Defectors are confirming what has long been suspected about how Saddam Hussein and his clan (from Tikrit, north of Baghdad) control the entire country. In addition to several national level secret police organizations, each major ministry has its own secret police unit. National organizations (especially the national youth organizations) act as informer networks. A sure way to win rewards and favors is to rat out someone and make it stick. The reason there is so much poverty in Iraq, but not in the Kurdish areas (which get the same per-capita share of oil revenues via the UN) is that in the Saddam controlled regions, the food, medicine and other goods go to Saddam supporters and informers. That leaves about 80 percent of the population just scraping by.
Saddam's eldest son, Uday, has regained the status as his father's successor. More unstable and vicious than his father, Uday is known to personally supervise torture of prisoners, and to kidnap attractive off the street when the mood strikes him. Uday fell from favor in 1995 after a number of incidents where he attacked (and sometimes killed) relatives and favorites of his father. Saddam was also upset that Uday was running unauthorized smuggling and extortion operations on the side. Saddam learned most of this from his second son, Kusay. But after an assassination attempt on Uday in late 1996 left Uday crippled (he must walk with crutches or a cane), Saddam began to rethink the line of succession. Uday, for all his faults, is more decisive and has a better head for business than Kusay. So now Uday is back in charge of his father's security, as well as the official smuggling monopolies for key items like cigarettes. Uday now maintains his own private prison and torture chambers. It could be that Saddam feels safer, from Uday, by keeping his eldest son within pistol range.