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Saddam's Role Model: The Godfather

by Sanjay Suri

Big fan of message in gangster movie
(IPS) LONDON -- It was back in 1972 that Adel Darwish, author of several books on Saddam Hussein, and now with Middle East magazine, met Saddam Hussein for the first time.

"I did not know his name at the time," Darwish told IPS in an interview Tuesday. "I was just told that I would be meeting Mr. Deputy."

It was at a film festival in Baghdad when the film 'The Godfather' was shown. The celebrated film won three Oscars and came later to be known as 'Godfather I' in a trilogy.

"Saddam Hussein was very impressed with the film," Darwish recalls. "Some of us sat together over whisky, and I remember Saddam had very much more than anyone else. He was smoking his heavy cigar, and for 90 minutes he sat talking about the 'Godfather.'"

A sign of times to come, perhaps, though Darwish could not see this then.

Darwish met Saddam Hussein five times, or at least he thinks he did. The last meeting came in 1989, and is the one he has some doubts about. "I think it was Saddam, though it might have been a double," he says. The eight-year war with Iran had just ended the year before, and security around Saddam -- certainly the real Saddam -- was particularly heavy.

But it definitely was Saddam that Darwish met on another occasion in 1982. "Because he spoke of the film again, and remembered the time we talked about it," Darwish says. The film had clearly made an impression on Saddam Hussein long beyond that particular evening of cigars and whisky.

"A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man," says Godfather Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando).

Saddam Hussein believed he ruled with the hand of a family man. "He thought he was providing the nation with justice undeliverable under international law," Darish says. In later years "Saddam Hussein came to see all of Iraq as his family," says Darwish. "And if anyone went against the family, he would be a traitor to the family." And dealt with as such.

Under the control of the man who came to see himself as patriarch of a nation, Iraq came to be "like Chicago in the thirties," Darwish says, although 'Godfather was set in New York in the forties. What was seen by others as the ways of the mafia were to him the way of the family.

Saddam Hussein was evidently convinced his repressive ways were for the good of Iraq, and even admired by Iraqis. "Saddam was talking about how the Godfather put the interests of his family -- as he saw them -- before anything else."

'The Godfather' film re-invented the gangster genre, by portraying the gangster figure as a family man bound by honor and tradition. The police, the courts do not hand out justice. The Godfather does. And that 'justice' can be swift and ruthless. Inevitably, Saddam Hussein did not see himself as a ruthless dictator; he was only the head of the family handing out swift justice.

"There was this alarming scene in the film where Michael (the Godfather's son) in his U.S. Marine uniform tells his girlfriend of the family's violent ways," Darwish says. "Saddam thought that the girl was outwardly scared but was actually sexually aroused, because women admire strong men."

Puffing at his cigar that evening, Saddam said nations are just like women.

But nations are not, and nor are men like Saddam as fatally attractive to women as they project to be, a new study into mafias and their godfathers indicates.

Girolamo Lo Verso, a psychotherapist from Sicily where the mafia arose, concludes after ten years of studying mob bosses that many of these godfathers actually have "food disorders, anxiety, depression and sexual problems." -- a theme of a recent mob comedy, 'Analyse This!' and a sequel with Robert DeNiro and Bill Crystal.

In his newly published book 'La Psyche Mafiosa', Lo Verso says that one godfather "went to see a psychiatrist because he couldn't cope with his son's homosexuality. He had hopes of passing on the family business to him. But the boy rebelled and came out of the closet."

Nor are godfathers as virile as they are projected to be, in cinema or for real. "Real Mafiosi are more interested in power and being in command than sex," he says. "They have hurried sex with their wives in order to have children, but it's not really a situation of passion," Lo Verso told The Independent.

Whatever his sex life, Saddam Hussein appears to have been turned on more by power. "It became so easy when he came to control the security apparatus," Darwish says. "It became easy to take charge of law and order by brute force." And however repressive, the disappearance of Saddam and his regime has, in Saddam's metaphor, left a nation orphaned.

In the film, the presiding patriarch is ultimately succeeded by his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), who eventually becomes even more ruthless. Not unlike Saddam's sons. In Iraq as in the film, like father, like son.

The cinematic Godfather is a man who has his way because he knows of no other. He gets his godson-singer a contract in Hollywood with the famous words: "We'll make him an offer he can't refuse." And Michael explains to his girlfriend how his father persuaded a band leader to give the singer a contract. One of the don's thugs "held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains -- or his signature -- would be on the contract."

In the end George Bush made Saddam an offer that he thought Saddam could not refuse. But he did, because it was an offer he could not accept. Godfathers do not take orders.

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Albion Monitor April 18, 2003 (

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