But al-Ali was surprised by the tone of the discussions in Cuba. The Iranian representatives were especially agreeable, and Saddam seemed to be in an excellent mood. After the meeting al-Ali strolled with Saddam in a garden outside the meeting hall. They sat on a bench as Saddam lit a big cigar.
"Well, Salah, I see you are thinking of something," Saddam said. "What are you thinking about?"
"I am thinking about the meeting we just had, Mr. President. I am very happy. I'm very happy that these small problems will be solved. I'm so happy that they took advantage of this chance to meet with you and not one of your ministers, because with you being here we can avoid another problem with them. We are neighbors. We are poor people. We don't need another war. We need to rebuild our countries, not tear them down."
Saddam was silent for a moment, drawing thoughtfully on his cigar. "Salah, how long have you been a diplomat now?" he asked.
"About ten years."
"Do you realize, Salah, how much you have changed?"
"How, Mr. President?"
"How should we solve our problems with Iran? Iran took our lands. They are controlling the Shatt-al-Arab, our big river. How can meetings and discussions solve a problem like this? Do you know why they decided to meet with us here, Salah? They are weak is why they are talking with us. If they were strong there would be no need to talk. So this gives us an opportunity, an opportunity that only comes along once in a century. We have an opportunity here to recapture our territories and regain control of our river."
That was when al-Ali realized that Saddam had just been playing with the Iranians, and that Iraq was going to go to war. Saddam had no interest in diplomacy. To him, statecraft was just a game whose object was to outmaneuver one's enemies. Someone like al-Ali was there to maintain a pretense, to help size up the situation, to look for openings, and to lull foes into a false sense of security. Within a year the Iran-Iraq war began.
It ended horrifically, eight years later, with hundreds of thousands of Iranians and Iraqis dead. To a visitor in Baghdad the year after the war ended, it seemed that every other man on the street was missing a limb. The country had been devastated. The war had cost Iraq billions. Saddam claimed to have regained control of the Shatt-al-Arab. Despite the huge losses, he was giddy with victory. By 1987 his army, swelled by compulsory service and modern Western armaments, was the fourth largest in the world. He had an arsenal of Scud missiles, a sophisticated nuclear-weapons program under way, and deadly chemical and biological weapons in development. He immediately began planning more conquest.
Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, in August of 1990, was one of the great military miscalculations of modern history. It was a product of grandiosity. Emboldened by his "victory" over Iran, Saddam had begun to plan other improbable undertakings. He announced that he was going to build a world-class subway system for Baghdad, a multi-billion-dollar project, and then proclaimed that he would construct a state-of-the-art nationwide rail system along with it. Ground was never broken for either venture. Saddam didn't have the money. One thing he did have, however, was an army of more than a million idle soldiers—easily enough men to overrun the neighboring state of Kuwait, with its rich oil deposits. He gambled that the world would not care, and he was wrong. Three days after Saddam's takeover of the tiny kingdom President George Bush announced, "This will not stand," and immediately began assembling one of the largest military forces ever in the region.
Through the end of 1990 and into 1991 Ismail Hussain waited in the Kuwaiti desert for the American counterattack. He is a short, stocky man, a singer, musician, and songwriter. The whole time he was forced to wear a uniform, he knew that he did not belong in one. Although some of the men in his unit were good soldiers, none of them thought they belonged in Kuwait. They hoped that they would not have to fight. Everyone knew that the United States had more soldiers, more supplies, and better weapons. Surely Saddam would reach an agreement to save face, and his troops would be able to withdraw peacefully. They waited and waited for this to happen, and when word came that they were actually going to fight, Hussain decided that he was already dead. There was no hope: he foresaw death everywhere. If you went toward the American lines, they would shoot you. If you stayed in the open, they would blow you up. If you dug a hole and buried yourself, American bunker-buster bombs would stir your remains with the sand. If you ran, your own commanders would kill you—because they would be killed if their men fled. If a man was killed running away, his coffin would be marked with the word "jaban," or "coward." His memory would be disgraced, his family shunned. There would be no pension for them from the state, no secondary school for his children. "Jaban" was a mark that would stain the family for generations. There was no escaping it. Some things are worse than staying with your friends and waiting to die. Hussain's unit manned an anti-aircraft gun. He never even saw the American fighter jet that took off his leg.
