30 December 2006

Saddam Hussein 1937-2006

And ninthly, the room service is awfulThe sudden death of Saddam Hussein in the early hours of this morning in a secure facility in Northern Baghdad will have come as a surprise only to those who presumed that the "highly trained" Iraqi officers who were given custody of him yesterday were bound to be either (a) so incompetent or (b) so corrupt that they expected the former dictator to have escaped and secured his own Al Jazeera chatshow by tonight.

Born in 1937, Saddam enjoyed the kind of brutal upbringing that fitted him only for the role of dictator or multi-million-selling author of childhood memoirs suitable as reading matter only for voyeuristic weirdos. Sadly for the world, but not for literature, Saddam was to choose the former path.

Always a happy-go-lucky evil bastard, the young Saddam spent much of his youth hanging around with his best friend. It is a mark of the society in which he was living at the time that the fact that his best friend was an iron bar with which he used to beat people and torture small animals was not seen as particularly odd. It is even more a mark of that society that Saddam was to prove his manhood to his elders by killing four people - a requirement usually unheard of outside James Bond novels and the upper echelons of city solicitors firms.

Ambitious to escape his home town of Tikrit and ever-eager to find new opportunities to do unto others before they could even think of doing unto him, Saddam was to join the Ba'ath party in the mid-1950s. By 1959 he was already playing a prominent role in national politics, being the man responsible for bungling an attempt to kill Iraq's recently self-installed revolutionary leader, general Abdul Qarim Qassim, when - like many a young man before and after him - his powerful weapon went off in his hand prematurely.

Saddam and Al-Bakr's double act always went down a storm in VegasHaving fled to Cairo after the failed assassination attempt, Saddam was to return to Iraq in 1963 following the fall of the Qassim regime. Taking control of his Party's civilian apparatus in a way unseen since Stalin and not seen again until the rise of Peter Mandelson, Saddam found himself the power behind the throne of President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr following the Ba'athists "glorious July 1968 revolution".

In the following years Saddam was to preside over many Ba'athist reigns of terror and was responsible for the sudden disappearance of vast numbers, along with beatings, torture, murder and other practices which the whole world, except Dick Cheney, condemns.

By 1979, after overseeing a series of bloody purges both within and without the party, Saddam was ready to assume power. Ousting his former friend President Bakr with a cold-blooded ruthlessness unseen outside the vicinity of the struggle for the last Roland Mouret dress in the Harvey Nichols sale, the new President Saddam was quick to celebrate his ascent to power by holding a massive show trial, in which he persuaded half his party to condemn the other half (a feat which he achieved through terror, rather than the method favoured at British wedding celebrations where a simple mumbled reference to "what your Sheila said about Dawn's wedding dress" will usually achieve the same result).

With Western governments and Middle-Eastern hereditary rulers always eager to find an evil dictator to favour for their own geo-political ends, Saddam soon found himself courted by all, sundry and Donald Rumsfeld. He increased his popularity with these regimes even further when in 1980 he launched his eight-year war against the Iranian theocracy, thus securing himself supplies of cash from the Gulf states and arms and technology from the West, not to mention a virtual guarantee that every Western state would be tying its shoelaces or looking the other way when he decided to "solve the Kurdish problem" by gassing thousands at Halabja and in "operation Anfal".

As convinced of his genius as any deluded X-Factor wannabe or, indeed, British Prime Minister, Saddam was to follow up his humiliating score draw with Ayatollah Khomeini in the Iran-Iraq war with the even more unsuccessful assault on Kuwait in 1990, resulting in a crushing defeat mere months later. Despite this, thanks to his own ruthlessness and the failure of the West to support those they had told to rise up against him, Saddam was able to remain in power for another 12 years, keeping enemies at bay with fantasies of stores of weapons of mass destruction and friends onside with the fear of Iran.

Saddam spent some time in a doorway on Oxford StreetSadly for Saddam his invented arsenal, along with the fantasies of the neocons, a President apparently lacking the necessary brainpower to watch TV and eat pretzels at the same time and a media willing to associate his regime with the World Trade Centre attack of 11 September 2001 despite there being less evidence to link the two than there is to link Bono with humility, was to prove the ruthless leader's, and Iraq's, undoing. Within weeks of America's invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam was to find himself, like many of his "liberated" fellow countrymen, living in a hole with no access to regular water or electricity and in constant fear of being shot or blown up. With his discovery by US forces in December 2003 and subsequent trial, his end became inevitable.

Saddam Hussein is survived by chaos in Iraq, a nuclear-capable North Korea, an ever-more-powerful hardline regime in Iran led by a man who believes himself to be the Mahdi and the Bush presidency.