Saddam's son is shot in Baghdad

The eldest son of President Saddam Hussein was shot in an apparent assassination attempt, Iraqi television reported last night. Uday Hussein, sometimes described as Saddam's heir apparent, was wounded while driving through a district of Baghdad. It was not immediately clear how badly Uday was hurt, but a presidential spokesman said that his condition "was not a matter of concern".

The spokesman, describing the shooting as a "cowardly attack", said it had occurred at 7pm local time. He said Uday Hussein, chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, was driving in his personal car in the upmarket district of al-Mansour when the attack by unidentified assailants took place. He was taken to the Ibn Sina hospital in Baghdad.

The spokesman said on Iraq television:"Investigation into this vicious crime is ongoing."

This is the first confirmed attack on Uday Hussein's life, although in March last year there were rumours that he had been attacked while on a lengthy stay in Jordan. He was then reportedly treated for gunshot wounds at the King Hussein Medical Centre in Jordan's capital, Amman, but there was never any official confirmation of the apparent assasination bid.

Uday Hussein, 32, has long been one of the most feared members of his father's regime, and is believed to have been intimately involved in the killing of his own brother-in-law, Hussein Kamel, earlier in the year after he returned from exile in Jordan.

In particular, Uday is known for his violent rages and mood changes. The flight of Hussein Kamel, formerly one of the chief lieutenants of Saddam Hussein in 1995, followed a drunken party on the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad. Uday was informed that his uncle Watban Hussein, a former interior minister, had maligned him and he responded by shooting his uncle in the leg with a sub-machine gun.

This was not the first time Uday Hussein had been involved in a scandal in which he had attacked those close to his father. In 1988 he killed his father's chief bodyguard, Kamil Hanna Jajo, and was briefly jailed but returned to Baghdad after being sent for a few weeks to Switzerland. In Iraq he continued to be known as "the prince".

Despite his disgrace after injuring his uncle, he remained a super minister, operating from his headquarters in a 10-story building which houses the Iraqi Olympic Committee. It has its own private jail and Baghdad taxi drivers dislike driving past it.

He controls his own newspaper, Babel, and a heavily armed paramilitary group known as the Fedayeen, which acts as a praetorian guard for the regime.

Central Baghdad was quiet last night after the reported shooting.

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