Baroque brutality was little help to sons facing a life on the run

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Neither Uday nor Qusay, the sons of Saddam Hussein, were cut out to be resistance leaders. They were brought up in luxury. While other Iraqis were living in poverty in the 1990s Uday still employed two pastry cooks as part of his personal staff.

Not surprisingly, if American claims about their deaths are correct, they were discovered in a large mansion in Mosul.

In so far as Saddam Hussein ever trusted anybody he trusted his two sons, Uday, a sadistic playboy, and Qusay, more studious but equally violent. Both were entirely dependent on their father. They never contradicted him, restrained him or had any ideas of their own.

Up to the mid-1990s, Uday appeared to be most likely to succeed his father. But ever since he was almost killed in an assassination attempt in 1996 it was Qusay who took over the critical job of controlling the security services and the Special Republican Guard.

Their cruelty and violence was baroque, as if they were modelling themselves on one of the nastier Roman emperors. Uday, in particular, was even more loathed by Iraqis than Saddam himself.

Uday was always physically the most striking of the two brothers. His enormous staring brown eyes dominated his face and he usually had five days' growth of beard. In a photograph taken in 1977, when he was 13, he wears a loud striped jacket and an enormous black bow tie. The impression is of somebody trying to assert his personality against almost overwhelming odds.

Although he seldom turned up for lessons, Uday learned fluent English. Before the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 he even had ambitions to study nuclear physics in the United States. But he also told school friends that his father took him to attend torture sessions "to prepare him for the tasks ahead".

Uday's first serious political role was as head of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, which replaced the Ministry of Youth.

Housed inside a building which, with machine-gun turrets guarding its walls, resembled a mediaeval fortress. It even had its own jail. He swiftly showed that he had a uniquely brutal approach to Iraqi sportsmen who failed him. They were jailed, beaten on the feet and spectators could tell who had been punished because the player-prisoners had their heads shaved.

Uday's reputation as a brutal playboy was notorious among the Iraqi élite, but even a society as accustomed to violence as Iraq was shocked to discover in 1988 that Uday was himself in prison for murdering Kamel Hannah Jajo, his father's aide and bodyguard, during a drunken party. Briefly jailed by his father - and deprived of food for eight days by his own account - Uday was swiftly rehabilitated.

But it was after defeat in the 1991 Gulf War that Saddam Hussein came increasingly to rely on his eldest son.

He built up a business empire. He started a paper called Babel which he used as a political weapon. He was able to use sanctions to make a vast fortune out of smuggling.

Qusay, by way of contrast, was always the studious member of the family and in the early 1990s deferred to Uday. He seemed to look for signs of approval from his more notorious brother. But already he was a rising power within the security services and had helped suppress the 1991 uprising.

The decisive moment in Uday's career, which almost ended it, came in December 1996. Alone out of the Iraqi leaders, he lived a partly public life. His taste for wild parties was well known.

A group of assassins was able to monitor his movements and wait in ambush as he drove through Mansur suburb.

Uday was saved because, for once, he was not driving himself. He was hit by eight bullets, but just survived surgery, although he always walked with a limp afterwards and at times was wheeled about his palace in a wheelchair.

His brother, Qusay, began to play a more prominent role. He was more restrained than Uday and had four children. He drank little, often disappearing from Uday's parties saying that it was time for serious work.

Over the past year this work often involved the slaughter of political prisoners before a general amnesty was announced last year.

Uday and Qusay seemed to have inherited all their father's faults. That they were better educated than him seems not to have given them any greater insight. Probably they were as frightened of their father as everybody else in Iraq.

Uday in particular was always closer to his mother, Sajida, though officially the two sons were always referred to as Saddam's "cubs".

The older son made a cult out of violence and cruelty. When his brother-in-law Hussein Kamel first defected to Jordan in 1995 and then unwisely returned to Baghdad the following year, it was Uday who led an attack on his house in which Hussein Kamel he was killed.

Qusay began to get the upper hand in the fierce competition between the two brothers. Saddam named him as caretaker president in the case of his own indisposition. Uday, bizarrely, struck back saying that he intended to convert from Sunni Islam the faith of his father and most of the Iraqi leadership - to become a Shia the sect to which half of all Iraqis belong.

Qusay was in charge of the security forces before the war started this year - but Saddam would have taken all strategic decisions. Uday was in charge of the Fedayeen Saddam militia. The plan was to prevent the army disintegrating as it had done in Kuwait in 1991.

It did not work. Neither Saddam nor his two sons seem to have known how to react to the impending invasion. They had been brought up as security men with few other skills. When these failed they had nothing to fall back on.

As Baghdad fell Saddam Hussein decided to hide separately from his two sons telling them that it was safer to do so. Qusay collapsed in tears at the news. Uday's reaction is not known, But nothing in their upbringing had fitted them for life on the run.