The sons who promote Saddam's cruel legacy

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The Independent Online

It was Abu Mustafa's bad luck that Uday Hussein's personal elevator broke down. He wasn't the maintenance man for the lift, but Saddam Hussein's son ­ head of the Iraqi Olympics Committee ­ insisted he mend it.

A few hours later, it broke down again and engineer Abu Mustafa was dispatched to the Olympics Committee Detention Centre. "I was stripped, beaten with electric cables until I bled, and made to carry concrete blocks on my chest,'' he says. "Then they made myself and 23 other prisoners jump into a sewage pit. Can you imagine this? All of us ­ doctors, engineers, veterinary surgeons, even government bodyguards ­ all ordered to smear our heads and faces and bodies with sewage and dirt.'' The purpose, Abu Mustafa now believes, was not just to humiliate the prisoners. It was to infect their wounds.

Even today, in the safety of Lebanon and with resettlement papers for the United States in his possession, Abu Mustafa shakes with anger at his memories. "When someone persuaded Uday to release me after four days, I returned to my office and one of the girls there fainted when she saw me. I couldn't even get doctors to treat my wounds ­ they were too frightened of the government.''

Uday Hussein was to be partially crippled in an assassination attempt in 1996 but, in the years before, Abu Mustafa saw his master at first hand. "He wasn't crazy, he wasn't mad. He loved money and power and he loved women very much. He had a secretary who hunted girls for him ­ in the universities, in the ministries. He even had a bedroom in the Olympic offices for the women who were brought to him. Usually, they agreed to sleep with him. They could do nothing else. One girl who refused him, well he 'forced' her in the bedroom. Her mother happened to be an official of the Iraqi Women's Union who held a leadership position there with Sajida Hussein, Saddam's first wife and Uday's mother. She told Sajida that Uday had raped her daughter and Sajida replied: 'You should be proud of the fact that your daughter has been in Uday's bed'.''

As senior engineer at the Iraqi Olympics Committee, Abu Mustafa had to attend even to Uday's cassette player. "He would listen to Beethoven and Arabic songs and say 'play cassette three' and listen to the Koran. But he also watched videos of his prisoners being tortured. I don't know if he got a kick out of this but of course, by having the tortures taped, he was making sure that his orders were being carried out.''

There are stories aplenty of Uday's cruelty, and of the equally tormented spirit of his younger brother Qusay. But Abu Mustafa spent long enough in Iraqi prisons ­ seven incarcerations until he escaped through Kurdistan and Syria to Lebanon in 1998 ­ to see the evidence of such cruelty at first hand.

"There was a special case, a manservant of Uday's whom I met. He was called Ma'an. I saw the proof of what happened to him. His job was to bring Uday his nargila[hubble-bubble pipe] and one day the charcoal fell to the ground. So Uday forced Ma'an to hold a red-hot charcoal until it had burnt a hole right through his hand. Then there was a Christian man I met, an Iraqi called Ramsi who was just 15 minutes late to work on the first day of the 1991 Gulf War. He was put in one of Uday's palaces where he was severely beaten and then they moved him round between the buildings they thought would be bombed by the Americans. In just a few weeks, his hair turned from black to pure white.''

In a "General Security" prison near Abu Ghoraib, Abu Mustafa found another victim, this time of Qusay's cruelty. "During the war, he had been found transferring petrol from one government car to another ­ he wasn't stealing it ­ but he told me how Qusay, who used to be Uday's deputy at the Olympics Committee, poured petrol all over him. Qusay, he said, would set him alight with a cigarette lighter, then put the fire out, then set him alight again, over and over. The man's name was Qassem.''

Abu Mustafa tells his story in a kind of gabble, scarcely pausing for breath. He was to offend Uday personally during the Gulf War. "The bodyguards had been using his generator and it had broken down. They told me to mend it. But in the dark, at night, it was impossible. Then Uday arrived. He said he'd give me an hour and a half to fix it. I tried to speak to him but they wouldn't let me. I saw Uday walking angrily up the staircase in the dark. I was terrified. Of course I couldn't mend it and I was taken to a special security prison and beaten again and again and asked why I had broken the generator. I told the interrogators that the bodyguards broke it. But of course, they were part of the same organisation as the bodyguards. They didn't listen to me. They just kept beating me.''

Abu Mustafa had spent five years in the army in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, manning a ground-to-air missile battery outside Basra.

After fleeing Iraq in 1998, he arranged ­ for US$1,500 paid in Kurdistan ­ for his wife and two children to join him here. Today, four days before leaving for a new life in Idaho, he still cannot understand the minds of his tormentors. "They're cruel, they love power. They act like this because this is how they are, it's their character. Of course, firstly I blame Saddam for all this. But I also blame the great powers and the West, because they allowed Saddam and his regime to stay in Iraq for their own interests.''

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