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Saddam has always had to buy his friends. "The only ones who love Saddam," says an Iraqi businessman, 32, whom we'll call Ahmed, "are his family. Everyone else, even his closest circle, must be paid to love him." Saddam rules with an exquisite combination of terror and reward. "He will make you a millionaire or kill you," says Francis Brooke, an American adviser to the Iraqi National Congress (I.N.C.), the London-based, U.S.-funded, main Iraqi-opposition group. "Both are effective levers." Sometimes the two are applied almost simultaneously, as when an individual tortured in prison is welcomed home with a new Mercedes.
In his book Saddam's Bombmaker, the defector Khidhir Hamza, who ran Saddam's atom-bomb program until he fled in 1994, writes frankly of the seductive power of Saddam's largesse. His way of maintaining power has always involved carrots and sticks. Club memberships, chauffeured cars, lavish houses, foreign travel and Johnnie Walker scotch are the means by which Saddam keeps the allegiance of those he needs to protect him and advance his interests. Torture, imprisonment and execution are the lot of those who fail or offend.
The tales of Saddam's brutish violence are legion. Abu Harith (not his real name) spent his life in Saddam's inner circle. He still looks the part: he has the characteristic paunch, the moustache, the Rolex, the confident walk of a senior officer. He spent a year in the foreign directorate of the Defense Ministry, then transferred into Jihaz al-Amin al-Khas, or Special Security Organization (SSO), the elite intelligence outfit responsible for Saddam's personal security, the construction and hiding of weapons of mass destruction and other sensitive tasks. In the 1990s, Abu Harith ran a front company in Jordan purchasing computers, chemical-analysis equipment and special paper for forging passports; then he moved on to Dubai to oversee a lucrative oil-smuggling enterprise.
Abu Harith can't feel his fingertips or his right leg anymore. His joints ache, and his fingers are puffy. These, he says, are the aftereffects of being poisoned by the guards of Saddam's son Uday in 1998. One day that October, he was out walking with a young female cousin when Uday, cruising in his car, spotted her and ordered his guards to snatch her for his evening's entertainment, as is his notorious practice. Abu Harith fended them off. That night Uday's thugs grabbed him at his house and sped him to Uday's farm, where he says he was tied to a palm tree for two days and repeatedly beaten. Uday branded him with a hot iron on his back and shoulder. Then one of the guards injected Abu Harith's arm with something that hurt; he still has a lump there. He was driven back to Baghdad and dumped near his home. When he fled to the Kurdish-controlled north, his suspicions were confirmed: he had been given thallium, a heavy metal used in rat poison that kills slowly through internal bleeding. Kurdish officials got him to Turkey, where he received medical attention.