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Iraq Journals

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Sunday, December 14

Perspective: Saddam has well-deserved place in history’s hall of infamy

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON — Saddam Hussein was not the most prolific killer of the 20th century.

But the former Iraqi dictator’s cruelty certainly matched anything Stalin or Hitler meted out.

Saddam’s Muhabarat, or secret police, and his Fedayeen Saddam militia together used rape, public beheadings, mutilation and other unspeakable horrors as retribution for those perceived as either opponents of his regime or merely as inconveniences.

Interwoven through Saddam’s network of opulent government buildings and palaces were conveniently located torture chambers disguised as hotels and other innocuous buildings. This suggested Saddam had a relish for human agony far beyond its use as a tool to discourage political dissent.

Here’s where the former Iraqi dictator, captured Dec. 13 in a raid near his hometown of Tikrit, and his regime fit into the dark pantheon of 20th century despotism:

— Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin is estimated to have killed some 20 million people in his infamous purges of the Communist Party, the army, the NKVD (secret police), and the Soviet corps of scientists and engineers. The vast majority of his death toll occurred at work camps such as those of the Kolyma gold-mining region in the Arctic, where the survival rate was 1 percent or 2 percent.

— An estimated 35 million Chinese died under Communist leader Mao Zedong. The vast majority of lives were claimed by famine and repressive political campaigns between 1950 and 1976, most notably the industrial campaign known as the Great Leap Forward and the chaotic Cultural Revolution.

— Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich killed 6 million Jews in the German death camps during World War II. Perhaps nowhere in history was human slaughter done with such industrial efficiency as it was in the Nazi gas chambers.

— Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in post-Vietnam War Cambodia murdered almost 2 million of Cambodia's 8 million citizens. Many were killed in the vast agricultural concentration camps known as “killing fields.” Saloth Sar, as he was known before adopting the alias Pol Pot, died of natural causes in 1998 while still in Cambodia despite being ousted in a coup.

— Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who is believed to have eaten human flesh, oversaw the slaying of 400,000 Ugandans during his eight-year reign. Amin fled Uganda in 1979 to Saudi Arabia, and died there on Aug. 16.

— American forces are still uncovering Saddam’s mass graves in Iraq where political and other prisoners were buried, sometimes alive. New York City-based Human Rights Watch estimates 290,000 Iraqis disappeared under Saddam’s 24-year rule, which began in 1979. Some of Iraq’s mass graves contain the remains of up to 10,000 Iraqis.

— Haiti’s former ruler Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier is believed to have killed and tortured roughly 60,000 Haitians before reformers forced him to leave the desperately poor Caribbean nation in 1986. Duvalier is living in Paris.

— Paraguay’s ironhanded dictator Alfredo Stroessner tortured or killed an estimated 200,000 people during his 35-year rule that ended in 1989 when he fled to Brazil to avoid death in a coup. He is reportedly still alive.

— Former Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic is estimated to have killed 200,000 people in the four ethnic-cleansing wars he waged through the 1990s. His most infamous known war crime is the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995. It was Europe's worst single atrocity since World War II. Milosevic has been charged with war crimes by a tribunal in The Netherlands.