Saddam to show strength of his iron grip

His son embarrassed him, but the Iraqi leader is still in control and aims to prove it at the polls, writes Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad

Uday Hussein split Iraq's ruling family two months ago when he opened fire with a submachine gun. The shots, fired at a party, badly wounded an uncle and prompted Uday's brothers-in-law and their wives, daughters of Saddam Hussein, to flee to Jordan. It was the biggest crisis for the government of President Saddam since defeat in the Gulf war in 1991.

The referendum tomorrow on President Saddam's leadership is directly related to the shooting by his son, and the flight of Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel, his sons-in-law, to Amman. It is the Iraqi leader's way of demonstrating to Iraqis and the world that his grip on power is as strong as ever. Outside the three Kurdish provinces in the north, eight million Iraqi voters will ritually endorse his rule.

The crisis has brought some changes. At the time he shot his uncle Watban - President Saddam's half-brother and the former interior minister - Uday Hussein had made himself virtual prime minister of Iraq, second only in power to his father. From a heavily protected yellow building on the east bank of the River Tigris, Uday ran much of the government and his own business enterprises. The building belongs to the Iraqi Olympic Committee, of which Uday is chairman.

Iraqi officials now say on the record that Uday will confine himself entirely to sport. Last week he was re-elected chairman of the Iraqi Football Association by 155 to nil.

Well-informed people in Baghdad tell stories of Uday's fall from grace, including one about how President Saddam, enraged by Uday splitting the family, personally visited the burning of his eldest son's collection of 60 cars.

Another rumour in Baghdad, which also cannot be checked for accuracy, says the Iraqi leader conducted a search of the Olympic Committee's headquarters. There, President Saddam supposedly discovered that the building contained a private jail maintained by Uday, and released three captives saying: ''Iraq cannot have a state within a state.''

Colourful details of Saddam Hussein's clampdown on his son may be disseminated in part by the regime itself. Lights still twinkle at night on every floor of the headquarters of the Olympic Committee. Watban, despite treatment by Cuban and Iraqi doctors, is likely to lose the leg hit by Uday's bullet. Uday may retain more influence than his father pretends. Ultimately, however, Iraq remains wholly under the control of Saddam Hussein.

He has survived the immediate crisis over the split in his family. At the same time Iraq's international isolation has never been more complete. Hopes that the Gulf war alliance would break up have proved false. King Hussein chose the moment of Hussein Kamel's defection to call for a change of regime in Baghdad. All the other states which border Iraq - Iran, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria - are hostile to Baghdad and there are no new allies in sight.

The report this week by Rolf Ekeus, the UN official in charge of monitoring the dismantling of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, says that Iraq is still concealing information and probably some of the arms. This was denounced as untrue by Iraqi officials yesterday. But it underlined how far Iraq is from the lifting of UN sanctions, first imposed in 1990.

There is no doubt that sanctions do serious damage. ''An average monthly salary buys just two chickens,'' said Viktor Wahlroos, deputy co-ordinator of UN relief operations in the country. ''A quarter of the children are suffering from malnutrition. The government ration meets 50 per cent of people's needs and they don't have the money to buy the other 50 per cent.''

There is no doubt that the urban poor and the professional middle classes are being badly hit. Neatly dressed Iraqis scrabble outside the Libyan embassy looking for jobs replacing the Palestinians and Sudanese who are being expelled. Antique dealers say that some of grandest houses in Baghdad are empty of furniture, which has been sold off to pay for food. An aid official bought two carpets, each worth $1,500, for $40 in Basra. The nouveaux riches in Baghdad are people who own agricultural land.

Iraq is still a long way from famine, however. ''The government must still have hard currency accounts abroad,'' a foreign diplomat said. "If they were really hard-pressed they would have accepted the UN offer of limited sales of oil to meet food needs. They will do that when they get really desperate.''

This may paint too favourable a picture of Iraq's position. There are few trucks on the road from Jordan and only 200 to 300 a day from Turkey. The food ration was cut last October. On the other hand the Iraqi government machinery is surprisingly efficient. Despite lack of tractors, fertiliser, pesticides and seeds, there is plenty of food in the shops, although it is expensive. Khalid Abdul Munam Rashid, the Agriculture Minister, said that because of the lack of machinery, ''we do more things manually, using eight people where we used to use two."

Control of the food supplies puts the government in a powerful position. It has other hidden strengths which explain why the embargo has had limited political and economic effect. Sanctions have no effect on transport or power supplies, because Iraq has limitless supplies of oil and refineries to turn it into fuel. ''I can fill the tank of my car for less than the equivalent of one US cent,'' said one driver. Electric power supply in Baghdad is uninterrupted. Food shortages create anger, but not total desperation. Security is too tight for a repeat of the uprisings of 1991. At the same time there is also no sign of Iraq breaking out of five years' political and economic siege.

The results of tomorrow's referendum are not in doubt. Many Iraqis believe that invisible numbers on the ballot will allow the government to identify ''No'' voters. ''He could get 99.9 per cent of the vote, so they may have to lower it to 95 per cent for credibility,'' said one person who intended to vote "Yes''.

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence