While President Ahmed Hassan Bakr still makes the public speeches, the man calling the shots in Iraq today is Saddam Hussein.

Known here as the "Vice Chairman," the shadowy Saddam makes the critical oil price and production decisions that determine how much money Iraq will take in each year.

Presiding over the Iraqi Planning Board, Saddam then decides how Iraq will spend its oil wealth.

At age 41, Saddam Hussein has already had a life more complete than most. Expelled from high school and imprisoned for political activity, he was sentenced to death at 22 following an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Iraq's president.

Saddam managed to survive, however, and came to power with Bakr in 1968. He has been consolidating his position ever since.

While officials describe him as a "commited revolutionary," he lives today in an elegant palace along the Tigris River, wears smartly tailored European suits, and indulges his taste for imported silk ties.

Saddam also clearly is the architect of Iraq's gradual swing toward the West, and Baghdad's deliberate efforts to develop closer ties with the conservative Gulf states.

But in a country that has had three coups and countless attempts over the past 20 years, Saddam Hussein clearly knows how to protect his flanks.

He shrewdly had himself invested with the rank of honorary general in the Iraqi Army, and has now taken to reviewing the troops wearing the full military regalia.