How Saddam Has Become Bomb-Proof
They adoringly call him "big uncle."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Separated in their early teens from parents, recruits of Saddam Hussein's personal guard are taken to his palace complexes and transformed by years of brutal training into zealots prepared to die for the Iraqi dictator, experts say.
The Himaya unit, drawn mostly from Saddam's al-Bu Nasser tribe and other clans from around his hometown of Tikrit, is at the core of a security machine that permeates Iraqi society. Using informers, murder, and other means, it has sustained a climate of terror that has helped its leader survive coup plots, uprisings, the 1991 Gulf War, and crushing economic sanctions.
As America girds for a possible clash with Iraq, Republican leaders and others are calling for air strikes to smash Saddam's "infrastructure of repression," thereby triggering his ouster. But many experts scoff at the idea, saying his more than 90,000-strong security machine is so deeply entrenched that only an invasion could eliminate it and the despot it protects.
"It is difficult to see how a bombing campaign would cause that kind of damage," says a Pentagon analyst. "This is a society that is so pervaded by spies and spies spying on spies and a security apparatus that reaches right into families. This is a closed society like Stalin's Russia."
The Clinton administration seems to have reach the same conclusion, saying that while air attacks will be devastating, they will be aimed only at compelling Iraq to comply with with United Nations weapons inspections.
Experts say the Iraqi security machine is not monolithic, but a scrum of agencies vying for the perks of patronage, slices of the shrinking economy, and shares in sanctions-busting smuggling rackets. Adding to those tensions are rivalries between members of the al-Bu Nasser and allied tribes for whom Saddam reserves most top posts.
Saddam exploits the rivalries to keep his subordinates weak. Yet the frictions are also believed to have triggered several failed coups and strife within Saddam's family, and they may be slowly eating into his power, experts say.
"You can see cracks," asserts Amatzia Baram of the US Institute of Peace, in Washington, and author of a forthcoming book on Saddam. "But does it mean things will happen quickly? It does not."
The most recent example of the fissures is a December 1996 attack in Baghdad by unknown gunmen on Saddam's eldest son, Uday, that left him disabled. Iraqi dissidents say hundreds of security officers, state officials, tribal leaders, and members of Saddam's extended family were arrested, and an unknown number executed.
Other evidence is the August 1995 defection to Jordan of Saddam's sons-in-law, Saddam Kamal and Hussein Kamal, both top-ranking security chiefs. The latter oversaw Iraq's illegal weapons programs. Both were killed after returning to Baghdad in February 1996. Some 40 relatives are also said to have been murdered allegedly at Uday's direction.
Four pillars of protection