It was apparent to everyone in the Iraqi military, from conscripts like Hussain to Saddam's top generals, that they could not stand up against such force. Saddam, however, didn't see it that way. Al-Bazzaz remembers being shocked by this. "We had the most horrible meeting on January 14, 1991, just two days before the allied offensive," he told me. "Saddam had just met with the UN Secretary General, who had come at the final hour to try to negotiate a peaceful resolution. They had been in a meeting for more than two and a half hours, so hopes were running high that some resolution had been reached. Instead Saddam stepped out to address us, and it was clear he was going to miss this last opportunity. He told us, 'Don't be afraid. I see the gates of Jerusalem open before me.' I thought, What is this shit? Baghdad was about to be hit with this terrible firestorm, and he's talking to us about visions of liberating Palestine?"
Wafic Samarai was in a particularly difficult position. How does one function as chief of intelligence for a tyrant who does not wish to hear the truth? On the one hand, if you tell him the truth and it contradicts his sense of infallibility, you are in trouble. On the other, if you tell him only what he wants to hear, time will inevitably expose your lies and you will be in trouble.
Samarai was a lifelong military officer. He had advised Saddam throughout the long war with Iran, and he had seen him develop a fairly sophisticated understanding of military terminology, weaponry, strategy, and tactics. But Saddam's vision was clouded by a strong propensity for wishful thinking—the downfall of many an amateur general. If Saddam wanted something to happen, he believed he could will it to happen. Samarai kept up a steady stream of intelligence reports as the United States and its allies assembled an army of nearly a million soldiers in Kuwait, with air power far beyond anything the Iraqis could muster, with artillery, missiles, tanks, and other armored vehicles decades more advanced than Iraq's arsenal. The Americans didn't hide these weapons. They wanted Saddam to understand exactly what he was up against.
Yet Saddam refused to be intimidated. He had a plan, which he outlined to Samarai and his other generals in a meeting in Basra weeks before the American offensive started. He proposed capturing U.S. soldiers and tying them up around Iraqi tanks, using them as human shields. "The Americans will never fire on their own soldiers," he said triumphantly, as if such squeamishness was a fatal flaw. It was understood that he would have no such compunction. In the fighting, he vowed, thousands of enemy prisoners would be taken for this purpose. Then his troops would roll unopposed into eastern Saudi Arabia, forcing the allies to back down. This was his plan, anyway.
Samarai knew that this was nothing more than a hallucination. How were the Iraqis supposed to capture thousands of American soldiers? No one could approach the American positions, especially in force, without being discovered and killed. Even if it could be done, the very idea of using soldiers as human shields was repulsive, against all laws and international agreements. Who knew how the Americans would respond to such an act? Might they bomb Baghdad with a nuclear weapon? Saddam's plan was preposterous. But none of the generals, including Samarai, said a word. They all nodded dutifully and took notes. To question the Great Uncle's grand strategy would have meant to admit doubt, timidity, and cowardice. It might also have meant demotion or death.
Still, as chief of intelligence, Samarai felt compelled to tell Saddam the truth. Late in the afternoon of January 14 the general reported for a meeting in Saddam's office in the Republican Palace. Dressed in a well-cut black suit, the President was behind his desk. Samarai swallowed hard and delivered his grim assessment. It would be very difficult to stand fast against the assault that was coming. No enemy soldiers had been captured, and it was unlikely that any would be. There was no defense against the number and variety of weapons arrayed against Iraq's troops. Saddam had refused all previous military advice to withdraw the bulk of his forces from Kuwait and move them back across the Iraqi border, where they might be more effective. Now they were so thinly strung out across the desert that there was little to stop the Americans from advancing straight to Baghdad itself. Samarai had detailed evidence to back up his views—photographs, news reports, numbers. The Iraqis could expect nothing more than swift defeat, and the threat that Iran would take advantage of their weakness by invading from the north.
Saddam listened patiently to this litany of pending disaster. "Are these your personal opinions or are they facts?" he asked. Samarai had presented many facts in his report, but he conceded that some of what he was offering was educated conjecture.
"I will now tell you my opinion," Saddam said calmly, confidently. "Iran will never interfere. Our forces will put up more of a fight than you think. They can dig bunkers and withstand America's aerial attacks. They will fight for a long time, and there will be many casualties on both sides. Only we are willing to accept casualties; the Americans are not. The American people are weak. They would not accept the losses of large numbers of their soldiers."
