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Uday's and Qusay's Gulag Archipelago By: Brian Bennett and Michael Weisskopf
Time.com | Tuesday, May 27, 2003


After months of recovering from an attempt on his life that put eight bullets in his left side, Uday Hussein, the eldest son of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, was ready to party. At his first outing in 1998, at the posh Jadriyah Equestrian Club, he used high-powered binoculars to survey the crowd of friends and family from a platform high above the guests. He saw something he liked, recalls his former aide Adib Shabaan, who helped arrange the party. Uday tightened the focus on a pretty 14-year-old girl in a bright yellow dress sitting with her father, a former provincial governor, her mother and her younger brother and sister.

Uday's bodyguards picked up the signal and walked through the darkened room, flicking cigarette lighters as they approached the girl's table. Uday, then 33, flipped on his too, confirming they had identified the right one. When the girl left the table for the powder room, Uday's bodyguards approached her with a choice, says Shabaan, who was Uday's business manager. She could ascend the platform now and congratulate Uday on his recovery, or she could call him on his private phone that night. Flustered, she apologized and said her parents would allow neither. One of the guards replied, "This is the chance of your life" and promised she would receive diamonds and a car. "All you have to do is go up there for 10 minutes," he urged. When she demurred again, the bodyguards pursued Uday's backup plan. They maneuvered the girl in the direction of the parking lot, picked her up and carried her to the backseat of Uday's car, covering her mouth to muffle her screams.

After three days the girl was returned to her home, with a new dress, a new watch and a large sum of cash. Her parents had her tested for rape; the result was positive. According to Shabaan's account, Uday heard she had been tested and sent aides to the clinic, where they warned doctors not to report a rape. Furious, the father demanded to see Saddam himself. Rebuffed, he kept complaining publicly about what Uday had done. After three months, the President's son had had enough. He sent two guards to the man to insist that he drop the matter. Uday had another demand: that the ex-governor bring his daughter and her 12-year-old sister to his next party. "Your daughters will be my girlfriends, or I'll wipe you off the face of the earth." The man complied, surrendering both girls.

It has long been known in Iraq and beyond that as venal and vicious as Saddam Hussein was, Uday was worse. Now that the regime has fallen, the quotidian details of the son's outrages are beginning to emerge. With Iraqis free to speak more openly, it has become clear that the malignancy of Uday's behavior actually exceeded that of his reputation. At the same time, new hints are emerging about his psychological state. Uday, now 38, suffered not only from the anguish of Saddam's disapproval—the son was too unprincipled even for his father—but also often from physical pain as a result of the 1996 attempt on his life. TIME has obtained a three-page medical report that lays out the until now undisclosed gravity of Uday's injuries, which nearly killed him and resulted in a stroke, brain damage and seizures in addition to the wounds to his torso and left leg. Uday displayed a compulsion to control the tiniest of details in his life, perhaps with the hope that he could stave off the situation in which he finds himself today. According to both a family servant and another source familiar with communications from Uday, despite two U.S. attempts during the war to kill Saddam as well as Uday and his younger brother Qusay, all three survived. Even now, says this other source, Uday, from a hideout near Baghdad, has reached out to the U.S., hoping to strike a deal for his safe surrender. A relative, says the source, has approached an intermediary asking, "What are the chances of working out something? Can he get some kind of immunity?" The U.S., naturally, has no intention of pardoning a man with Uday's record. The first son of Saddam Hussein seems to be the last to know he is irredeemable.

And what of the supposedly more civilized Qusay, who in recent years usurped his older brother's position as Saddam's heir apparent? Specific tales of Qusay's transgressions are rarer, but it is only in comparison with Uday that Qusay, 37, could be regarded as a moderate man. He, too, had an eye for women, though he is not known to have raped any. Like his brother and father, he lived extravagantly, even as Iraqis survived on government food rations. And he did his share of killing.

While the regime held power, few dared to speak of any discord between the brothers, who have three sisters and a seldom-mentioned half-brother from Saddam's second marriage. But insiders are now opening up with tales of great strains between them. These tensions may help explain why, according to both a family servant and the source familiar with Uday's surrender bid, the brothers went separate ways when it came time to go into hiding. Uday, the second source says, is laying low with a number of aides, while Saddam and Qusay remained together, until recently at least, in a separate location near Baghdad.

