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The World

Seduced by Power in the Service of Madness

August 02, 2003|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Weeds grow in the cracks of the concrete pavement now and the summer wind off the Tigris stirs the empty liquor cartons in the trashed Boat Club, Uday Hussein's favorite party spot.

The former bodyguard picks his way through the shattered glass, twisted metal, torn magazines and bottle tops to show a reporter where he and other members of Uday's security detail used to sit in a small building just across from the club. It was next door to the room where popular singers waited to be summoned for performances that could last until dawn.

"Of course I hated him," says the bodyguard, who spent four years working for Uday and asked that his name not be used because he feared retribution from former colleagues or regime opponents.

"But you could not leave."

Uday Hussein, 39, Saddam's eldest son, was known for his obsession with sex, fast cars, heavy drinking, expensive clothes, torture and murder.

Although many people thought it was unlikely that Saddam would make him his successor because of his unstable character, Uday was a potent and useful symbol of the regime's terrifying power. Uday was shot to death with his brother Qusai when some 200 American soldiers stormed the house where they were hiding in the Iraqi city of Mosul on July 22.

The bodyguard says he was disgusted by Uday's activities -- he points to a floor-to-ceiling cage in the corner of the club's kitchen where he says monkeys were kept for Uday because he liked to have the animals watch him when he was deflowering virgins.

But there is also a lingering boastfulness. Not so long ago, it was a symbol of power to be able to say he knew where Uday sat, what he drank, when he was about to get angry.

Conversations with four people who were close to Uday, including a personal photographer and a car mechanic, give a glimpse of the psychology of those who chose, or felt compelled, to work for the Hussein family.

These were the people who did the regime's day-to-day work behind the scenes; some intimidated less-fortunate Iraqis and all helped shape its image of omnipotence. They were people whom others dared not cross. Some were cruel themselves, some were voyeurs, some were criminals, but all were seduced by the closeness to money and power in a society bankrupted both financially and personally by Hussein's rule.

A Favorite Haunt

The bodyguard knows every inch of the club and has almost an owner's pride. As he walks through the looted rooms, where even the light switches have been stolen, he points out the acoustic tiles, the wood paneling of an intimate bar area where the singers used to perform and the marble on the floor of the diwan -- the Arab-style sitting room -- the only non-Western room in the place.

As he passes a corner near the bar, he points but does not linger: "He used to sit there," said the bodyguard, who, like many of Uday's former employees, rarely refers to the son of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by name.

A tone of disdain mixed with pride is a combination heard often among people who were once close to Hussein or his family. On the one hand they despised them, but at the same time they long for the old days when they were people who mattered.

"Most of the people wanted to work with him," said one of Uday's three professional photographers, who recorded his nearly every move. "He was a VIP; his companies opened horizons for you. People who worked for his companies were traveling here and there, they were getting benefits, they were staying in his resorts."

The photographer says that he did it for the money and, like the bodyguard, asked that his real name not be used for fear of retaliation.

Each employee of Uday did not know that the others had been interviewed, and one refused to be quoted in print. But they corroborated significant portions of each other's stories. The authenticity of their accounts was further demonstrated by their specific knowledge of the layout of several of Uday's haunts. None of the employees have yet been approached by the U.S. military for questioning.

For the bodyguard, 30, it was not a matter of financial benefit as much as a steadily increasing entanglement -- both psychological and professional -- with Uday.

A pale, large man with a protruding stomach, thick arms and crew cut, his wire-rimmed glasses and pudgy cheeks make him appear almost childlike. But occasionally he is moved to reenact his job. And at those moments, it appears that he enjoyed his power as an intimidator and that there was a symbiotic relationship between those who did Uday's bidding and Uday himself.

By his own description of his daily work, he was almost always near Uday, often working for 48 hours at a stretch. It was his to make the singers who entertained Uday at the Boat Club gulp down a liter and a half of a "cocktail," a combination of 90-proof alcohol often with some drugs thrown in.

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