Samarai was flabbergasted. But he felt he had done his duty. Saddam would not be able to complain later that his chief intelligence officer had misled him. The two men sat in silence for a few moments. Samarai could feel the looming American threat like a great weight pressing on his shoulders. There was nothing to be done. To Samarai's surprise, Saddam did not seem angry with him for delivering this bad news. In fact, he acted appreciative that Samarai had given it to him straight. "I trust you, and that's your opinion," he said. "You are a trustworthy person, an honorable person."
Heavy aerial attacks began three days later. Five weeks after that, on February 24, the ground offensive began, and Saddam's troops promptly surrendered or fled. Thousands were pinned at a place called Mutla Ridge as they tried to cross back into Iraq; most were incinerated in their vehicles. Iran did not invade, but otherwise the war unfolded precisely as Samarai had predicted.
In the days after this rout Samarai was again summoned to meet with Saddam. The President was working out of a secret office. He had been moving from house to house in the Baghdad suburbs, commandeering homes at random in order to avoid sleeping where American smart bombs might hit. Still, Samarai found him looking not just unfazed but oddly buoyed by all the excitement.
"What is your evaluation, general?" Saddam asked.
"I think this is the biggest defeat in military history," Samarai said.
"How can you say that?"
"This is bigger than the defeat at Khorramshahr [one of the worst Iraqi losses in the war with Iran, with Iraqi casualties in the tens of thousands]."
Saddam didn't say anything at first. Samarai knew the President wasn't stupid. He surely had seen what everyone else had seen—his troops surrendering en masse, the slaughter at Mutla Ridge, the grinding devastation of the U.S. bombing campaign. But even if Saddam agreed with the general's assessment, he could not bring himself to say so. In the past, as at Khorramshahr, the generals could always be blamed for defeat. Military people would be accused of sabotage, betrayal, incompetence, or cowardice. There would be arrests and executions, after which Saddam could comfortably harbor the illusion that he had rooted out the cause of failure. But this time the reasons for defeat rested squarely with him, and this, of course, was something he could never admit. "That's your opinion," he said curtly, and left it at that.
Defeated militarily, Saddam has in the years since responded with even wilder schemes and dreams, articulated in his typically confused, jargon-laden, quasi-messianic rhetoric. "On this basis, and along the same central concepts and their genuine constants, together with the required revolutionary compatibility and continuous renewal in styles, means, concepts, potentials, and methods of treatment and behavior, the proud and loyal people of Iraq and their valiant armed forces will win victory in the final results of the immortal Mother of All Battles," he declared in a televised address to the Iraqi people in August of last year. "With them and through them, good Arabs will win victory. Their victory will be splendid, immortal, immaculate, with brilliance that no interference can overshadow. In our hearts and souls as in the hearts and souls of the high-minded, glorious Iraqi women and high-spirited Iraqi men, victory is absolute conviction, Allah willing. The picking of its final fruit, in accordance with its description which all the world will point to, is a matter of time whose manner and last and final hour will be determined by the Merciful Allah. And Allah is the greatest!"
To help Allah along, Saddam had already started secret programs to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
The flood has reached its climax and after the destruction, terror, murder, and sacrilege practiced by the aggressive, terrorist, and criminal Zionist entity, together with its tyrannical ally, the U.S., have come to a head against our brothers and our faithful struggling people in plundered Palestine. If evil achieves its objectives there, Allah forbid, its gluttony for more will increase and it will afflict our people and other parts of our wide homeland too.
—Saddam Hussein, in a televised address to the Iraqi people, December 15, 2001
In the early 1980s a mid-level Iraqi bureaucrat who worked in the Housing Ministry in Baghdad saw several of his colleagues accused by Saddam's regime of accepting bribes. The accusations, he believes, were probably true. "There was petty corruption in our department," he says. The accused were all sentenced to die.
"All of us in the office were ordered to attend the hanging," says the former bureaucrat, who now lives in London. "I decided I wasn't going to go, but when my friends found out my plans, they called me and urged me to reconsider, warning that my refusal could turn suspicion on me." So he went. He and the others from his office were led into a prison courtyard, where they watched as their colleagues and friends, with whom they had worked for years, with whose children their children played, with whom they had attended parties and picnics, were marched out with sacks tied over their heads. They watched and listened as the accused begged, wept, and protested their innocence from beneath the sacks. One by one they were hanged. The bureaucrat decided then and there to leave Iraq.
"I could not live in a country where such a thing takes place," he says. "It is wrong to accept bribes, and those who do it should be punished by being sent to jail. But to hang them? And to order their friends and colleagues to come watch? No one who has witnessed such cruelty would willingly stay and continue to work under such conditions."
