Monday 22 July 2019

House of Saddam

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

When Saddam Hussein was executed on the orders of an American-backed Iraqi court on December 30, 2006, the Western world lost a most convenient bogeyman.

For most of the previous two decades he'd been a handy hate figure in the Arab world, and the French, British and Americans were very happy to forget that he'd once been their number one man in the region. He was singled out by the CIA in the early 1960s as the rising star of the Ba'athist Party, and a potential bulwark against communism, and it's often been claimed that US intelligence was very supportive of the Ba'athists' bloodless coup in 1963.

After Saddam had finally seized power for himself in 1979, the US got even cosier, lending him billions of dollars through the 1980s to fund his bloody war with Iran.

His humiliating defeat in Kuwait would have been enough to finish most leaders, but Hussein was a cunning, crafty politician, and managed to remain at the helm in his country until the second Bush war began in 2003.

A fascinating man in many ways -- a butcher and warmonger who built roads and hospitals and advanced the rights of women -- Hussein also surrounded himself with a colourful extended family, whose scheming and in-fighting made the Borgias look like the Waltons.

This lavish new four-part BBC drama investigates the rivalry and paranoia endemic throughout his long reign.

Igal Naor plays the ruthless dictator, and the drama opens in March 2003, as Saddam sits sneering at his television in the presidential palace, angrily denying the reality of his situation. George W Bush is telling a press conference that "the tyrant will soon be gone", and British and American forces are descending on Iraq.

We then shift back to July 1979, during the seventh birthday party celebrations of his daughter, Hala. Deputy President Saddam and his allies force the intimidated President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr to resign.

Convening his first governmental congress of the Ba'ath Party, Saddam exposes supposed detractors of his new leadership, who are led from the courtroom and forced to "confess" to an attempted coup. They are then lined up against a wall and executed by members of Saddam's party in the ultimate test of loyalty to their new leader.

After consolidating his power, Saddam began his eight-year war with Iran. But as the war rages on, Saddam faces other troubles at home: the death of his domineering mother; the unpleasant personality of son and heir, Uday -- a violent tearaway and rapist; and the deterioration of alliances with Barzan Ibrahim, his half-brother and former deputy. Saddam finds solace in the beautiful, married Samira Shahbandar, who becomes his mistress, much to the chagrin of his glamorous wife, Sajida.

As Saddam's family and closest friends gather for a lavish ceremony to celebrate daughter Raghad's marriage to Hussein Kamel -- Saddam's cousin and increasingly close ally -- jealousy, rivalry and paranoia threaten to test loyalties to the limit.

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top