Searching for truth in the shadow of Saddam

Robert Fisk checks out a report that the Iraqi leader's son has been fatally wounded in an assassination attempt

It was every Middle East journalist's reporting nightmare: Uday, son of Saddam Hussein lies dying in a Jordanian medical centre, a bullet in his neck and back, victim of yet another attempted coup against his father, the gravest blow yet to the dictator of Baghdad, perhaps the last before the collapse of the man the West loves to hate. According to the report, Uday had been flown in secrecy to Amman for emergency treatment. But was it true?

My first phone call went to a Jordanian who likes Iraq and has many Iraqi friends. "Nothing to it," he said after making a round of check calls."I can't be 100 per cent sure, but I don't believe it."

It is possible this source might deny the story in the interests of President Saddam, so the second call went to a Jordanian with excellent contacts within the Jordanian and Iraqi security apparatus, but no friend himself of President Saddam's regime.

"It all smells to me," he said. "Uday has enough enemies to claim this is true, and there's enough bullshit flying around Amman for you to believe anything. But I'll tell you this. The oil markets are very interested. If people believe Uday was shot in Baghdad, people will believe the Iraqi regime is crumbling, that Saddam is about to fall and that sanctions will end. So there could be lots more oil on the market and the price of oil will move in the way an oil speculator will want it to move - down."

Now it is true that the government medical centre in Amman has treated members of President Saddam's family before. But in Baghdad, Western reporters saw Uday on state television three nights ago, greeting an official delegation in the capital. That same day, Uday's picture appeared in the Baghdad press, apparently attending a sports event in northern Iraq.

Convincing proof then that the young and much-beloved son - who shot dead his own bodyguard in a bar-room brawl almost a decade ago and said in 1990 that the executed Observer journalist, Farzad Bazoft, deserved to be hanged "a thousand times''- is still alive? Perhaps, but the film and the picture might not be contemporary.

So a third call to an Iraqi citizen visiting Cairo - where the story first emerged more than a week ago and was swiftly picked up by the Kuwaiti press. "There's obviously no way of knowing," he said. "But I immediately doubted the report. I can't believe that Uday would be taken to Amman. There are plenty of good surgeons in Baghdad. And though there are precious few medicines available to ordinary Iraqis under Saddam's regime, this definitely does not apply to the president's family."

Then came denials from Jordan and some very heavy doubt in stories from two of the key international news agencies with correspondents in Jordan. Most of us, after all, could paper our bathroom walls with Iraqi coup reports that turned out to be wishful thinking on the part of Western governments.

A final call, then, to a UN source who should be aware of any flights out of Baghdad, where the UN's monitors know of helicopter or fixed-wing flights - authorised or otherwise - leaving the country. "We know nothing about it," said the source.

Note the anonymity of all involved. President Saddam may be corralled in Baghdad, but the long arm of the Iraqi Baath party casts a serious shadow over anyone who chooses to speculate in public over the health of Saddam's heir apparent.

Woe betide Middle East hands who pooh-pooh the biggest story out of Baghdad since the Mother-of-all-Battles that wasn't. But on all the evidence, it looked last night as if Uday will live to kill another day.

Suggested Topics
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

MS Dynamics NAV Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: MS Dynamics NAV...

Technical / Engineering Manager - West Yorkshire - £50k+

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: The company ...

MS Dynamics NAV Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS Dynamics N...

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star