Iraq's poisoned babies have turned me into a hawk<br>By Julius Strauss<br>(Filed: 27/02/2003) <br><br><br>There's something singular about a man who has been severely tortured. Maybe it's the way he struggles against failing eyesight caused by repeated blows to the kidneys. Or his lop-sided posture, the result of multiple broken bones that have failed to mend properly. Sometimes there is a tremor in the hands or a twitch, a minuscule outer sign of the torment within.<br><br>The man who sat opposite me in a small, bare room at the Kurdish border post this week had all the symptoms of a man who had been systematically broken. I encouraged him to tell his story and, slowly, sometimes reluctantly, he relived the terror of the 21 months he spent in Saddam Hussein's torture chambers.<br><br>"They put me in a cell at the secret police headquarters, tied my hands together with wire and then suspended me from the ceiling," he said quietly. "Then they beat me with batons and cables and ran electric shocks through my fingers and genitals. It went on for months. They never told me what my crime was."<br><br>I had seen such men before. When Serb forces unleashed a wave of expulsions, beatings and killings on the ethnic Albanians in 1999, I met a teacher in a refugee camp on the Macedonian border. I had known the man before the war. He was quiet and modest and had counselled moderation to the hotter heads in his village. When the war began, the Serbs had arrested him and beaten him within an inch of his life. So great were the physical changes they wrought on him that it was several minutes before I made the leap of recognition.<br><br>When I came to autonomous northern Iraq - which since 1991 has been protected from Saddam's reach by British and American warplanes - I was intensely sceptical of the wisdom of Washington's insistence on deposing Saddam. Its claims of links between al-Qa'eda and Baghdad seemed tenuous. As for the assertion that Saddam will soon have the bomb, well, the evidence was pretty flimsy.<br><br>Indeed, I could have reeled off a host of counter-arguments. At a time when the Western world is entering a long-drawn-out struggle against Islamist terrorism, it made little sense to fritter away resources to oust a man whose regime was weaker than ever. A war also risked alienating hundreds of millions of moderate Muslims whose support would be essential if the threat of Islamist extremism was to be neutered.<br><br>I agreed with the quiet-spoken Muslim men I met in Pakistan, Afghanistan and central Asia who said that a Middle East peace deal was a greater priority than ousting Saddam. As long as the Palestinians continued to die in the streets, they said, the fires of Islamist extremism would keep burning. I have not renounced these arguments entirely. But after little more than a week in northern Iraq, my eyes have been opened to the sheer scale of savagery that Saddam has unleashed on his people.<br><br>Since my arrival I have visited villages, refugee camps, tea houses and bazaars. Over tiny cups of strong, sweet tea I have listened to the stories of the many people who live in this mountainous refuge. Some are Kurds who have flourished under 12 years of self-rule, others recent arrivals who were expelled or fled Saddam's territories to the south. In Sulaimania, where I am based, Arabs, Turkomans and Assyrians now co-exist peacefully with the Kurdish majority, but they all have terrible tales to tell: it is as if the entire land and all its inhabitants have been visited by a calamity of biblical proportions.<br><br>In my time as a journalist I have seen the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia and the burning villages of Kosovo. I watched as Milosevic's stormtroopers, their minds addled by paranoia and hatred, levelled entire villages with little more than a Zippo lighter and a few cans of petrol. In Sierra Leone, I saw children - arms or legs hacked off by drugged-up thugs - struggle to haul themselves into broken wheelchairs. I even interviewed the thugs that maimed them, 15- and 16-year-olds with glazed eyes and heads full of demons.<br><br>In Afghanistan and Chechnya, the misery and suffering wrought often beggared description. But nothing could have prepared me for the odious evil of Saddam Hussein's rule.
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