Moscow's blessing) threw in its lotwith the Kurds. It was a potentially deadly alliance for Saddam.

After several months of heavy fighting, Saddam realized he washeaded for a humiliating defeat. Instead of fighting on, he sought acompromise. In January 1970, he made his first pilgrimage to Moscow,the patron of many radical Third World states and revolutionarymovements and Iraq's principle arms supplier, hoping to negotiate adeal with the Soviet President, Alexei Kosygin. But the Russian gavehim the cold shoulder. As Saddam would explain it in a conversationyears later with U.S. Congressman Steven Solarz, Moscow's decidedlack of sympathy to his difficulties provided a rude awakening. "Wewere, of course, young Baathists," he told Solarz. "We had conflictswith the Communist Party in Iraq, some of which were bloody. Yet wekept thinking the Soviet Union could behave differently."

On March 11, 1970, after returning from Moscow, Saddam announcedwith great fanfare a new "Autonomy Plan" for Kurdistan, whichpromised the Kurds many of the political and cultural rights they hadbeen demanding for years. So much for the bait. The hook was in theapplication. As his condition for relinquishing control over thethree oil-rich Kurdish provinces, Saddam insisted that the Autonomyagreement not go into effect for another four years. Warily andreluctantly, Kurdish leader Mustapha Barzani agreed. The four-yeargrace period would give Saddam a chance to solve the problem--hisway.

The Kurdish war forced Saddam into a formal allegiance with theSoviets, which took the form of a 15-year Treaty of Friendship andCooperation. In April 1972, Alexei Kosygin made a historic trip toBaghdad, to sign the Treaty documents with al-Bakr and SaddamHussein. As he strolled through the marble hallways of thePresidential palace in Baghdad, a handsome blonde (provided bySaddam) on his arm, the Russian strategist savoured his victory. Byusing Barzani and the Kurdish rebellion, he had succeeded in"breaking" Saddam. He had won extensive oil concessions for the USSRand stepped up arms sales. But for Alexei Kosygin, the geopoliticalgains were even sweeter. Without firing a shot he had gained a newally, who with a little coaching could be used to counter Americaninfluence in the Persian Gulf. The Treaty allowed for Soviet warshipsto pay port calls to Iraq's small naval base at Oum Qasr at the headof the Gulf, steaming right under the noses of the U.S. Navy in Iran.To Kosygin's mind, this brought the Russian empire one step closer toits centuries-old goal of reaching the warm southern seas. The Treatyguaranteed Soviet access to Iraqi airbases, and called for thetraining of thousands of Iraqi officers in Soviet military academies.It also referred to the "harmonization" of Soviet and Iraqi foreignpolicy, a polite way of saying that Saddam would have to take ordersfrom Moscow on issues such as Iraq's vote at the United Nations. Inreturn for Saddam's allegiance, the Soviets agreed to maintain him inpower. They also agreed to help him nationalize Western oil interestsin Iraq. That was a fatal mistake.

Saddam Hussein was well aware of the enormous political stringsthe Treaty entailed, but he had little choice. Without appeasingMoscow, which had already shown it was capable of plunging Iraq intocivil war, the Baathists were doomed. "We never expected that theSoviets would support us without guarantees that our friendship wouldserve their strategic interests," Saddam explained later. The newTreaty was an encroachment on Iraqi sovereignty and it was a bitterpill to swallow. But it was better than utter defeat. Besides, SaddamHussein had more than one iron in the fire. At the same time he wasforced into the alliance with Moscow, he was negotiating his freedomwith the French. His salvation lay in Iraq's virtually untappedunderground wealth. By winning control over Iraq's oil, he hoped tobuy freedom from outside domination.

