This is FRONTLINE's old website. The content here may be outdated or no longer functioning.

Browse over 300 documentaries
on our current website.

Watch Now
The Survival of Saddam
saddam in a crowd


the kurds

FRONTLINE's "The Survival of Saddam" presents an intimate portrait of Saddam Hussein's life and the secrets behind his leadership. The film examines Saddam's uncanny ability to outmaneuver his enemies, exploit their weaknesses and, against all odds, to remain in power.

Producer Greg Barker spent months gaining special access to research and film in Iraq--obtaining rare photographs of Saddam, secret internal documents, seldom-seen archival and tv footage, and traveling to northern Iraq to tell the story of the Kurds' long struggle with the Iraqi government.

The result is an in-depth look at Saddam's career and the secrets behind his survival--from his days as a young hit man in the Ba'ath Party, to his rise to power with CIA help--from his successful exploitation of superpower rivalry in the 1970s, to his miscalculations in invading Kuwait 20 years later--from CIA-backed coup attempts and internal rebellions against him throughout the 1990s, to his successful stand-off not long ago with UN weapons inspectors.

Featuring an in-depth interview with biographer Said K. Aburish, as well as interviews with Iraqi opposition leaders, CIA officers, U.S. Middle East diplomats, and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, this report reveals how, like many dictators, Saddam's rise to leadership can be attributed to a unique mixture of intelligence and brutality--he eliminated every potential rival, including in some cases, his closest allies. The film also details Saddam's tactical brilliance inside Iraq in dividing the opposition and keeping a grip on the population through an Orwellian police state.

However, the leader who began his career with dreams of leading the Arab world and transforming Iraq into a modern nation, now is just trying to survive. With the signing of the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act, overthrowing Saddam Hussein is now official U.S. policy. But, if history is any guide, it will not be an easy task.

"Saddam Hussein lives on the contradictions of his enemies," says Ahmad Chalabi, a leader of the Iraqi National Congress, the U.S.-backed Iraqi opposition group. "The neighbors of Iraq, and the U.S., each have a vision of how Iraq should be ruled, and they are contradictory visions. Saddam ends up, by default, being everybody's second choice, and that has been the major brunt of our struggle."

home · secrets of his life and leadership · interviews · photo album · readings · the kurds' story
join the discussion · synopsis · tapes & transcripts · press
FRONTLINE · wgbh · pbs online

Some Photographs Copyright FRONTLINE/Iraqi News Agency
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation