Uday on the loose again

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s son, only recently returned from months in hospital after an attempted assassination in December, is back to his murderous ways. He shot a bodyguard dead within days of release, causing embarrassment to his father (the man was from Hussein’s home town of Tikrit).

“Are you a politician, a trader, a people’s leader or a playboy?” Saddam is said to have shouted at his son, criticising for bringing the regime into disrepute through his “craving for people’s property.”

The latest incident was swiftly followed by something more unusual: a mass torturing session for all members of the Iraqi national football team. They had started their World Cup campaign with promise, beating Pakistan 6-2, but then lost to Kazakhstan in Baghdad 2-1. All of the losing team were then sent to the notorious Radwaniya prison, set up as a concentration camp after the Kuwaiti invasion of 1991. Many thousands of people are said to have died in this camp after being tortured. “The very fact of being taken there would have terrified the players,” said Ghanim Jawad of the Coalition for Justice in Iraq.

In retribution for their sporting failure, Uday had beaten them on the soles of their feet and on their backs. Yet the punishment was to little avail. On the return leg in Kazakhstan they lost again, and were eliminated from the World Cup. It is not known whether further torture followed this loss, but it was certainly a blow to Uday, whose personal status in the country has been supported by his sporting links.

His headquarters is at the Iraqi Olympic Committee building, but his influence before the assassination attempt stretched over trade, media and parts of the military.

Early reports from the hospital spoke of a “full recovery” following surgery from French, Cuban and German surgeons, but it now appears that, of the ten bullets which hit him, one is still stuck in his spine and one leg is said to be paralysed. Opinion in Iraq points to the injuries as probably ruling Uday out of succeeding to power in the country.

Prior to the attack, Uday could often be seen at national football games dressed in smart Italian suits and smoking a cigar. He once arrived late at a game, holding it up by landing in the middle of the pitch in his helicopter; on another occasion he responded to anti-Saddam chants from the crowd by ordering police to open fire on spectators, killing dozens of them.

The mystery is how the football players are persuaded to play time after time when they fear the results of losing a game. One player, Ahmed al-Radhi, played so badly in one match that Uday ordered one of his staff to shave the man’s head; later he was thrown into prison. Then, even though he was playing for a team in Qatar, al-Radhi was induced to return for the match against Kazakhstan. He is believed to have made a speedy return to Qatar following the result.

Saddam Hussein is now thought to favour another son, Qusai, who runs the Radwaniya prison. But Uday seems to think that by displaying his old brutality, he may return to his previous prominence. He is also thought to be trying to prove his virility. While in hospital, Uday, aged 33, married a 15-year-old cousin.

Iraq announced in mid-July that it was halting links with Lebanon, after that country refused to let Iraq take part in the Pan Arab Games in Beirut.