From NYT Archives: How Many People Has Hussein Killed?
Like other dictators who wrote bloody chapters in 20th-century history, Mr. Hussein was primed for violence by early childhood. Born into the murderous clan culture of a village that lived off piracy on the Tigris River, he was harshly beaten by a brutal stepfather. In 1959, at age 22, he made his start in politics as one of the gunmen who botched an attempt to assassinate Iraq’s first military ruler, Abdel Karim Kassem.
Since then, Mr. Hussein’s has been a tale of terror that scholars have compared to that of Stalin, whom the Iraqi leader is said to revere, even if his own brutalities have played out on a small scale. Stalin killed 20 million of his own people, historians have concluded. Even on a proportional basis, his crimes far surpass Mr. Hussein’s, but figures of a million dead Iraqis, in war and through terror, may not be far from the mark, in a country of 22 million people.
Where the comparison seems closest is in the regime’s mercilessly sadistic character. Iraq has its gulag of prisons, dungeons and torture chambers — some of them acknowledged, like Abu Ghraib, and as many more disguised as hotels, sports centers and other innocent-sounding places. It has its overlapping secret-police agencies, and its culture of betrayal, with family members denouncing each other, and offices and factories becoming hives of perfidy.
”Enemies of the state” are eliminated, and their spouses, adult children and even cousins are often tortured and killed along with them.