How sheer luck saved Iraq's most brutal leader from the assassins

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Saddam Hussein's son only escaped death in an ambush last December because he changed places with his driver at the last minute, a leader of the assassination squad has told The Independent in the first interview about the attack.

Until a year ago Uday Hussein, with a reputation for violence that is excessive even by Iraqi standards, acted as the de facto prime minister of Iraq. He recently left hospital, but is believed by Iraqis to be partially paralysed; one bullet is still lodged in his spine. Ismail Othman, who planned the assassination attempt in Baghdad believes that, even if his group failed to kill Uday, perhaps the most hated man in Iraq, they eliminated him as a political leader.

Mr Othman says the four gunmen "believed he would be driving the first car because he always did that. In fact he had shifted to the passenger's seat."

It was the most carefully planned assassination attempt in the Middle East since President Sadat of Egypt was shot dead at a military parade 15 years ago. Strict security measures had ensured that until 12 December last year all assassination attempts against Saddam Hussein and his family had failed. Iraqis were as impressed by the fact that the gunmen escaped as they were by the fact that Uday had been shot down.

Mr Othman, a youngish Iraqi now hiding in a European capital, revealed that at first his group, called al-Nadhah (the awakening) had considered kidnapping Uday, but decided it was too difficult. Instead they discovered a member of Uday's own circle called Ra'ad al-Hazaa, whose uncle had been executed by Saddam Hussein, who was willing to help the assassins.

Mr Hazaalearned that Uday was to attend a party in Mansur, a fashionable district of Baghdad, on the evening of 12 December and passed on the information to Mr Othman's group.

"We thought Uday would have to take one of two routes to come to the party," says Mr Othman. "We chose a place where the two roads met at a crossroads ... We knew he would be in one of three white Mercedes, all the same shape, model and with the same number plates to confuse attackers about the car Uday was in."

When he arrived, four gunmen belonging to al-Nadhah were waiting to intercept him. One threw a grenade and raced towards the convoy, firing a Kalashnikov at the driver of the first Mercedes under the impression it was Uday. It was only when a second gunman arrived that they realised Uday was still alive and shot at him.

Since the Gulf War the US has spent $100m financing groups seeking to overthrow Saddam Hussein in a military coup. Although some 300 Iraqis have been killed as a result of these attempts the regime in Baghdad shows no sign of weakening. Mr Othman says his group had no connections outside Iraq and this may have been the secret of its survival.