French President Georges Pompidou was only to happy to welcomeSaddam Hussein to Paris in June 1972, to discuss plans to help theIraqi wriggle out of the Soviet embrace. Like Britain and the U.S.,the French had been angered by the nationalization of the IraqPetroleum Company (IPC), a three-year effort that had beenorchestrated by Kosygin's top troubleshooters, Valentin Chachin andIvan Arkhipov. But Pompidou was willing to forgive and forget--at aprice. In return for his acquiescence to the nationalization of theFrench share in the IPC, Pompidou demanded guaranteed oil deliveriesfrom Iraq at concessionary prices. "Already," the French daily LeMonde noted, there was talk of secret negotiations for an arms saleestimated at 6 billion FF." In exchange for the oil, Saddam wantedarms. It was the type of deal the French simply couldn't refuse.

For the Iraqi, this first arms-for-oil deal with a Western nationwas a test. The actual equipment he agreed to purchase--sixteenAlouette attack helicopters, and some 128 Panhard armored cars--wouldscarcely tip the military balance in his favor against his internalenemies, and even less so against Iran, which the NixonAdministration was arming at an alarming rate. Instead, it was apolitical experiment. He wanted to send the Soviets a clear messagethat Iraq did not intend to become a vassal state, and would seekarms and technology elsewhere as it saw fit. Beyond that, he wantedto discover whether the French were valid partners for his long-rangescheme.

Saddam Hussein's driving ambition was to build Iraq into thegreatest military power the Arab world had ever seen. Bred on thehumiliation the Arabs felt at the hands of the British, and on thedefeat his Arab brothers had suffered at the hands of the Israelis,Saddam Hussein was determined to vindicate Arab honor. He felt theonly way to do that was by the force of arms. Iraq would have tobecome Israel's equal on the battlefield.

"Our nation has a message," he liked to say. "That it why it cannever be an average nation. Throughout history, our nation has eithersoared to the heights or fallen into the abyss through the envy,conspiracy and enmity of others." Saddam Hussein was driven by noordinary vision. Again and again he would refer back toNebuchanezzor, the Biblical King of Babylon. His favorite episode inthe Nebuchanezzor saga was when his ancient forebearer brought theJews into captivity in Babylon. Saddam Hussein was hoping to repeatthat feat.

On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a combined attack onIsrael. It was Yom Kippour, the Day of Atonement, one of the mostholy days for Jews. The attack took the Israeli army by surprise. Italso came as a surprise to Saddam Hussein, who was picqued that hehad not been informed ahead of time of the intentions of his Arabbrothers. That Sadat, whom he scarcely knew, kept the attack secrethe could accept. But that Syrian President Hafez el Assad, a fellowmember of the Baath Party, should fail to consult with Baghdad was anunforgivable slight.

The Yom Kippour war drove another point home to Saddam Hussein. Inits dramatic come-back following the surprise Arab attack, Israelmade good use of the Mirage fighter planes it had purchased fromFrance. These aircraft, in Saddam's eyes, had vastly outperformed theSyrian and Egyptian MiGs provided by the USSR. Israel'sAmerican-built M60 tanks made mincemeat of the ageing Soviet T-54sthe Arabs could muster. The Soviet Union was supplying inferior andoutdated equipment to the Arab world, Saddam suspected. If the Arabswere ever to rise up against Israel, they would have to acquireWestern technology. And they would have to acquire Western arms.

By 1974, the Baathists felt confident of their grasp on the State.The Soviets had agreed to diminish support for the Kurds, whileSaddam secretly prepared his army for the coming battle. As head ofIraq's powerful security apparatus, which had just been reinforcedthanks to a secret intelligence agreement with KGB chief YuriAndropov, Saddam Hussein had purged the Baath Party of his rivals andhad virtually succeeded in neutralizing most other threats to theBaath. With his cousin, Ahmad al-Bakr, in failing health, Saddambecame the undisputed power in Iraq. He was the man to be reckonedwith, the boss who was calling the shots.

The quadrupling of OPEC oil prices following the Yom Kippur warconvinced Saddam that the time had come to jump-start his economy. Hesigned contracts with the USSR to expand Iraq's oil industry. Hesigned contracts with the French to build huge "turn-key" factories,industrial complexes equiped with everything from the machinery andproduction jigs to the pencils on the director's desk . He called onthe Brazilians to build railroads, on the Belgians to build aphosphates complex, on the Yugoslavs, the Bulgarians, the Germans,the Japanese. He built schools and a powerful radio network, capableof broadcasting Baathist propaganda throughout the Arab world. Heextended Iraq's electricity grid into the most remote areas of thecountryside. Foreign observers began pointing to Iraq as one of therare success stories of the Third World. Its vast new revenues werenot squandered on useless prestige projects, like the famous "whiteelephants" of Africa. They had actually improved the standard ofliving of the Iraqi people.

