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Saddam's Stalinism: Will It Include a Siege of Baghdadgrad
Or Will He Suffer Stalin's Rumored Assassination

March 15, 2003

The young Saddam Hussein used to wander around the offices of the Ba'ath Party telling people "Wait until I take over this country. I will make a Stalinist state out of it yet." This, according to Said Aburish in his biography "Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge."

Saddam Hussein proves that perseverance pays. He emulated Stalin. And has replicated the tyranny of the Soviet dictator. Which raises an disturbing possibility. Will the Stalin of the Middle East use the same military tactics that Stalin used in World War. Namely. pull back, draw in the enemy, let the weather take its toll, then engage in siege warfare, wearing down the enemy-successfully outlasting a siege of Baghdad.

Or could the parallel have a happier ending. Will he be done in by someone around him as is rumored happened to Stalin.

Said Aburish relates a story about Saddam. A Kurdish leader visited Hussein in his palace soon after the Iraqi seized power in 1979. The new president had just awakened and wore a bathrobe when he welcomed the visitor, Mahmoud Othman. There was a military cot in the office, indicating that Hussein had slept there after putting in a 17-hour day. "And the rest of the office was nothing but a small library full of books about one man, Stalin," Othman said. "One could say he went to bed with the Russian dictator."

Their psychological profiles and political careers are similar. Like Stalin, Hussein has used violence to maintain his grip on power. He has executed underlings who dared to disagree with him, sometimes shooting the offender on the spot, according to U.S. officials and defectors.

Stalin, like Saddam, came from a humble background. Stalin was brought up by his mother. He used thugs. He used the security service. He hated his army. Both Stalin and Saddam rose to head of the secret police. Both used state terror. Saddam constructed an elaborate and massive police state apparatus with as many as 100,000 agents and paramilitary.

John Hickman (in the Baltimore Chronicle) noted that Saddam borrowed another page from Stalin's notebook by developing a pervasive personality cult around himself. Saddam has made himself the focus of loyalty. Images of Saddam in costumed heroic poses blanket the country. The content of Iraqi mass media is filled with grotesque praise for a leader whose birthday is designated a national holiday. School children memorize poems and songs praising Saddam.

Both considered war casualties necessary to further grand designs. Stalin's strategy against Nazi Germany's Barbaroosa campaign cost over a million Soviet military dead. Saddam's war against Iran-Iraq produced 375,000 Iraqi casualties. The Gulf War resulted in approximately 150,000 Iraqi military dead. Which brings us to the present crisis.

Stalin believed the Germans were overconfident. They possessed superior equipment and training. Stalin announced a "scorched earth" policy to deny the Germans "a single engine, or a single railway truck, and not a pound of bread nor a pint of oil." Sounds familiar. The 900 day siege of Leningrad stalled the advance on Moscow. When the Germans finally approached the outskirts of the capital, Stalin sent fresh reserves of infantry, armor, and cavalry upon the German front lines. German troops, still wearing summer uniforms and ill-prepared for the Russian winter, fought back as best they could, but were overwhelmed.

Saddam, as a student of Stalin, must envision a similar scenario. Instead of freezing winter storms, he would rely on blistering heat and blinding dust storms. He has pulled back his most elite forces to defend the capital. He believes a length siege would work in his favor. He would also rely on both world opinion especially in Europe and rage from other Middle East leaders to wear down the U.S.'s resolve.

But Saddam must also harbor another deep fear -- that he will suffer the same fate that may have befallen on his mentor.

In "Stalin's Last Crime," which will be published later this month by HarperCollins. The authors, the Russian historian Vladimir Naumov and a Yale University Soviet scholar, Jonathan Brent, discovered a previously secret account by doctors of Stalin's final days. They suggest that Stalin may have been poisoned with warfarin, a tasteless and colorless blood thinner also used as a rat killer, during a final dinner with four members of his Politburo on March 1, 1953.

Saddam Hussein clearly fears assassination from within. He moves every night with a security force of about 3,600 guards, including antitank and antiaircraft personnel and a field hospital, according to Iraqi defectors. He even has three identical trucks equipped with bedrooms, former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter said. He spends ever more time in the many bunkers beneath his ornate palaces. He rarely sleeps more than one night in the same place. He receives visitors only after they have been thoroughly searched and had their hands disinfected in up to three liquids. He uses food tasters, and special teams test everything the president might touch: bed linens, toiletries, clothes, and ink.

Dictators rule by fear and are consumed by fear and paranoia. Their hold on the people including those closest to them is only as strong as the paranoia they are able to generate. The U.S. military is prepared for a siege on Baghdad. I believe they are also counting on an attack on Saddam from within. But the best case American scenario would be an enlightened but practical Saddam Hussein who will avoid the fate of his mentor: flee the country with his wife, children and billions of petro dollars, and, of course, his many books on Joe Stalin.


Write to Arthur at bruzzone@rightturns.com


Award-winning TV producer, talk show host, and Republican leader Arthur Bruzzone has written over 150 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political issues for American and European television and radio networks.  His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications. He is the former Chair of the San Francisco Republican Party.

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