Iraq's Family Feud Leaves Bloody Trail
By Barton Gellman
Uday Hussein, 32, the eldest son and heir-apparent of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, wheeled his expensive car into Baghdad's plush Mansour district shortly after sundown two months ago, pulling up a few hundred yards from Iraqi intelligence headquarters.
He knew the neighborhood intimately. Mansour's shopping boulevards were regular backdrops to the brutal, hard-drinking nightlife that left reports of rapes and shootings in his wake. This night, Dec. 12, there was a difference: The blood to be shed would be Uday's.
Two gunmen in jogging suits and helmets, somehow pinpointing Uday's whereabouts at a vulnerable moment, appeared beside his car. According to Iraqi opposition figures here, claiming eyewitness information, one poured automatic rifle fire through Uday's open car window at point-blank range while the other shot into the air to keep pedestrians at bay.
Repercussions from the attack, which left Uday gravely wounded, have brought spasms of vengeance and betrayal into Saddam's innermost family and raised new questions about his grip on power. Because the gunmen tracked down their target despite a web of secrecy, false convoys and body doubles, the assassination attempt raised the specter of an inside job. And because the gunmen have yet to be found, the organizers of the attack remain a potential threat to the regime.
Saddam's wife, Sajida Talfah, is under house arrest, along with daughters Raghad and Rana, according to Iraqi, American and other Western sources. Uday, whose condition was officially described as "not a matter of concern," is now reported to be partially paralyzed by spinal injuries, at risk of losing a leg to gangrene and unlikely to recover from major wounds to the stomach and bladder.
Perhaps most threatening of all, the identities of Uday's would-be assassins have not come to light despite a purge involving hundreds of executions and thousands of arrests, according to sources privy to Jordanian government intelligence data. Having deprived Saddam of his number two and shattered the myth of invincibility that helped keep both of them alive, the assailants have melted away.
The fall of Saddam has been predicted many times since the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, but his regime has proven difficult to assess, and it is clearly more resilient than its enemies had supposed. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that his clan-centered government, which bestowed power on -- and removed it from -- his sons, half-brothers and cousins over the years, has absorbed unprecedented blows of late.
Less than a year ago, Saddam had his two sons-in-law killed. Hussein Kamel Hassan Majeed and Saddam Kamel Hassan Majeed had defected from top security posts and then returned from Jordanian exile on promises of forgiveness. His wife, Sajida, who Jordanian witnesses said delivered her husband's personal guarantee to her daughters and their husbands, turned bitterly against Saddam when he had the men killed anyway.
"The whole link is centered around family and people close to the family," said Saddam opponent Dirgham Kadhim, a leader of the CIA-backed Iraqi National Accord, who lives now in Amman. "Anything that disrupts the family disrupts the regime."
A theory with few Arab adherents is that Saddam himself was behind the attack on his son, that he knew about it and declined to prevent it. "You could say it's not a bad thing for Saddam's power base because Uday was the one man who could be a threat to him," a Western official said on condition of anonymity. "Uday is a wild child, with so much gratuitous blood on his hands, even by that family's standards."
One official Iraq-watcher who acknowledged that his government had overstated Saddam's problems in the past said that "when change comes in Baghdad, it's going to come from inside. . . . The analytic instinct is to say there are some cracks. That can lead you to over-analyze and attach too much importance to bits and pieces you get."
Radwan Abdallah, who heads the University of Jordan's political science department, agreed that the crumbling of Saddam's family may mean less than it seems at first glance. "It's true that the regime is a family affair," he said, "but Saddam is one, and everybody else is zero. It's a bunch of zeros, since he is the sole power."
Compounding the uncertainty is a multiplicity of versions of the attack on Uday, involving nearly every point of fact.
The car in which Uday met his fate? If not a black Porsche, as Kadhim's witnesses said, it may have been a white Mercedes, as one Jordanian government minister asserted.
Its occupants, apart from Uday? No one, Iraqi exiles report; the bodyguard had been sent off to fetch a woman. Or, in another version, a video. No, said one Jordanian with access to intelligence reports, the woman was in the car. No, a senior Jordanian official said, it was the famous Iraqi singer Kadem Saher.
His injuries? Neurological, according to a Western diplomat. Ruptured bladder and stomach, according to Iraqi exile Mohammed Haroum, who said two bullets remain lodged near Uday's spine. Gangrenous leg, according to Gen. J.H. Binford Peay, chief of the U.S. Central Command. Seven bullet wounds, or 9, or 13, according to various accounts.
Iraqi videotape, intended to dispel the most dire of the grapevine reports, made clear that Uday is in a bad way. He has been covered to the neck in every photograph, and in several minutes of broadcast television only his head and right arm were seen to move.
But other details, some of the most interesting, cannot be confirmed by such indirect means. Haroum, the Iraqi exile, gave so intimate an account of Sajida's house arrest in her home town, Ouja, that it is difficult to imagine how he could possibly know.
Saddam's wife, he said, went to visit Uday at Baghdad's Ibn Sina Hospital on the evening of Jan. 23. There, in the hearing of the hospital supervisor, Gen. Abdel Jawad Thanoun, she told her son his shooting was "God's revenge" for the deaths of Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel, in which Uday had played a part, and she added: "It should have been your father in your place."
If motive makes for suspects, the list of those who might have tried to kill Uday is long. Numerous Iraqi and foreign reports say Uday regularly snatched young women off the street, married or not, dragging them off to be raped and beaten. A former bodyguard told the Wall Street Journal last year that when one woman complained afterward, Uday had her covered with honey and torn apart by hungry dogs.
In business affairs, Uday competed ruthlessly for dominance over the lucrative smuggling rings that evade post-Gulf War international trade sanctions. One Jordanian who knows Uday well said here that "the shooting of Uday must have been the result of fighting for the spoils."
Within the family, Uday's younger brother, Qusay, runs Saddam's intelligence agencies and the Presidential Guard and is seen as a rival for power. Saddam's half-brother, Watban Tikriti, once a powerful figure in Iraq, lost influence in a long struggle with Uday. In a climactic argument in 1995, Uday shot his uncle seven times in the left leg, reportedly intending to prevent recovery. The leg was amputated, and some Iraq watchers think Tikriti may have taken revenge.
Both of Saddam's surviving half-brothers, Barzan Tikriti and Sabawi Tikriti, have major grievances against Uday -- Barzan over Uday's treatment of his daughter, whom Uday married, and both for having been pushed from power.
Any of the relatives of Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel, the president's slain sons-in-law, also have had reason to hate Uday. So do members of the Duleimi clan from the town of Ramadi, south of Baghdad. The clan's leading member, Mohammed Duleimi, was killed after a run-in with Uday, and his body was sent back to Ramadi mutilated and eyeless.
Salameh Neemat, a reporter with the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat who has longtime contacts in Iraq, said that revenge was only half the motive needed by whoever attacked Uday. "Whoever did this was willing to risk not their own lives only but every single member of their family," he said. "Saddam could raze a whole village off the face of the earth. This was done by people who felt they had nothing left to lose."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post