Saddam's favorite tactic was to get Soviet and Western companiesbidding on the same contracts, so Iraq would wind up with a betterdeal. The catchword for this Iraqi policy was "non-alignment." SaddamHussein wanted above all to preserve his freedom of action, which waswhy he had worked so hard to nationalize Iraqi oil. He was happy tobecome a client, but not a client state.

When he called in the foreigners, Saddam kept up his guard. Hissecurity services were careful to isolate foreign workers in Iraq,using many of the same tactics on them he had used with success toterrorize his own population. He was intent on maintaining hisideological virginity, on preventing any contact between"contaminating influences" and ordinary Iraqis. Foreigners werefollowed, interrogated, warned away from social contacts. Foreignnewspapers and magazines were confiscated. Foreign engineers wererequired to apply for "exit visas" to leave the country, and thesepermits were routinely withheld as a means of intimidation. (OneBelgian engineer was forced to remain in Iraq without his family fornearly three years, until the construction project he was supervisingwas completed). The money was good. But Iraq was a prison with goldenbars.

Saddam explained his vision of cooperation with the West to agroup of Arab journalists visiting Baghdad in 1974. The billions ofdollars in fresh revenues gave Saddam new confidence that Iraq couldbreak the bonds of dependence, the political strings. The West was agigantic industrial super-market, and Saddam was a cash and carrycustomer.

We have no fear of dealing with any State in the world, with theexception of the Zionist entity which we do not consider as a stateand with whom with have no intention of cooperating, ever. Thesevering of diplomatic relations with the United States of America[in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war] was a politicalattitude based on principle... But we have no reservations aboutdealing with companies anywhere in the world, on a basis thatguarantees the respect of our sovereignty and ensures both parties alegitimate profit.

Our country has large-scale projects, prodigious projects, and wehave great ambitions. The idea that we might isolate ourselves fromthe world to live according to our own devices is foreign to us andwe refuse it categorically.

We must therefore cooperate and deal with States and companies whoimplement for us, here in Iraq, projects that our experience andcapabilities cannot handle in their entirety or which are beyond ourtechnical capabilities.

Iraq today has contracts with American and West Europeancompanies. We are co-operating with numerous Western states, and withall the Socialist states, without exception. But our dealings withall of them are determined by our national interest. Sometimes wedeal with them on the basis of a strategic conception, as is the casewith the socialist countries; other times on the basis of temporarymutual interest, as is the case with some Western, even some Americancompanies. A contractor comes forward and carries out a certainproject for us within a specified period. We agree on the price, thetiming, and the technical specifications. He carries out hisobligations, and we settle ours by paying him. And then he leaves.There is therefore no contraction between our decision to severdiplomatic relations with America and to deal commercially with someAmerican companies on these bases. The presence of these Americancompanies will never open the door to a change in our politicalprogram, but neither will our political position toward the UnitedStates prevent us from dealing with American companies in the way Ihave just mentioned.

At the same time Saddam turned to the West for technology andturn-key industrial projects, he sent thousands of young Iraqisabroad to get an education. At home, he transformed the dustyUniversity of Baghdad into a respectable institution of higherlearning. Particular emphasis was placed on science and engineering.Over the next ten years, the number of Iraqi students in technicalfields would increase by 300 percent, to more than 120,090. AFoundation of Technical Institutes was established, as well as aspecialized University of Technology. Graduates paid back the statefor their education by going to work in Saddam's top secret militaryindustries. For without the specialists, you couldn't build arms.