To get a closer look at the brothers Hussein, TIME interviewed dozens of sources with knowledge of the two men—butlers, maids, business associates, bodyguards, secretaries, colleagues and friends, most of whom insisted on anonymity for fear the Husseins are somehow still capable of taking revenge. We visited the sons' homes and sifted through raw material, including scores of documents, photographs, videotapes and recordings of phone taps. Here's what we found: As the first-born son, generally an unassailable position in an Arab family, Uday was seen as his father's natural heir. But he lost that status when his brutal tendencies directly touched his father. In 1988 Uday clubbed to death Saddam's favorite food taster, bodyguard Kamel Hanna Jajjo, because the man had introduced Saddam to the woman who would eventually become the President's second wife. Furious, Saddam had Uday jailed for 40 days and beaten after he struck a prison guard. The jailing fueled Uday's anger. "Your man is going to kill me," he wrote his mother, according to a copy of the letter obtained by TIME. He demanded that she find someone who can "release me from this torture." Uday said he had not been given anything but water for eight days and had spent four days in iron handcuffs. "I will either die, or I will go crazy," he wrote.

Eventually, Saddam would soften and allow Uday to return to his duties as head of Iraq's Olympic Committee. But it was only after Saddam's humiliating defeat in the 1991 Gulf War that he would begin to carve out a significant role for Uday and his younger brother. In them, Saddam found complementary strains that reflected elements of his psyche. Uday was cunning, cruel, ambitious and headstrong. Qusay was secretive, politically ruthless, hardworking and so idolatrous of his father that he aped his clothing style, bushy mustache and choice of cigar, Cohiba Esplendidos. "Saddam himself couldn't kill everyone he wanted to or spy on everyone he needed to," says Kenneth Pollack, an ex-CIA and White House expert on Iraq who works for the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Having those two boys to do it for him was a critical element in his reign of terror."

Qusay had been working for his father in small jobs in internal security when his big break came. Iraq's Shi'ite Muslims, who make up a majority in the country but have long been repressed by the minority Sunnis, revolted against the regime in dozens of cities when Gulf War I ended. Saddam gave Qusay broad authority to oversee the crushing of the uprising. He did not entirely delegate the task. An eyewitness recalls watching Qusay, dressed in gray trousers and a blue jacket, arrive in Suera, where armed guards herded 300 Shi'ite detainees onto a field. The President's son, dangling a pistol in his right hand, walked up to the men and shot four of them in the head, according to a military officer at the scene. As he pulled the trigger, Qusay screamed out, "Bad people! Dirty criminals!" Qusay then ordered the execution of the remaining prisoners, got into his car and drove back to Baghdad. It was just one of many Shi'ite exterminations that Qusay ordered or personally performed in 1991, the ex-officer told TIME. The same source, one of Qusay's security commanders, said Qusay, for example, directed the execution of 15 families in Saddam City, a Shi'ite enclave in Baghdad.

His loyalty and ruthlessness proved, Qusay would move on to other assignments. He became commander of the Republican Guard and head of the Special Security Organization, which was part secret police, part security detail for Saddam and part umbrella group for his elite military forces. Before the regime collapsed, Qusay was widely regarded as the second most powerful man in Iraq.

Uday held less impressive posts. Apart from heading the Olympic Committee, he supervised various Iraqi media outlets and oversaw the Fedayeen Saddam, a ragtag band of armed militants, mostly ex-felons, that eventually became part of Saddam's security apparatus. Whereas Qusay would icily and efficiently murder for his father to further a political aim, his brother pursued a brand of terror that was personal, arbitrary and spontaneous. He was a threat to any father whose daughter might cross his path, to the women themselves, even to his own friends, who, it turns out, were subjected to torture and humiliation at his hands just as his perceived enemies were.

Uday demonstrated an insatiable sexual appetite. Five nights a week, some two dozen girls, all of them referred to him by his friends, were taken to the posh Baghdad Boat Club on the bank of the Tigris to meet Uday, close associates of his confirm. After drinks, music and dancing, the young women would be lined up like beauty queens for Uday's approval, and all but one or two would be dismissed. Those who stayed would join Uday in his bedroom at the club and leave with a gift of 250,000 dinars ($125), gold jewelry or sheer lingerie. "He never slept with a girl more than three times," says a former butler. "He was very picky." Uday took two days a week off from girls. He called it "fasting," his close associates say.

