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Targeting Saddam’s Inner Circle

4 minute read
Unmesh Kher


Saddam Hussein was perhaps too wily–or paranoid or superstitious–to name a successor to his throne. But in recent years it had become clear that the heir apparent was his second son, Qusay, 37. In the prelude to Gulf War II, Saddam appointed Qusay to command the defense of four key regions, including the cities of Baghdad and Tikrit, the family’s tribal home and power base.

So as the regime crumbles under the relentless onslaught of the coalition, few Baath Party leaders have as much reason to mourn as young Qusay does. Over the past decade, the short, pudgy and mustachioed Qusay quietly consolidated his authority in Iraq, all the while keeping his personal life largely out of the spotlight. He went to law school, married the daughter of a war hero and produced two children. He reputedly likes equestrian sports and keeps his peccadilloes discreet.

His professional life, however, was from the start anything but mild. Qusay earned his stripes helping to suppress a Shi’ite rebellion in Iraq’s south soon after the first Gulf War, overseeing the murder of thousands of civilians. Impressed, Saddam reportedly put his son, then 25, in charge of concealing illegal weapons from the first team of U.N. inspectors, and afterward gave him the leadership of a select security corps called the Special Security Organization, whose members were recruited mostly from the Hussein family’s tribe. In short order, Qusay joined Iraq’s top governing body, the Revolutionary Command Council. When the war began, he was sitting at the apex of the country’s byzantine intelligence network. He also commanded the deadliest of Iraq’s elite combat troops–the 80,000-strong Republican Guard and 15,000-member Special Republican Guard, charged with protecting Saddam and his family. These days, however, there is little that anyone can do to protect the inner circle.–By Unmesh Kher. Reported by Meenakshi Ganguly/Baghdad and Scott MacLeod/Cairo


When President George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein and his two sons 48 hours to leave Iraq last week, Uday, the firstborn, delivered the family’s riposte. Iraqi forces, he warned, would make the mothers of U.S. soldiers “weep blood instead of tears.” The tall, bearded Uday, 39, has long been a braggart–not to mention a libertine and a brute. He squandered his inherited power to sate a boundless avarice, smuggling everything from booze to baby milk to oil. His avocational sadism and sexual deviance are the stuff of Iraqi legend. “In his eyes,” recalls a former colleague of Uday’s who agreed to speak to TIME, “you see someone who can appreciate you one minute and kill you the next. It is not natural.”

In Saddam’s Iraq, Uday was in charge of the nation’s Olympic committee; editor of a leading newspaper, Babel; and head of Youth TV, the country’s most popular channel. He also ran a dreaded security force called Saddam Fedayeen, which lately occupied itself with beheading “dissidents” and alleged prostitutes. According to exiled colleagues–including his former press secretary Abbas al Janabi–he routinely abducted and raped women who caught his fancy.

But his depravity wasn’t confined to sexual matters. Witnesses and survivors say he tortured athletes–and others who incurred his fickle wrath–in special rooms devoted to the purpose, even videotaping some sessions. Al Janabi says he was held and beaten nine times during his 13-year tenure with Uday.

But Uday paid in some fashion for his–or perhaps his family’s–crimes. In 1996 unknown gunmen opened fire on his car as he drove through Baghdad’s fashionable Mansour quarter. The eight bullets he took left him with a shuffling gait and largely confined to a wheelchair. The hit marked the completion of his eclipse by his cannier brother Qusay.

In 1998 Uday published a 400-page Ph.D. thesis in Babel predicting that U.S. power would be well along in its decline by 2015. As bunker busters and Tomahawk missiles demolished the monuments of his family’s tyranny last week, 2015 could not have seemed further away. –By Unmesh Kher. Reported by Scott MacLeod/Cairo and Helen Gibson/London

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