Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has had more than 300 of his army officers executed since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait Aug. 2, according to Central Intelligence Agency reports. Their crime was that they opposed the invasion.
Such executions are routine for Saddam who, over the years of his brutal reign, has tolerated no dissent and surrounded himself with sycophants who are now too afraid to tell him that his invasion was a bad idea.
Top-secret CIA reports were full of horrendous stories about Saddam long before the invasion. As we recently reported, the stories have taken on an element of fantasy as U.S. intelligence agents scramble to get tidbits of information, credible or incredible, on Saddam.
The fact is, there is no need to make up stories that vilify Saddam. The truth is no less brutal than the fiction.
In the first coup that brought Saddam's Baathist political party to power in 1968, Abdel-Rezzaq Nayef was designated prime minister. He lasted 13 days. At that point Saddam, then his vice president, pulled a gun on his friend Nayef, escorted him to a plane and shipped him to Morocco.
That was Saddam at his most diplomatic. In 1979, when Saddam was the new president of Iraq, he decided to remove some deadwood. He made up a story about a Syrian plot to kill him and wrung a confession out of one official. Then he assembled Iraq's top leaders and played a film of the confession. With tears running down his cheeks, Saddam confided to the crowd that there were others involved in the plot.
Then, as the assembled stooges sweated, Saddam, between puffs on his cigar, read out the names of alleged conspirators in the bogus plot. They were seized, dragged from the meeting and executed along with some of their family members. Saddam himself headed up the firing squad and ordered his Cabinet ministers to join in the shooting.
More purges followed during Saddam's long war with Iran. As we reported earlier, one was his execution of a Cabinet minister, Riyadh Ibrahim, in the summer of 1982.
Several months later, Saddam executed 300 high-ranking officers for a variety of "crimes" -- all centering on their inability to win the war with Iran. Our sources say Iraq was losing not because the officers were incompetent, but because Saddam is not a gifted military leader. The war turned in Iraq's favor in 1986 when he finally turned the strategy over to officers in the field, but not before another round of executions of those who dared to suggest that Saddam should not run the war.
After a truce was negotiated with Iran in 1988, several military officers died in mysterious helicopter crashes, and it became a dark joke in Iraq that Saddam was losing more helicopters in peacetime than in war.
Last year, Saddam's own brother-in-law, Defense Minister Adnan Khairallah, died in one of those crashes after he quarreled with Saddam about the treatment of Saddam's wife, Khairallah's sister. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak cabled Saddam and begged him, for the sake of Arab dignity, "Please, no more helicopter crashes."