A chef at Baghdad's exclusive Hunting Club recalls a wedding party that Uday crashed in the late 1990s. After Uday left the hall, the bride, a beautiful woman from a prominent family, went missing. "The bodyguards closed all the doors, didn't let anybody out," the chef remembers. "Women were yelling and crying, 'What happened to her?'" The groom knew. "He took a pistol and shot himself," says the chef, placing his forefinger under his chin.

Last October another bride, 18, was dragged, resisting, into a guardhouse on one of Uday's properties, according to a maid who worked there. The maid says she saw a guard rip off the woman's white wedding dress and lock her, crying, in a bathroom. After Uday arrived, the maid heard screaming. Later she was called to clean up. The body of the woman was carried out in a military blanket, she said. There were acid burns on her left shoulder and the left side of her face. The maid found bloodstains on Uday's mattress and clumps of black hair and peeled flesh in the bedroom. A guard told her, "Don't say anything about what you see, or you and your family will be finished."

Although Uday had no children, Qusay's marriage resulted in four kids, and he projected the image of a family man. An officer in the Republican Guard who reported to him says he occasionally took two of his sons to the unit's headquarters. If he didn't have an important meeting, he would sometimes play with them there. Still, Qusay did have mistresses, according to associates. They say he was discreet about them and would return home to his wife every night.

At al-Dora, his farm across the Tigris from the Boat Club, Qusay would throw parties that were "like The Arabian Nights," says Salman Abdullah, who worked there as a gardener. The fetes featured as many as 50 belly dancers and ample whisky and caviar. Qusay enjoyed the sight of the belly dancers and other performers but refused to touch them for fear of disease, says Abdullah. Germs were an obsession of Qusay's, according to a family retainer who says Saddam's younger son did not like to be touched. If friends or colleagues kissed him in the typical Arab greeting, he would immediately go to the bathroom to wash his face. "If one of his kids touched him," says the source, "he would call a cleaner to brush it off."

Uday, according to a family friend, said he didn't want children. Automobiles were his babies, and he was particularly fond of European sports models. Cars were also currency for Uday: he demanded them as gifts from friends who owed him favors, and he took them from rivals who owed him nothing, according to a Baghdad businessman. One family friend says Uday had a staffer whose sole job was to surf the Internet and fill three-ring binders for him with pictures of new and rare vehicles, along with Arabic translations of their specifications. Uday reportedly used underground parking garages in his various businesses around Baghdad to store his hundreds and hundreds of cars. When the city was about to fall to U.S.- led forces, Uday instructed the Fedayeen Saddam to torch his cars rather than let anyone else take them.

Uday exhibited a vain streak. A family friend notes that he scouted for clothes in the Italian fashion magazine L'Oumo Vogue and on the Internet. "He went for anything odd, just to stand out," says the source. According to a friend, if someone appeared with the same kind of shoes as Uday's, he would tell them not to wear that pair again. The same was true of his favorite cologne, Angel, says a family friend. The source also says that for the sake of precision, Uday trimmed the outline of his beard with tweezers. That habit left him with black spots, so he was always looking for effective vanishing creams to cover them up.

Both princelings gobbled up property, each maintaining several houses. On the 10 acres at al-Dora, Qusay grew figs, oranges, limes, apricots, pomegranates and dates. He also kept ostriches. He had another farm in Arajdiyah, but his main residence was one of five 10,000-sq.-ft. mansions in a presidential complex on the bank of the Tigris in the Jadriyah area of Baghdad. Qusay commissioned a 10-ft.-high marble-inlaid family portrait to overlook the entrance. The swimming pool was embraced by sparkling white marble colonnades.

Qusay had his own private procurement officer, who says he was dispatched abroad every couple of months, usually to Beirut or Amman but sometimes to Paris, with $100,000 and lists of goods the family wanted, including $120 bottles of Johnny Walker Blue Label, Qusay's favorite. He drank about a quarter of a bottle each night, says the officer.

Uday's former palace, al-Abit, was on a pond surrounded by pine and eucalyptus trees inside the presidential compound; peacocks and gazelles roamed the grounds. One party pad that neighbors call the China house was decorated entirely in chinoiserie, complete with murals of Chinese women doing the washing and playing the erhu, a two-string instrument. In the upscale Baghdad suburb of Karada, Uday kept a love nest for trysts.

