President Bush should be reading the latest intelligence reports about Saddam Hussein with at least one eyebrow raised in skepticism. Granted, the president of Iraq is no saint. But the reports Bush is getting from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency amount to no less than the demonization of Saddam.
In those reports, he is the original bad seed -- unloved by his mother, misdirected by his stepfather and uncle, a murderer at the age of 10 who preferred to shoot his victims in the back and who kept a vat of acid to dispose of the bodies. If that isn't bad enough, the reports charge that his mother was ugly.
The closer the United States comes to war with Saddam, the more outrageous become the tales from Saddam's dark side. Before Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, the reports were tamer, and more credible. After that date, U.S. intelligence agencies put on a full-court press to get even the most extraneous tidbits of information about Saddam.
The CIA has paid thousands of dollars to Iraqi informants who swear they knew Saddam when he was young, or knew someone who knew him.
The CIA also has assigned its psychiatrists to put Saddam on the couch. Their resulting psychological profile says he is "megalomaniacal," "shrewd but often irrational," has "delusions of grandeur," with a bit of paranoid schizophrenia thrown in for good measure.
What else would explain Saddam's Stalinistic purges of the last decade, or his rebuilding of the walls of the Biblical city of Babylon with the name Saddam Hussein stamped on every 10th brick?
There is no question that Saddam is no Mother Teresa. But the latest reports from the CIA and DIA look like a contest to see who can trump whom with the most outrageous Saddam story.
Saddam was born in the village of Takrit, north of Baghdad; most of his closest aides today are Takritis.
His mother was a tyrant who had three children by her first husband. Her second husband, Saddam's father, died before Saddam was born. Saddam's paternal influence came from a stepfather straight out of a Dickens novel. The stepfather, known locally as "Hassan the liar," played the Fagin role for Saddam, sending him out to steal and possibly murder.
One CIA report alleges that Saddam committed his first murder at the age of 10. That's probably stretching it, although there is no doubt that he had murdered at least two people by the time he was 20.
The reports say that when young Saddam earned a reputation as a murderer, the villagers could always tell his handiwork -- he preferred shooting his victims in the back. One report says he used a vat of acid to dispose of the remains.
At some point, Saddam moved in with his uncle, Khairalla Tulfah, who gave the teenager a pistol and a car and sent him off to make his way in the world. Saddam chose to join the violent Baath Party at the age of 22. He was well-suited for the party's predilection to use force.
At 24, he unquestionably tried to assassinate Abdel Karim Kassem, the despotic ruler of Iraq who had come to power in a bloody coup. Someone else succeeded at rubbing out Kassem, and Saddam quickly rose to power, becoming Iraqi ruler in 1979.