“The hole,” known to the world as the “spider hole,” is the tiny underground bunker on Namiq’s farm where former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. soldiers on Dec. 13, 2003.
Namiq and his older brother Qais have rarely spoken publicly about how they helped hide the world’s most sought-after fugitive for nearly nine months after the U.S.-led invasion.
But now, sipping tea in the modest little restaurant he opened this summer, a couple of football fields away from “the hole,” Alaa Namiq seems willing.
Maybe enough time has passed. Maybe few have asked. But for whatever reason, Namiq now folds his tall, broad-shouldered frame into a little plastic chair, tugs on a cigarette and talks about hiding the man his family had known for decades.
“He came here and he asked us for help and I said yes,” says Namiq, 41, wearing a long white dishdasha robe. “He said, ‘You might be captured and tortured.’ But in our Arab tribal tradition, and by Islamic law, when someone needs help, we help him.”
Hussein was born in a village near Tikrit, just north of this little town on the banks of the Tigris River. When the U.S. military was searching for him, it became convinced, correctly, that he would find shelter among his Tikriti clansmen in these lush orchards of date palms and orange and pear trees.
Namiq says he and Qais were arrested along with Hussein and spent a miserable six months in Abu Ghraib prison. Once a driver and an aide to Hussein, he has spent the past few years driving a taxi, finally saving enough to open his family restaurant a few weeks ago.
At his restaurant on the riverbank, Namiq greets an American reporter graciously, offering grilled chicken and sweet tea on a sweltering evening. The restaurant is a small cinder-block shack, with a couple of grills and a few plastic tables set outside. Four of his brothers cook and wait tables for customers watching a big flat-screen TV showing Turkish dramas and men’s volleyball.
“I won’t tell you everything,” Namiq says, over and over, during the course of a couple of hours. “Someday I will say all I know. Maybe I will write a book. Maybe a movie. But I won’t tell you everything.”
Then he starts talking.
Namiq says his family, mainly he and Qais (who declined to be interviewed), helped move Hussein among various houses in the area after the March 2003 invasion.
Hussein never used a phone, he says, knowing that the Americans were listening for his voice. Namiq says that Hussein read and wrote extensively, prose and poetry, and that his writings were confiscated by the U.S. troops who captured him.
Namiq says Hussein wrote to his wife and daughters but he never saw them. His only visitors were his sons Uday and Qusay — Namiq says he helped arrange their secret trips to the farm.