Cruelty is the tyrant's art. He studies and embraces it. His rule is based on fear, but fear is not enough to stop everyone. Some men and women have great courage. They are willing to brave death to oppose him. But the tyrant has ways of countering even this. Among those who do not fear death, some fear torture, disgrace, or humiliation. And even those who do not fear these things for themselves may fear them for their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children. The tyrant uses all these tools. He commands not just acts of cruelty but cruel spectacle. So we have Saddam hanging the fourteen alleged Zionist plotters in 1969 in a public square, and leaving their dangling bodies on display. So we have Saddam videotaping the purge in the Baghdad conference hall, and sending the tape to members of his organization throughout the nation. So we have top party leaders forced to witness and even to participate in the executions of their colleagues. When Saddam cracks down on Shia clerics, he executes not just the mullahs but also their families. Pain and humiliation and death become public theater. Ultimately, guilt or innocence doesn't matter, because there is no law or value beyond the tyrant's will; if he wants someone arrested, tortured, tried, and executed, that is sufficient. The exercise not only serves as warning, punishment, or purge but also advertises to his subjects, his enemies, and his potential rivals that he is strong. Compassion, fairness, concern for due process or the law, are all signs of indecision. Indecision means weakness. Cruelty asserts strength.
Among the Zulu, tyrants are said to be "full of blood." According to one estimate, in the third and fourth years of Saddam's formal rule (1981 and 1982) more than 3,000 Iraqis were executed. Saddam's horrors over the more than thirty years of his informal and formal rule will someday warrant a museum and archives. But lost among the most outrageous atrocities are smaller acts that shed light on his personality. Tahir Yahya was the Prime Minister of Iraq when the Baath Party took power, in 1968. It is said that in 1964, when Saddam was in prison, Yahya had arranged for a personal meeting and tried to coerce him into turning against the Baathists and cooperating with the regime. Yahya had served Iraq as a military officer his whole adult life, and had at one time even been a prominent member of the Baath Party, one of Saddam's superiors. But he had earned Saddam's enduring scorn. After seizing power, Saddam had Yahya, a well-educated man whose sophistication he resented, confined to prison. On his orders Yahya was assigned to push a wheelbarrow from cell to cell, collecting the prisoners' slop buckets. He would call out "Rubbish! Rubbish!" The former Prime Minister's humiliation was a source of delight to Saddam until the day Yahya died, in prison. He still likes to tell the story, chuckling over the words "Rubbish! Rubbish!"
In another case Lieutenant General Omar al-Hazzaa was overheard speaking ill of the Great Uncle in 1990. He was not just sentenced to death. Saddam ordered that prior to his execution his tongue be cut out; for good measure, he also executed al-Hazzaa's son, Farouq. Al-Hazzaa's homes were bulldozed, and his wife and other children left on the street.
Saddam is realistic about the brutal reprisals that would be unleashed should he ever lose his grip on power. In their book Out of the Ashes (1999), Andrew and Patrick Cockburn tell of a family that complained to Saddam that one of their members had been unjustly executed. He was unapologetic, and told them, "Do not think you will get revenge. If you ever have the chance, by the time you get to us there will not be a sliver of flesh left on our bodies." In other words, if he ever becomes vulnerable, his enemies will quickly devour him.
Even if Saddam is right that greatness is his destiny, his legend will be colored by cruelty. It is something he sees as regrettable, perhaps, but necessary—a trait that defines his stature. A lesser man would lack the stomach for it. His son Uday once boasted to a childhood playmate that he and his brother, Qusay, had been taken to prisons by their father to witness torture and executions—to toughen them up for "the difficult tasks ahead," he said.
Yet no man is without contradictions. Even Saddam has been known to grieve over his excesses. Some who saw him cry at the lectern during the 1979 purge dismiss it as a performance, but Saddam has a history of bursting into tears. In the wave of executions following his formal assumption of power, according to Saïd Aburish's biography, he locked himself in his bedroom for two days and emerged with eyes red and swollen from weeping. Aburish reports that Saddam then paid a brazen though apparently sincere condolence call on the family of Adnan Hamdani, the executed official who had been closest to him during the previous decade. He expressed not remorse—the execution was necessary—but sadness. He told Hamdani's widow apologetically that "national considerations" must outweigh personal ones. So on occasion, at least, Saddam the person laments what Saddam the tyrant must do. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln drew a sharp distinction between what he personally would do—abolish slavery—and what his office required him to do: uphold the Constitution and the Union. Saddam ought to feel no such conflict; by definition, the interests of the state are his own. But he does.
