The numerous security services have been the principal instrument that Saddam has used to create a pervasive climate of terror throughout the country, which is the linchpin of Iraqi totalitarianism. Unfortunately, it is difficult to convey a full sense of this terror in only a little space. In April 2002, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution condemning "the systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law by the Government of Iraq, resulting in an all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror; the repression faced by any kind of opposition, in particular the harassment and intimidation of and threats against Iraqi opponents living abroad and members of their families; summary and arbitrary executions, including political killings and the continued so-called clean-out of prisons, the use of rape as a political tool, as well as enforced or involuntary disappearances, routinely practiced arbitrary arrests and detention, and consistent and routine failure to respect due process and the rule of law; [and] widespread, systematic torture and the maintaining of decrees prescribing cruel and inhuman punishment as a penalty for offences. A more tactile sense is provided by John Sweeney, a veteran foreign correspondent for the BBC, who had this to say: "I have been to Baghdad a number of times. Being in Iraq is like creeping around inside someone else's migraine. The fear is so omnipresent you could al most eat it. No one talks."

Max Van der Stoel, the former United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Iraq, told the United Nations that the brutality of the Iraqi regime was "of an exceptionally grave character--so grave that it has few parallels in the years that have passed since the Second World War." Indeed it is to comparisons with the obscenity of the Holocaust and Stalin's mass murders that observers are inevitably drawn when confronted with the horrors of Saddam's Iraq. Saddamist Iraq is a state that employs arbitrary execution, imprisonment, and torture on a comprehensive and routine basis. A full catalogue of the regime's methods of torture is not available. Suffice to say that based on voluminous accounts of witnesses and victims, the list is very, very long. In some ways, to try to name all of its practices would detract from the regime's monstrosity. A few examples, however, are useful.

This is a regime that will gouge out the eyes of children to force confessions from their parents and grandparents. This is a regime that will crush all of the bones in the feet of a two-year old-girl to force her mother to divulge her father's whereabouts. This is a regime that will hold a nursing baby at arm's length from its mother and allow the child to starve to death to force the mother to confess. This is a regime that will burn a person's limbs off to force him to confess or comply. This is a regime that will slowly lower its victims into huge vats of acid, either to break their will or simply as a means of execution. This is a regime that applies electric shocks to the bodies of its victims, particularly their genitals, with great creativity. This is a regime that in 2000 decreed that the crime of criticizing the regime (which can be as harmless as suggesting that Saddam's clothing does not match) would be punished by cutting out the offender's tongue.

This is a regime that practices systematic rape against its female victims. This is a regime that will drag in a man's wife, daughter, or other female relative and repeatedly rape her in front of him. This is a regime that will force a white-hot metal rod into a person's anus or other orifices. This is a regime that employs thallium poisoning, widely considered one of the most excruciating ways to die. This is a regime that will behead a young mother in the street in front of her house and children because her husband was suspected of opposing the regime. This is a regime that used chemical warfare on its own Kurdish citizens--not just on the fifteen thousand killed and maimed at Halabja but on scores of other villages all across Kurdistan. This is a regime that tested chemical and biological warfare agents on Iranian prisoners of war, using the POWs in controlled experiments to determine the best ways to disperse the agents to inflict the greatest damage. This is the fate that awaits thousands of Iraqis each year. The roughest estimates are that over the last twenty years more than two hundred thousand people have disappeared into Saddam's prison system, never to be heard from again. Hundreds of thousands of others were taken away and, after unforgettable bouts of torture that left them psychologically and often physically mangled, eventually were released or escaped. To give a sense of scale, just the numbers of Iraqis never heard from again would be equivalent to about 2.5 million Americans suffering such a fate.

As terrifying as this is, so too is the ease with which an Iraqi can realize such a fate. It is not only the regime's political opponents who face these most terrifying measures. Torture is not a method of last resort in Iraq, it is often the method of first resort. When an Iraqi is brought in by one of the security services for a whole range of issues—many of them seemingly minor offenses such as accidentally defacing an image of the president—the regime's agents, particularly the AMN, often start by torturing the person before deciding what to do with him or her. Moreover, many people are brought in by the security services by mistake—their name was similar to that of someone the regime was looking for, they had an incidental conversation with someone the regime suspected, in a moment of anger or frustration they said something that was construed as anti-Saddam, they were at the wrong place at the wrong time—and it is only after lengthy torture and/or execution that the regime realizes its mistake. (It goes without saying that there is never an apology or restitution in such cases.) Two Iraqi soccer players who have defected since 1999 have reported that Uday Saddam routinely had Iraqi athletes beaten and tortured for losing international matches.

The regime is always watching. It has legions of regular informants who are rewarded for reporting suspicious activities. There are rewards for anyone who reports on someone else's anti-regime activities and penalties for those who don't report such activity. Children are encouraged to inform on their parents and publicly rewarded for doing so. The regime bugs and listens to a wide range of communications media and locales. Most Iraqis, especially Baghdadis, automatically assume that everything they say in public will be heard by the regime. Even in private, many Iraqis are wary of expressing any political views for fear that the regime is listening or that a member of their household will inform on them. Iraqis have learned to adapt and survive in this Orwellian nightmare, but they live their lives on a tightrope, knowing that the slightest misstep could plunge them into a vat of acid—figuratively or literally.

As an example of the lengths to which the regime is willing to go to ensure its control, beginning in 1992, Baghdad began a systematic effort to drain the al-Hawizeh, al-Hawr, al-Hammar, and al-Amarah marshes in southern Iraq. These marshes had become a sanctuary for the army deserters and Shi'ite rebels who had mounted an insurgency against the regime after their defeat during the 1991 Intifadah. Iraq built a massive system of canals to divert the waters of the Euphrates that feed these marshes. By late 1993, the regime had dried more than 4,500 square kilometers of wetlands, roughly 90 percent of the marshes. Iraqi soldiers were ordered to bum the villages and poison the water in what little remained. In so doing, they created an ecological catastrophe and destroyed the way of life of several hundred thousand Marsh Arabs who had made their homes among the rushes and reeds for more than a millennium. Like the slaughter and forced deportation of hundreds of thousands of Kurds during the 1970s and '80s, this is just another example of the cruelty of the regime. Given Saddam's willingness to obliterate entire peoples and societies without a second thought, what chance does the average Iraqi have of happiness in what Kanan Makiya has aptly called "the Republic of Fear"?


From Kenneth Pollack’s
The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq
pp. 122-125