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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
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

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker / Telesales

£15000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading supplie...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project