Uday maintained an extensive staff. In the guardhouse at al-Qadasiyah Palace, an old family home that Uday took over and lived in during the days just before the American invasion, TIME found a list signed by Uday dated March 5, 2003, that showed he had no fewer than 68 personal employees, including dozens of sentries and bodyguards, two butlers, seven cooks, 12 drivers, two pastry chefs, one baker, one fisherman, one personal shopper and two trainers for the lions he kept on the grounds of al-Abit. His staff spent hours collecting and counting Uday's possessions. TIME found careful reports on the whereabouts of even mundane items, such as a walking stick, with every receipt checked, approved and signed by Uday himself.

Uday lived at the center of a complex universe of ciphers and rituals that he concocted. He assigned code names for each of the places he frequented: the Boat Club was called 200; the Olympic Committee, 60; al-Abit palace, 111. Those in his employ were assigned numbers—the physiotherapist, 90; the cook, 222. Uday changed these codes every few months, and anyone who forgot the new system was beaten, according to a note written by Uday at the bottom of the most recent code sheet. A family friend says Uday, like his father, had his staff periodically weighed. If someone had gained weight, Uday would assume they were stealing to buy extra food, and he would send them to a "discipline" camp until the pounds were gone.

For all his helpers and his freaky methods of organization, Uday could not control the limitations of his damaged body. According to his medical report, the stroke and trauma he suffered after the 1996 attack left him with "clawing" toes on his left foot, which made walking difficult. A non-Iraqi doctor interviewed by TIME who examined Uday in Baghdad last December says he continues to suffer from seizures and spastic reactions in the muscles of his left leg. His butlers, says one of them, pushed him around his houses in a wheelchair and changed his stainless-steel bedpans when they were full. Uday slept in a twin-size metal-frame hospital bed attended not by fawning women but by a full-time physiotherapist and a butler who says that when he helped him put on his socks each day, Uday screamed in agony.

Uday tried everything to repair himself. In the ruins of the palace in which he last lived are thousands of packets of sterile acupuncture needles, an assortment of Chinese herbal medicines imported from Argentina and drawers full of multivitamins and sleeping pills. In the winter of 2002, says a butler, Uday demanded that his aides bring him a woman who had just had a baby. When the mother, in her 20s, with golden-brown hair and a henna-colored skirt and matching shirt, arrived, Uday sucked her nipples for what he believed would be vitamin-rich milk.

Uday's physical ailments seemed to heighten his sadistic tendencies. According to his chief bodyguard, when Uday learned that one of his close comrades, who knew of his many misdeeds, was planning to leave Iraq, he invited him to his 37th-birthday party and had him arrested. An eyewitness at the prison where the man was held says members of the Fedayeen grabbed his tongue with pliers and sliced it off with a scalpel so he could not talk. A maid who cleaned one of Uday's houses says she once saw him lop off the ear of one of his guards and then use a welder's torch on his face.

A family friend says the day Uday discovered the Internet was "a black day for Iraqis," because he used it to learn of torture methods from other ages and lands that he decided to try. He would lock victims in coffins for days at a time, says the source, or put them in pillories. According to a family friend, he also liked to have offenders beaten on one side. Then he would order medical tests and have the thrashings continue until the kidney on that side had conclusively failed.

Uday's favorite punishment was the medieval falaqa, a rod with clamps that go around the ankles so that the offender, feet in the air, can be hit on the bare soles with a stick. A top official in radio and TV says he received so many beatings for trivial mistakes like being late for meetings or making grammatical errors on his broadcasts that Uday ordered him to carry a falaqa in his car. Uday also had an iron maiden that he used to torture Iraqi athletes whose performance disappointed him.

The younger brother was not above petty abuses of power either. Once while Qusay was visiting a relative, something amused a maid who broke out in giggles. One of Qusay's bodyguards locked her in a cell for a day, slapped her around and told her never to laugh in the presence of the President's son. "I didn't think I'd ever get out alive," she told TIME.

Uday, however, was much more dangerous. The smallest thing could set him off. He was a stickler for personal hygiene, recalls a butler, and hated the smell of sweat. One summer day Uday stopped the butler and said, "What the hell is that smell?" Uday ordered five falaqa lashes on the butler's right foot and five in his right armpit. On another occasion, the butler says he received 160 falaqa for the sin of serving Uday's food on the wrong type of plate.