The last real threat to Baathist rule was the festering revolt upin the northern provinces of Kurdistan. The Autonomy agreement SaddamHussein had negotiated with Mullah Mustapha Barzani in 1970 wasscheduled to go into effect. As the four year grace period drew to aclose, tensions mounted. Saddam had no intention of allowing theKurds to set up a truly autonomous government, and was seeking toexclude the oil-rich area around Kirkuk from the future Kurdishregion to deprive the Kurdish region of a major financial resource.He felt he was now strong enough to resolve the Kurdish problem onceand for all--by force. He was wrong. And the humiliation he sufferedduring the military campaign that ensued would condition his behaviorfor the next fifteen years.

On the morning of March 11, 1974, Saddam Hussein met for the lasttime with Idriss Barzani, the son of the Kurdish leader. "I know whenyou leave here, you will set off an uprising," Saddam told him. "Butyou will regret it, because your calculations are wrong." WhenBarzani left Baghdad that afternoon, the Kurdish politicians SaddamHussein had invited to join the central government went with him. Itwas a mass walkout, and Saddam was furious. Some accounts say heordered the Amn al Amm (State Internal Security) to assassinateBarzani and his father a few days later, once they were reunited upin Kurdistan. Toward the end of March, Saddam called out the army,and his orders were clear. They were to crush what had now become afull-blown Kurdish rebellion, even if it meant devastating the entireregion.

Events soon turned against the government troops. Saddam had madetwo major miscalculations. He had overlooked the depth of Sovietrancor for his repeated purges of the Iraqi Communists, and thedetermination of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissenger to punishhim for having signed the Friendship and Cooperation agreement withMoscow, which gave the USSR a foothold in the Gulf. The results weredevastating. The Soviets cut off arms supplies to Baghdad, despiteSaddam's temporary alliance with the ICP. Meanwhile, the CIA helpedthe Kurds by massive arms deliveries through Iran. It was one of thewierd tacit alliances of the Cold War. It nearly brought Saddamdown.

As the 1974 Kurdish war progressed, Saddam's army was pushed backon every front. It incurred large losses in men and equipment. Eventhe areas nominally in its control were unsafe at night. Foreignengineers were told to remain in Baghdad. If they had to travel toKurdistan, they were ordered to move only during the day, in convoysescorted by the Army. At night, the government troops returned tobarracks in fear. The Kurds controlled nearly one-third of thecountry.

By the end of the year, the Soviet arms embargo added to Saddam'stroubles, as the government forces gradually ran out of arms andammunition. Iraqi ground troops hunkered down in their barracks.Iraqi pilots flew fewer and fewer sorties. What irritated SaddamHussein the most was the fact that the Soviets simply refused todiscuss the issue. They rejected requests to meet with Saddam's Chiefof Staff, Lt. General Abdel Jabbar Shenshall, who had prepared a listof weapons Iraq desperately needed in order to wage the finaloffensive against the Kurds. It didn't help that Shenshall himselfwas a Kurd (in fact, he was doggedly faithful to Saddam). AlexeiKosygin supported the Autonomy Plan for Kurdistan. He did not supporta war against the Kurds.

The Soviet attitude was debilitating, morally and militarily. Eversince they had replaced Great Britain as Iraq's principal armssupplier in 1958, the Soviets had very carefully built up Iraqidependence. Lavish arms supplies over more than fifteen years werecoupled to a strict policy concerning maintenance and training. TheIraqi Air Force had been the first customer outside the Warsaw Pactto receive the MiG 21 fighter, but was never allowed to learn how toservice the plane by themselves. It was the same with the T-54 tanks,the workhorce of the Iraqi Army. Iraq could not wage a militarycampaign without active Soviet support; like a drug pusher, theSoviets had created a dependence. They knew that in a matter ofmonths, Saddam would run out of munitions and spare parts. And sowith a marked absence of polemic--there was not even areproach--Kosygin simply turned a deaf ear to Saddam's pressingrequests for more arms.

The Soviets never called it an embargo per se. But for Saddam, itwas humiliating. It was this bitter experience with the USSR thatconvinced Saddam Hussein to go shopping elsewhere.