The conflict between his personal priorities and his presidential ones has been particularly painful in his own family. Two of his sons-in-law, the brothers Saddam and Hussein Kamel, fled to Jordan and spilled state secrets—about biological, chemical, and nuclear-weapons programs—before inexplicably returning to Iraq and their deaths. Uday Hussein, Saddam's eldest son, is by all reports a sadistic criminal, if not completely mad. He is a tall, dark-skinned, well-built man of thirty-seven, who in his narcissism and willfulness is almost a caricature of his father. Uday has all his father's brutal instincts and, apparently, none of his discipline. He is a flamboyant drunk, and famous for designing his own wild apparel. Photographs show him wearing enormous bow ties and suits in colors to match his luxury cars, including a bright-red one with white stripes, and one that is half red, half white. Some of his suit jackets have a lapel on one side but not the other.
Ismail Hussain, the hapless Iraqi soldier who lost his leg in the Kuwaiti desert, attracted Uday's attention as a singer after the war. He became the First Son's favorite performer, and was invited to sing at the huge parties Uday threw every Monday and Thursday night. The parties were often held at a palace, which Saddam built, on an island in the Tigris near Baghdad. The opulence was eye-popping. All the door handles and fixtures in the palace were made of gold.
"At the parties," says Ismail, who now lives in Toronto, "I would be performing, and Uday would climb up on the stage with a machine gun and start shooting it at the ceiling. Everyone would drop down, terrified. I was used to being around weapons, bigger weapons than Uday's Kalashnikov, so I would just keep on singing. Sometimes at these parties there would be dozens of women and only five or six men. Uday insists that everyone get drunk with him. He would interrupt my performance, get up on stage with a big glass of cognac for himself and one for me. He would insist that I drink all of it with him. When he gets really drunk, out come the guns. His friends are all terrified of him, because he can have them imprisoned or killed. I saw him once get angry with one of his friends. He kicked the man in the ass so hard that his boot flew off. The man ran over and retrieved the boot and then tried to put it back on Uday's foot, with Uday cursing him all the while."
Uday's blessing paves the way for a singer like Ismail to perform regularly on Iraqi television. For this service Uday demands a kickback, and he can unmake a star as quickly as he can make one. The same is true in sports. Raed Ahmed was an Olympic weightlifter who carried the Iraqi flag during the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta games, in 1996. "Uday was head of the Olympic Committee, and all sports in Iraq," Ahmed told me early this year, in his home in a suburb of Detroit. "During training camp he would closely monitor all the athletes, keeping in touch with the trainers and pushing them to push the athletes harder. If he's unhappy with the results, he will throw the trainers and even the athletes into a prison he keeps inside the Olympic Committee building. If you make a promise of a certain result, and fail to achieve it in competition, then the punishment is a special prison where they torture people. Some of the athletes started to quit when Uday took over, including many who were the best in their sports. They just decided it was not worth it. Others, like me, loved their sports, and success can be a stepping-stone in Iraq to better things, like a nice car, a nice home, a career. I always managed to avoid being punished. I was careful never to promise anything that I couldn't deliver. I would always say that there was a strong possibility that I would be beaten. Then, when I won, Uday was so happy."
Ahmed sat like a giant in his small living room, his shoulders nearly as wide as the back of the couch. The world of Saddam and Uday now strikes him as a bizarre wonderland, an entire nation hostage to the whims of a tyrant and his crazy son. "When I defected, Uday was very angry," he said. "He visited my family and questioned them. 'Why would Ahmed do such a thing?' he asked. 'He was always rewarded by me.' But Uday is despised."
Saddam tolerated Uday's excesses—his drunken parties, his private jail in the Olympic Committee headquarters—until Uday murdered one of the Great Uncle's top aides at a party in 1988. Uday immediately tried to commit suicide with sleeping pills. According to the Cockburns, "As his stomach was being pumped out, Saddam arrived in the emergency room, pushed the doctors aside, and hit Uday in the face, shouting: 'Your blood will flow like my friend's!'" His father softened, and the murder was ruled an accident. Uday spent four months in custody and then four months with an uncle in Geneva before he was picked up by the Swiss police for carrying a concealed weapon and asked to leave the country. Back in Baghdad, in 1996, he became the target of an assassination attempt. He was hit by eight bullets, and is now paralyzed from the waist down. His behavior has presumably disqualified him from succeeding his father. Saddam has made a show in recent years of grooming Qusay, a quieter, more disciplined and dutiful heir.
