CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Showdown Iraq: Saddam 101
Aired October 30, 2002 - 12:11 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He has been in power for almost a quarter of a century, referred to by some as evil and a tyrant. But just who is Saddam Hussein, and why is he the way he is?
For that, we turn to CNN's Carol Lin. She's in Atlanta.
You've been looking into all sorts of issues involving Saddam Hussein. Carol, first of all, there are some rumors right now about his health. Is there any basis to those rumors?
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Not really. We've heard several reports that he had cancer. Those cannot be confirmed. He's got serious back problems; that we know. And it's one of the reasons why you don't often see him in public.
Only recently did we see him in public after his win, his 100 percent vote win to become once again the president of Iraq. And he's terribly nearsighted, but he refuses to wear his glasses in public.
But by all accounts that could be confirmed, he is extremely healthy right now, Wolf.
What we wanted to do, Wolf, was to take a closer look at who Saddam Hussein is, how he rose to power, how human events actually shaped the man. And what we found was a man whose greatest talent was his ruthlessness and willingness to kill to gain power, even from members of his own family.
Saddam Hussein, whose very name means, "he who confronts" was abandoned by his father at birth, beaten by his stepfather and forced to steal and bully to support the family. He learned the power of violence at a very early age, Wolf.
He was born in 1937 in a mud hut just outside of Tikrit, a desert town north of Baghdad, a loaner who became president of Iraq and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, the post powerful executive authority in the country.
He married his cousin, Sajida Talfah, and he had five children.
Now, Saddam's brutal consolidation of power followed the tribal clan patterns of Tikrit's village politics, where the strongest took from the weak even at the expense of other families, and sometimes even his own. Saddam would eventually kill his brother-in-law and two sons-in-law.
Now, at age 10 Saddam left home to live with his rich uncle, Khayrallah Talfah. He was the future governor of Baghdad, who gave Saddam his first taste of politics, and the notion of a united Arab world and the socialism of the Baath Party.
He tasted blood at age 20, taking part in Baath Party demonstrations and killing a communist activist who happened to be his brother-in-law.
In 1963 the Baath Party stages a bloody coup, killing thousands of people, torturing prisoners. And then, according to Kenneth Pollack in his book, "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq," Saddam returned to Baghdad to run the torture center, and became the right-hand man of the country's new leader, Ahmed Hassan al Bakr.
What Saddam lacked in intellect, he made up for, though, in tribal connections. Bakr and the top leadership were all from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.
But Saddam's loyalty to Bakr was only temporary, because over the next 15 years, Saddam consolidated his authority. He suppressed a Kurdish rebellion by cutting off their international support and destroying their villages.
By 1978, his mentor, al Bakr, allegedly resigned in poor health, and Saddam Hussein proclaimed himself the new leader of Iraq.
Now, only two days later, he assembled his ministers, and forced the secretary-general of the Revolutionary Command Council to confess he was part of a Syrian plot to overthrow the government. He then named several other ministers, who were dragged out of the meeting, where surviving ministers were forced to act as a firing squad. Saddam had film of the meeting sent around Iraq, so that there would be no doubt about his power and what he was willing to do to keep it.
Since then, it's pretty much common knowledge what Saddam has been doing. The only question, Wolf, that remains is, of course, what is he willing to do next? But you take a look at his family history and the kind of upraising that he had, he had a very violent past. He is ruthless to the core.
BLITZER: Carol Lin, thanks for that excellent report -- a lot of information there to absorb on Saddam Hussein. Carol Lin reporting for us today from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
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