With the approval of his ailing cousin, President al-Bakr, Saddamset up a three-man Strategic Planning Committee toward the end of1974, whose aim was to guarantee Iraq's long-term independence. Neveragain, Saddam vowed, would Iraq depend so heavily on a single armssupplier. If his nation was going to be truly independent, it wouldhave to diversify its sources of weaponry. More importantly, it wouldhave to build up a powerful domestic armaments industry in Iraq.Saddam's goal was to make sure that any future embargo attempted byforeign suppliers failed. Iraq was going to be the first Arab countrycapable of relying on itself.

"We know very well, my brothers," Saddam explained to his BaathParty colleagues, "that the sale of arms today, especiallysophisticated arms, does not obey commercial considerations. Theirdelivery depends on the purpose it serves the supplying country. Theequipment of our army depends essentially on the Soviet Union. Inrecent years, when we were fighting the rebel clique in the north,this country offered us sophisticated weapons. By revealing thishistorical truth, we are not trying to criticize anyone or to seekjustifications. We are simply trying to shed light on a historicaltruth, and to put responsibilities in a more general context."

The Soviets, Saddam was saying, had let Iraq down, and were solelyresponsible for the "dramatic lack of munitions" the Iraqi forces hadsuffered during the Kurdish campaign. Other suppliers could beexpected to do the same, if an embargo met their political agenda.Iraq had no other recourse but to rely on itself. It needed to buildup vast stockpiles of weapons and an extensive military industrialbase to make it impervious to future arms embargoes.

Saddam turned to two men to help him map out his strategy: AdnanKhairallah, his cousin and brother-in-law, and first Deputy PrimeMinister, Adnan Hamdani. Khairallah, now a General, was in charge ofthe purely military aspects of their venture. Hamdani, the DeputyPremier, was Saddam's bag man and chief negotiator. Together withSaddam, they worked out a long-range plan that included a massivebuild-up in conventional weapons, and the construction of Iraq'sstrategic weapons industries.

Hamdani had good commercial contacts, and turned almostimmediately to a Palestinian consulting group in Beirut, called ArabProjects and Developments (APD). APD was set up as a non-profitorganization aimed at "promoting the economic, social and culturalprogress of Arab countries." It was run by two fabulously successful businessmen, Kamel Abdel Rahman and Hasib Sabbagh, who believed thatfellow Palestinians should pay back their Arab supporters by puttingtheir brains to use for the Arab cause.

Rahman and Sabbagh were close to PLO leader Yasser Arafat. ThroughArafat, they were plugged into the Palestinian diaspora. Thousands ofwell-educated Palestinian engineers and technicians were spreadacross the world. Many had graduated from U.S. technical institutes,like M.I.T. What APD could offer Iraq was a vast pool of ofhighly-qualified engineers. Until they were forced to close in 1976by the heavy fighting of Lebanon's Civil War, APD served as SaddamHussein's talent scout. It tracked down Palestinian and other Arabresearchers, offering them work in Iraq on petrochemicals andinfrastructure projects. According to an account in London'sIndependent newspaper, APD hired as many as 4,000 Arab scientists andresearchers to work in Iraq. They were Egyptians, Moroccans,Palestinians, Algerians, Syrians and other Arabs. They left good jobsin the U.S., Britain, Canada, Brazil, and dozens of other countries.They offered Iraq a wealth of technical expertise. And while HasibSabbagh denies that he ever advised the Iraqi authorities "aboutprojects for the production of nuclear, chemical or bacteriologicalweapons, or participated in the procurement of teams of scientistsfor such activities," his consulting firm played a key role in SaddamHussein's game plan.

The real service ADP provided, Sabbagh revealed, was to have"designed Iraq's entire higher education system. We delivered them anentire system, a turn-key project." Sabbagh says the deal was handledthrough a team of outside consultants led by ADP staffer Dr. AntoineZahlan, a Lebanese engineer of Palestinian origin. "We saw that Iraqneeded an educated elite," Sabbagh commented. "We showed them how totrain that elite themselves."

