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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 15:46 GMT
Inside the mind of Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein prepares to pray
Dr Post: Saddam's childhood trauma holds the key
As the beat of the war drum gets ever louder and conflict with Iraq looks increasingly likely, all eyes are turning to Saddam Hussein, trying to figure out what he will do next.

By turns the despotic Iraqi leader has been depicted as a valiant knight defending his people against the infidel or a murderous mad man, ready to kill anyone who stands in his way.


This is his psychology - this grandiose facade and under it a psychological siege state ready to be attacked, ready to lash out

Dr Jerrold Post
One man who knows more about Saddam's psychological make-up than most is Dr Jerrold Post, a former psychiatrist for America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who has spent years trying to get inside his head.

Now US Government officials are calling on Dr Post to guide them in their decisions as they engage Iraq in a high-rolling game of cat and mouse, which could be the difference between war or peace.

Abandonment and abuse

As is often the case in psychological diagnosis, Dr Post thinks that the seeds of Saddam's present character and choice of actions lie in his traumatic childhood, as he explained to the BBC.

The Iraqi president was born into a peasant family in a village near Takrit, about 160 kilometres (100 miles) north-west of Baghdad, in April 1937.

Fresco of Saddam Hussein
Saddam's uncle fuelled his grandiose dreams

His father died during his infancy and his mother handed the boy over to her brother Khayrallah for care until she again married - this time to a man who reputedly abused Saddam.

This mix of abandonment and abuse took its toll and created in Saddam what Dr Post says is referred to in psychological terms as "his wounded self".

Damage done

But even as a boy, Saddam was not the kind to take things lying down, as Dr Post explained:

"In Saddam's case at the age of eight, he fled his parent's home, who refused to give him an education, and went back to uncle Khayrallah, who filled him with these dreams of glory."

This cultivation of grandiose fantasy turned him into a "a malignant narcissist," Dr Post says.

Iraqi presidential palace
Saddam has a love of ostentatious palaces

Dr Post says the young Saddam's need to fend for himself was visually depicted in later years through his underground bunker uncovered after the Gulf War.

"He was under this grand palace with inlaid woods, marble, wonderful carpets, gold accoutrements in the toilet," Dr Post explained.

"And under this was this massive bunker with reinforced concrete steel that would withstand all but a direct nuclear blast - communications equipment, weapons, an escape hatch for a helicopter."

Dr Post, who has had access to top secret intelligence on the Iraqi leader, explained this bizarre juxtaposition goes straight to the heart of Saddam's character:

"This is his psychology - this grandiose facade and under it a psychological siege state ready to be attacked, ready to lash out."

Dangerous when cornered

How this "wounded self" will react to a military attack is now the question on everyone's mind.


I think if pushed into a corner, there are several things that are absolutely predictable. He will attempt to use weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological weapons -against US ground forces and allies in the region

Dr Jerrold Post
Dr Post's view does not bode well:

"I think if pushed into a corner, there are several things that are absolutely predictable. He will attempt to use weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological weapons -against US ground forces and allies in the region."

"Secondly, he will attempt to use chemical, biological weapons against Israel," Dr Post added.

"Thirdly, he may possibly even set Iraqi oilfields afire, as he did with Kuwait - if I can't have them, nobody will".

But Dr Post says that this does not mean that war is an inevitability as there are so many variables to take into account.

"One of the variables indeed will be the US role, the degree to which his own (Saddam's) generals stick by him or flee from him, the behaviour of the other allies. So it's a very complex environment," Dr Post says.


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See also:

04 Jan 01 | Middle East
10 Sep 02 | Middle East
13 Nov 02 | Middle East
05 Nov 02 | Panorama
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