the great leader
Scent of a Madman
By MAUREEN DOWD
The Bush case against Saddam Hussein can be summed up in four melodramatic words: Evil. Weapons. Mass. Destruction.
But what do we really know about the man America wants to terminate with extreme prejudice?
An intriguing and bizarre documentary, "Uncle Saddam," by the French journalist Joel Soler, airing on Cinemax this fall, paints Saddam as the genocidal Jerry Seinfeld. He gasses the Kurds without flinching and murders his relatives without twitching. But when it comes to personal hygiene, the guy is extremely fastidious.
After he wakes at 5 a.m. and has coffee, the narrator says of the dictator, he moves on to personal hygiene: "This is especially important because Saddam prefers to be greeted with a kiss near the armpit."
As Hussein himself says, "It's not appropriate for someone to attend a gathering or to be with his children with his body odor trailing behind him emitting sweet or stinky smell mixed with perspiration." Never mind the stench of Halabja.
"It's preferable to bathe twice a day, but at least . . . once a day," continues the clean freak who craves dirty bombs. "And when the male bathes once a day, the female should bathe twice a day. The reason is that the female is more delicate and the smell of a woman is more noticeable than the male." He's a cross between Mohamed Atta and Pithecanthropus erectus.
A former Iraqi minister observes: "If you want to meet with Saddam Hussein, there are many protocols: Pat you down, check your body, you have to clean. Saddam is scared to be contaminated by people." No doubt the feeling is mutual.
"Germs terrify the great leader," the minister says. "The smallest cut is dealt with immediately." Odd in a man whose stock in trade is germs.
"If the son does not remember his father's nice scent, this will take away some of his son's love toward his father," Saddam says. "If a woman can't afford to brush her teeth with toothpaste and toothbrush, she should use her finger." To keep things fragrant while he develops chemical weapons, the dictator likes to be surrounded by flowers.
In the documentary, shot a couple of years ago, Saddam obsesses over his image. "He has a huge collection of hats for every occasion, even bulletproof hats for those pesky assassination attempts," the narrator notes snidely. "He's fastidious about his nails, and he regularly dyes his mustache a rich and regal black. Looking young . . . is one of his greatest concerns. Iraqis joke privately that there are 20 million Iraqis and 20 million portraits of Saddam. As if this isn't enough, every day the cover of Iraq's biggest newspaper features a photo of his excellency in a dashing new pose." Saddam jokingly tells his people, if a TV breaks, just put a poster of him over it.
There's something chilling about the anti-Semitic head of a military power who gasses people obsessing about his mustache. Heil Hussein.
The megalomaniacal Iraqi leader has clearly succumbed to what a C.I.A. shrink called, in the case of Osama, "a narcissistic explosion." He wrote his name into many of the bricks used for rebuilding Babylon.
Iraq is fixated on the diet of the leader fixated on mustard gas. In the 90's, the sanctioned dictator asked the U.N. to send him liposuction equipment as part of a humanitarian aid package, along with silicone breast implants and acne cream.
The U.N. refused. We all know that liposuction may be an instrument of torture.
His worst vice, aside from mass murder, is cigars sent to him by his pal Fidel Castro. "Obesity is not a good thing," he has written, "especially with a military uniform."
(As Mark Bowden wrote in an Atlantic Monthly profile, the billionaire Saddam defies the Islamic ban on alcohol to sneak his wine of choice, Mateus roséé.)
He loves fish, and catches them himself. No effete flyfishing for this madman. He goes grenade fishing, pre-filleting his catch. There is strange film of Saddam, wearing a long coat and beret, lobbing a grenade, underhanded, into the water. Aides in scuba gear retrieve the catch.
If his henchmen swim back without his dinner, he no doubt tosses another grenade in the water.
Mr. Soler talks about Saddam's underground palace, tunnels and airstrip. (An underground airstrip?)
The madness of kings was never this mad.