Sheep's blood on streets of Baghdad as Saddam's son survives shooting

Baghdad -- The street where gunmen tried to kill President Saddam Hussein's eldest son was splattered with sheep's blood yesterday, and thronged with Iraqis celebrating that Uday survived the attempt on his life.

The spraying of blood from scores of slaughtered sheep symbolised that a bad omen had been dispelled. Thousands of people gathered at the site in smart al-Mansour district of Baghdad, where Uday's car was attacked by gunmen as he drove through, unguarded, on Thursday evening.

A brass band played the national anthem, women swayed to the tune and several people showered the crowd with chocolates and other sweets. "The evil intentions of killing the symbol of Iraq's youth have failed," said one man. "When conspiracies fail, it is an occasion to celebrate."

Eyewitnesses said at least two gunmen attacked Uday's car, injuring the 32-year-old along with several bystanders. Uday was later reported to be in satisfactory condition in Ibn Sina hospital, in Baghdad.

The ruling Baath Party newspaper, al-Thawra, published a presidential statement issued hours after the attack. No details were given of the identity of the attackers, or whether there were other casualties. Investigations were under way, the paper said.

Whoever shot Uday could have been one of his many enemies - both within Iraq's inner circle of power and in the exiled opposition. The shooting exposed a hole in Baghdad's usually watertight security and highlighted the threats that exist to President Saddam's rule. "Whatever the motives, personal or political, it's a warning to the regime," one Iraqi opposition figure in Jordan said. None of the Iraqi opposition groups in exile has claimed responsibility for the attack. Diplomats said the shooting may have been a personal attack on the President's high-profile son, who runs his own newspaper and television channel. Uday's influence goes far beyond his modest official title - chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee. Although his younger brother, Qusay, heads Iraq's special security forces, Uday has also muscled his way into power, upsetting people within and outside the ruling circle.

Opposition groups say Uday has now emerged as the informal crown prince of Iraq, though diplomats in Baghdad say Saddam used the turmoil around him to reassert his own absolute authority. A wave of arrests in Baghdad over the summer led to reports of a coup attempt, but there are few signs that Saddam's 25-year grip on power has waned.

Uday, a loose cannon in Saddam's inner clique of close relatives, was briefly out of favour after he beat to death one of his father's favourite servants in November 1988. He later married the teenage daughter of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, another of Saddam's half- brothers, only to reject her and send her back to her father.