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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 December, 2003, 14:50 GMT
Psychoanalysing Saddam
By Clare Murphy
BBC News Online

An Iraqi woman looks through a grave
Many died as a result of Saddam's paranoia
Saddam - meaning he who confronts - ultimately decided it was wise not to be too aggressive when US soldiers broke into his hideaway.

The apparently meek and mild surrender of a man who looked like a tired tramp has met some surprise from those who assumed that the once defiant Iraqi leader, bent on securing a place in history, would go out in a gunfight and a blaze of glory.

But Saddam Hussein has long been one of the world's most complex and unfathomable characters, a melee of seeming contradictions.

The man who gassed his own people and despised Britain was the same one who composed romantic fiction while enjoying an old British favourite - Quality Street chocolates.

Staying alive

It is precisely these contradictions which have made psychological profiling of the former president difficult, and are thwarting efforts to gauge the current mental status of the imprisoned former leader, who in the past six months has lost his position, his sons and has been humiliated on international television.

But within the contradictions, there does appear to be some continuity.

Saddam Hussein's decision to surrender rather than martyr himself is not surprising to those who have studied his character.

Saddam Hussein shortly after arrest
Many were shocked by the wizened appearance of the former leader
It does not necessarily render him a coward, nor does it exclude that possibility. As some commentators point out, the same logic would render Adolf Hitler - who committed suicide in a bunker - a hero.

His decision to remain alive is best explained, it would appear, by the former Iraqi leader's well-documented survival instinct.

It is this instinct which, combined with an overwhelming desire for power and a sharp sense of paranoia, contributed to the execution of thousands of people deemed opponents.

In Saddam Hussein, A Political Biography, Efraim Karsh and Inari Rautsi wrote of the leader's "ceaseless struggle for survival".

"The ultimate goal of staying alive, and in power," they wrote, "justifies all means".

Saddam Hussein is unlikely still to harbour hope of a return to power. But he will nonetheless be thinking of the best way to capitalise on his rather dire situation, according to Jerrold Post, an American psychiatrist who studied and profiled the former Iraqi leader for the CIA.

"He knows this is the end of the line. But I would not be surprised if he was thinking about the war crimes tribunal and already planning how he will defend his accomplishments," Professor Post told the BBC.

"We should think of how [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic who is now using the platform in the war crimes tribunal in The Hague to appeal to his loyal followers back in Serbia.

"I think we can well expect Saddam Hussein to do something just the same."

Impudence or ignorance

Professor Post also believes it unlikely that the former Iraqi leader "will buckle" during interrogation.

And President Bush has already made clear that he expects Saddam Hussein to produce some untruths during his current questioning.

"He is the kind of person that is untrustworthy, and I'd be very cautious about relying upon his word in any way, shape or form," Mr Bush said.

But the psychological discussion of Saddam Hussein's response to interrogation is a divisive issue, as opinion is split as to how much the former president does in fact know.

According to a report in the New York Times, Saddam Hussein has denied any direct involvement in the current insurgency plaguing Iraq during questioning.

He has also reportedly been questioned about Iraq's alleged weapons - the basis of the war against the country - but has similarly denied their existence.

"He's the king of denial and deception," said Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

However a number of analysts have cast doubt on the notion that the fugitive president, given the nature of his hideaway, has been in the position to orchestrate the attacks.

And some experts are also sceptical that he is in possession of the kind of information about weapons programmes that the US wants to hear.

Rolf Ekeus, head of the weapons inspections group which sought to disarm Iraq in the 1990s, believes that the country was in any case virtually free of weapons when the team left.

He believes the ambition to build weapons remained, but not for use against the West.

"Certainly he saw the strategic importance of these weapons, especially against enemies like his neighbours, especially Iran, so he must have had an idea about the direction of these things," Mr Ekeus told the BBC's Today programme.

"But he would have seen it as a beneath him to bother about production facilities or weapons components. That was for his underlings to run."

"As a great man he felt he had history in his sight, not small details."

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