Adapted from an obituary published in today’s edition of The Guardian:
Saddam was born in the small Iraqi village of Owja, into the mud house of his uncle, Khairallah Tulfah, and into what a Tikriti contemporary of his called a world “full of evil.” His father, Hussein al-Majid, a landless peasant, had died before his birth, and his mother, Sabha, could not support the orphan, until she took a third husband.
Hassan Ibrahim took to extremes local Bedouin notions of a hardy upbringing. For punishment, he beat his stepson with an asphalt-covered stick. Thus, from earliest infancy, was Saddam nurtured – like a Stalin born into very similar circumstances – in the bleak conviction that the world is a congenitally hostile place, life a ceaseless struggle for survival, and survival only achieved through total self-reliance, chronic mistrust and the imperious necessity to destroy others before they destroy you.
The sufferings visited on the child begat the sufferings the grown man, warped, paranoid, omnipotent, visited on an entire people. Like Stalin, he hid his emotions behind an impenetrable facade of impassivity; but he assuredly had emotions of a virulent kind – an insatiable thirst for vengeance on the world he hated.
To fend off attack by other boys, Saddam carried an iron bar. It became the instrument of his wanton cruelty; he would bring it to a red heat, then stab a passing animal in the stomach, splitting it in half. Killing was considered a badge of courage among his male relatives. Saddam’s first murder was of a shepherd from a nearby tribe. This, and three more in his teens, were proof of manhood.
In time, millions were to follow.