Uday was no less demanding at his parties. He was an expert at filling a highball glass to the top, without spilling a drop. Then he would force his mates to down an entire glass of liquor. When Uday was in the hospital after being shot, he called his friends in to cheer him up. Since he couldn't drink, he forced them to consume obscene quantities of alcohol, installing a stomach-pumping station in the next room for emergencies, says a friend. At the Boat Club, Uday kept a monkey named Louisa in a cage in the kitchen. Louisa had a taste for whiskey and was an angry drunk. If one of Uday's friends passed out in the course of an evening or was caught napping, says a butler, Uday would have the friend thrown into the cage with Louisa, who would scratch at the poor inebriate's face.

Only Qusay could say no to Uday at his parties. At the Boat Club, Qusay liked to sit at a table facing the river. Qusay always limited himself to two shots in this setting, says a butler, who poured for him. "Have more drinks," Uday would insist. "Why are you leaving us?" But the younger brother would always depart early. "This is enough for me," he would say. "I have some work to do."

Qusay disapproved of Uday's lifestyle and was open about it with relatives and friends, says his personal shopper. Another source who frequently visited Iraq's ruling elite says Qusay thought Uday's outrageous behavior contributed to the regime's dreadful image internationally. For his part, Uday complained that his younger brother plotted to marginalize him, says a source who has known Uday over the years. "Uday hates his brother with a passion," says this man. Whenever Qusay visited Uday's house, a worker there reports, "there was always shouting." Uday was so jealous of his brother, says a senior broadcaster, that he leaned on editors to keep Qusay's picture out of the media and threw tantrums when he couldn't prevent it. Uday's former business manager Adib Shabaan said the competition extended to women. Uday demanded that beautiful women who had had sex with his brother be brought to him. In several cases, Shabaan said, Uday also had sex with the woman, then had her branded on the buttocks with a horseshoe, producing a scar in the shape of a U, for Uday.

Saddam plainly favored Qusay, and certainly had more use for him. When Uday was in his mid-20s, Saddam wrote his tameless son a letter, on official presidential stationery, in an effort to rein him in. Two sources, a classmate of Uday's and one of his bodyguards, said Saddam used words to the effect of, "Don't be like your grandfather, with no morals or principles," referring to his father-in-law, a gout-stricken former politician known as the Thief of Baghdad for confiscating private property for himself. As for Qusay, says a staff brigadier in the Republican Guard, "Saddam trusted him completely."

In a letter to his father found at al-Abit palace, scrawled in Uday's loopy style, the elder son was obsequious and defensive. "You know, Dad, you are the only powerful man in Iraq who can stand up to a lot of big nations and defeat them," he wrote. Then he continued, "I'm not looking for the materialistic things, so that's why I don't want to work in government." He was pursuing other fields, such as sports, because they were no less important. "I want to learn," read the letter, "so I'll be ready for the stage after Saddam Hussein." When that day came, he said, with surprising frankness, he would be ready to defend against "the hatred toward you that will come out in the people after your death."

Uday won't have that chance. But he did have an opportunity to defend his father's regime before it fell. Indeed, he did a much better job of it than his more respected younger brother. The Republican Guard, under Qusay's command, barely resisted the U.S. invaders, and it was partly Qusay's fault. One reason the front lines against Baghdad fell so easily, says one of his officers, is that he kept impulsively moving units from one place to another, right up to the last minute. Many were simply out of position when the Americans arrived. The day before Baghdad fell, this source recalls, Qusay held a meeting with his top generals. Qusay would ask a question, get an answer and then repeat the question five minutes later. "He looked nervous," he says. "He wasn't stable." By contrast, Uday's Fedayeen Saddam were Iraq's best fighters in Gulf War II. They confronted the U.S. troops and slowed their march to Baghdad. Their attacks were often suicidal, but that was their intent.

In Uday's sprawling al-Abit palace on the banks of the Tigris, U.S. soldiers are sorting through rubble, putting together matching pairs of Uday's many shoes to give to Iraqi workmen. In a dark recess of one of the complex's stone-lined corridors is a steel door opening onto a vault painted dark green. It was here, his associates say, that Uday tucked away the admonishing letter from his father. It was a letter he couldn't destroy but never wanted to see again. A letter that proved his father's disappointment in his elder son. The vault is empty now, cleaned out by U.S. special forces. The letter is not to be found. The matter of succession has been settled. The brothers are finished.

—With reporting by Amany Radwan/Amman and Adam Zagorin/Washington




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