But the shooting of Uday was a warning to Saddam. Reportedly, a small group of well-educated Iraqi dissidents—none of whom has ever been apprehended, despite thousands of arrests and interrogations—carried it out. The would-be assassins are rumored to be associated with the family of General Omar al-Hazzaa, the officer whose tongue was cut out before he and his son were executed. This may be true; but there is no shortage of aggrieved parties in Iraq.
As Saddam approaches his sixty-sixth birthday, his enemies are numerous, strong, and determined. He celebrated the 1992 electoral defeat of George Bush by firing a gun from a palace balcony. Ten years later a new President Bush is in the White House, with a new national mission to remove Saddam. So the walls that protect the tyrant grow higher and higher. His dreams of pan-Arabia and his historical role in it grow ever more fanciful. In his clearer moments Saddam must know that even if he manages to hang on to power for the remainder of his life, the chances of his fathering a dynasty are slim. As he retreats to his secret bed each night, sitting up to watch a favorite movie on TV or to read one of his history books, he must know it will end badly for him. Any man who reads as much as he does, and who studies the dictators of modern history, knows that in the end they are all toppled and disdained.
"His aim is to be leader of Iraq forever, for as long as he lives," Samarai says. "This is a difficult task, even without the United States targeting you. The Iraqis are a divided and ruthless people. It is one of the most difficult nations in the world to govern. To accomplish his own rule, Saddam has shed so much blood. If his aim is for his power to be transferred to his family after his death, I think this is far into the realm of wishful thinking. But I think he lost touch with reality in that sense long ago."
This, ultimately, is why Saddam will fail. His cruelty has created great waves of hatred and fear, and it has also isolated him. He is out of step. His speeches today play like a broken record. They no longer resonate even in the Arab world, where he is despised by secular liberals and Muslim conservatives alike. In Iraq itself he is universally hated. He blames the crippling of the state on UN sanctions and U.S. hostility, but Iraqis understand that he is the cause of it. "Whenever he would start in blaming the Americans for this and that, for everything, we would look at each other and roll our eyes," says Sabah Khalifa Khodada, the former Iraqi major who was stripped and decontaminated for a meeting with the Great Uncle. The forces that protect him know this too—they do not live full time behind the walls. Their loyalty is governed by fear and self-interest, and will tilt decisively if and when an alternative appears. The key to ending Saddam's tyranny is to present such an alternative. It will not be easy. Saddam will never give up. Overthrowing him will almost certainly mean killing him. He guards his hold on the state as he guards his own life. There is no panic in his fight.
But for all the surrounding threats, Saddam sees himself as an immortal figure. Nothing could be more illustrative of this than the plot of his first novel, Zabibah and the King. Set in a mythical Arabian past, it is a simple fable about a lonely king, trapped behind the high walls of his palace. He feels cut off from his subjects, so he sets out on occasion to mingle. On one such outing, to a rural village, the king is struck by the beauty of the young Zabibah. She is married to a brutish husband, but the king summons her to his palace, where her rustic ways are at first scorned by the sophisticated courtiers. In time Zabibah's sweet simplicity and virtue charm the court and win the king's heart—although their relationship remains chaste. Questioning his own stern methods, the king is reassured by Zabibah, who tells him, "The people need strict measures so that they can feel protected by this strictness." But dark forces invade the kingdom. Infidel outsiders pillage and destroy the village, aided by Zabibah's jealous and humiliated husband, who rapes her. (The outrage occurs on January 17, the day in 1991 when the United States and allied powers began aerial attacks on Iraq.) Zabibah is later killed; the king defeats his enemy and slays Zabibah's husband. He then experiments with giving his people more freedoms, but they fall to fighting among themselves. Their squabbles are interrupted by the good king's death and their realization of his greatness and importance. The martyred Zabibah's sage advice reminds them: the people need strict measures.
And so Saddam champions the simple virtues of a glorious Arab past, and dreams that his kingdom, though universally scorned and defiled, will rise again and triumph. Like the good king, he is vital in a way that will not be fully understood until he is gone. Only then will we all study the words and deeds of this magnificent, defiant soul. He awaits his moment of triumph in a distant, glorious future that mirrors a distant, glorious past.