This is an abbreviated portrait of Saddam Hussein, based mainly on the reminiscences of US, British and Russian journalists who met him during the first Gulf War (1990-91).
The documentary notes his difficult childhood – his birth out of wedlock, unrelenting bullying by other children and his physically abusive stepfather. It also explores his love of the film The Godfather Part 1, for its portrayal of power based on ruthless brutality.
The filmmakers credit Saddam for the rapid modernization of Iraq and delivery, for the first time, of health services, education, water and electric power to even the most remote regions of Iraq. The price Iraqi people paid for these creature comforts was to live in a constant climate of fear. Children were pressured to inform on their parents. Even ruling Ba’ath party members were summarily executed if they posed any threat to Saddam’s authority.
Soon after assuming power in 1979, Saddam launched a devastating eight-year war against Iran, with the encouragement and financial/military support of the US. Iraq lost this war. A number of analysts blame the loss on Saddam’s insistence on running every aspect of the military campaign, despite his total lack of military experience.
The film goes on to talk about Saddam’s defeat by UN forces following his invasion of Kuwait. And the extreme suffering of the Iraqi people under a 12-year UN sanctions regime – while Saddam continued to live in lavish palaces.
While rarely mentioned in the Western media, Saddam had handed over power to his youngest son by the time the US invaded Iraq in 2003.
Tony Benn, the British journalist (and former Labour MP) describes the 2006 Iraqi trial in which Saddam was sentenced to death as a “fraud.” According to Benn, he should have been tried at the International Criminal Court, where he would have been allowed to call witnesses in his defense (eg former president George H W Bush).
The film makes no mention of the CIA-sponsored coup that brought the Ba’ath Party to power in Iraq in 1963: see CIA Saddam