"That was the crucial first phase of Saddam's long-range gameplan," said a Pentagon analyst who had studied the development ofIraq's defense industry closely. "Before you can build weapons, andbefore you can build factories, you need the skilled labor force tomake it work."

ADP helped Iraq lay the foundation for the future. The ADP plancalled for the overhaul of the entire education system, withparticular emphasis on technical schools and universities. Itprovided the blueprint for the only type of "development" thatinterested Saddam--the development of a powerful Arab army and warindustry. The first tangible result was the opening not longafterwards of the al-Bakr Military University.

Saddam Hussein was attracted early on to bacteriological weapons.They were cheap, relatively simple to manufacture, and potentiallydeadly. A single vial of anthrax vaccine dropped in an urban watersystem was enough, in certain conditions, to launch a full-scaleepidemic. It was a terrorist's weapon if there ever was one.

Iraq's first attempt to acquire bacteriological weapons seemedinnocent enough. The committee turned to a trusted Baathist, Izzatal-Douri, then serving on the ruling Revolutionary Command Council asMinister of Agriculture. On November 2, 1974, al-Douri signed aground-breaking contract with the Paris-based Institut Merieux, toset up Iraq's first bacteriological laboratory. The Iraqis explainedthey needed to be able to manufacture large quantities of vaccines inorder to develop agricultural and animal production. The officialIraqi purchasing agency was called the General Directorate ofVeterinary Services. No one in France batted an eye. But for theIraqis, the vaccine protocol was so important that visitingAgricultural Minister, Christian Bonnet, was invited to meet with theVice President of the Revolutionary Command Council, SaddamHussein.

Al-Douri's success won him a promotion, and made him a de factomember of the "team," the three-man Strategic Planning Committee. Bythe end of the year he was shifted over to the Ministry of Interior,all the while retaining his responsibilities for "agricultural"development.

When French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac faced the press inBaghdad on December 2, 1974, his three-day talks with Saddam Husseinhad just ended. The young French Premier was exhuberant. Saddam hadjust told him that Iraq intended to turn to France for billions ofdollars worth of civilian and military contracts. It was great newsto announce, at a time when quadrupling of oil prices that resultedfrom the 1973 Arab-Israel war had plunged the French economy and therest of Europe into deep recession.

Chirac had another reason to be pleased. His appointment as PrimeMinister a few months before had deeply upset his Gaullist party. TheGaullists had opposed Valery Giscard d'Estaign in the 1974presidential elections. But their candidate lost, because of Chirac'slast minute defection. By bringing in new Arab business, and beingseen as the prime mover behind Iraq's defection from the SovietUnion, Chirac hoped to appease party heavyweights back in Paris. Andperhaps, to fill up the party coffers.

Chirac met with Saddam and the other two members of the StrategicPlanning committee, Adnan Khairallah, and Adnan Hamdani. Civiliancontracts were certainly announced, and when Chirac met the press hespoke of a "veritable bonanza." But two subjects topped the list ofIraqi requests: Mirage fighters like those of the Israeli Air Force,and nuclear technology.

With oil revenues suddenly worth billions of dollars, SaddamHussein now had the means to realize his dream of building Iraq intoa modern military power. His search to achieve military superiorityover Israel was on. Prime Minister Jacques Chirac convinced him hecould turn to France for help. The French were more than willing tomeet his needs.

Saddam Hussein had always been attracted to General Charles DeGaulle, for the French leader's insistence on national sovereigntyand the agile dance he performed between the super powers. JacquesChirac had spoken that same language. Even better, he was Saddam'sown age and understood what it was like to work in the shadow ofanother politician. France could help Iraq break out of the Sovietembrace, Chirac said, without thrusting it into America's arms. Theprinciple means of doing this, of course, was by selling arms. Butbecause the French never liked to see themselves as salesmen of anysort, let alone purveyors of death, they put it all into a nicelittle theory. French arms export policy, one influential scholarwrote at the time, was particularly oriented "toward helping thosecountries desiring to throw off the yoke of a super power." Whatbetter way of proving this high-minded ideal than by offeringbillions in high-tech weaponry to Saddam's Iraq.