There is a danger in generalizing about Iraq’s ‘‘strategic culture.’’ It is all too easy to confuse Saddam Hussein’s ambitions and the ambitions of those around him with the views and ambitions of the Iraqi people. It is equally easy to forget that Saddam Hussein and his supporters are drawn from a relatively small mix of tribal and clan elites centered around Tikrit, and that they do not even represent the mainstream of Iraqi Sunni history and culture. At least 75–80% of the total population of Iraq is also Shi’ite and/or Kurdish, and Iraq is now a highly urbanized, educated nation. 1 As the fall of other dictatorships has shown, leaders are not peoples, and ‘‘strategic cultures’’ can change rapidly with the regime.
Nevertheless, Saddam Hussein and those around him currently are the Iraqi state, and Saddam’s views currently are Iraq’s ‘‘strategic culture.’’ Saddam has few checks on his power. Although he supposedly was confirmed ‘‘president’’ for seven years by a stage-managed referendum on October 15, 1995, he is a self-appointed authoritarian leader with almost total personal control over the state. He is not only president, but prime minister, minister of defense, minister of finance, commander-in-chief, Secretary General of the Ba’ath Party, and Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. He controls the Ba’ath Party Military Bureau, the Defense Council, and the National Security Council.
Saddam and his immediate supporters can exercise direct rule over every aspect of the Iraqi government and the Ba’ath Party. Saddam can rule by decree and exercise his power over every position in the Iraqi civil government, military forces, and security services. He personally approves every promotion in the Iraqi military forces of any field grade rank, and appoints every official down to the level of under-secretary. He can overrule any decision of the National Assembly, and the Revolutionary Command Council of the Ba’ath Party is to-