Frontline World

IRAQ - Truth and Lies in Baghdad, November, 2002

Synopsis of "Truth and Lies in Baghdad"

Undercover in Iraq

Saddam's Family Tree and Son Uday

Are They Helping or Hurting?

Reporting from a Closed State

Coverage of Saddam's Regime

Country Profile of Iraq

Human Rights, Politics, Weapons



Uday Saddam Hussein: The Second-Most Feared Man in Iraq

Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay
Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday (R) and Qusay (L), at a political rally - May 2001. Credit: Agence France-Press

As Saddam's eldest son, Uday has cultivated a populist image through his control of Iraq's major media, but the heir apparent is every bit as brutal a tyrant as the father.

By Kelly Whalen

At age 38, Uday Saddam Hussein, the eldest son of Iraq's president, is a member of parliament, head of the country's Olympic committee and the country's leading media mogul. As such, he functions as the unofficial minister of information for his father's regime. He also commands the Fedayeen Saddam, a feared paramilitary unit that has been implicated in terrorizing Iraqis who step out of line.

Uday maintains an iron grip on about a dozen daily and weekly newspapers, along with ownership of the country's most popular television and radio stations. He uses his media empire to craft a public image for himself as something of a populist figure, Iraqi-style. Most observers believe his goal is to position himself as his father's heir apparent.

Uday's target demographic is the two-thirds of Iraq's population who are under the age of 30. These are the Iraqis least turned on by the Stalinist-type fare typically offered by the state; and who enjoy the Hollywood blockbusters and American pop music offered on Uday's Youth TV and its sister radio station, Voice of Iraq FM.

He has also made inroads with groups outside the reach of the ruling Ba'ath Party, including with Iraq's Shi'a Muslim majority. Although they account for 60 percent of the population, the Shi'as have traditionally been marginalized by Saddam's regime.

Uday looks on as Iraq's national soccer team defeats Nepal
Uday looks on as Iraq's national soccer team defeats Nepal, 7-0 - June 1998. Credit: Agence France-Presse

Through Uday's newspaper Babel, now the country's most influential daily, these and other alienated groups have found a channel for venting their frustrations. Uday allows the newspaper to publish their complaints against the government (short of criticizing his father), and in so doing, he projects an image as a champion for the common person against an uncaring bureaucracy.

Uday's control of the media also helps in the containment of Iraqi resistance by circulating news articles and airing television and radio broadcasts daily that exalt the Hero President or Great Uncle, as Saddam is called, and the blessing of his rule.

In 1999, Uday fired hundreds of members of Iraq's press syndicate for not sufficiently praising his father and the government. He then was named Journalist of the Century by the Iraqi Union of Journalists for his "defense of honest and committed speech." This, in a country where the government regularly jams foreign radio broadcasts, bans satellite dishes and forbids most uses of the Internet, leaving its citizens with virtually no access to information from outside the country.

In recent years, numerous Iraqi journalists and editors have defected, bringing out stories of a much darker side of Uday, a side that doesn't show up in the public image he has carefully cultivated inside Iraq. These sources describe an Uday who is every bit as brutal a tyrant as his father. One of the defectors is Abbas al-Janabi, Uday's press secretary for 15 years. Al-Janabi has reported that torture and abuse are commonly employed against anyone who crosses Uday's orders and that Saddam's eldest son owns several private prisons, including one in the Olympic Committee Building where he punishes athletes for poor performances.

Uday also has a reputation as a playboy, a drunk and a killer. He earned the notoriety for murder in 1988 when he stormed a party and attacked one of his father's bodyguards. According to one account, in front of the Egyptian president's wife and other foreign dignitaries, Uday first attacked the man with an electric knife, then shot him twice with his pistol, killing him on the spot. The murdered bodyguard had been in charge of providing Saddam with mistresses, and Uday reportedly blamed him for introducing his father to Samira Shabandar, who became Saddam's second wife.

Uday Saddam Hussein, Saddam's eldest son, leaves a Baghdad hospital after surviving an assassination attempt in 1996 which some believe was orchestrated by an Iraqi underground youth opposition group, called al-Nahdah or the Awakening. Shot eight times, Uday was critically wounded and spent months recuperating. al-Nahdah identified Saddam himself, Uday, Qusay, and Ali-Hassan al-Majid as the "four pillars" of Saddam's regime and its survival. - June 1997 Source: Agence France-Presse
Relatives also have been targets of Uday's rage, from his first wife, who was described at the end of their three-month marriage as being "half black and blue;" to an uncle (and Iraq's former interior minister), who had to have a leg amputated after Uday shot him at a family gathering. In his drunken fits, Uday is said to frequently bring out his guns, to the extent that numerous Baghdad parties he has attended have reportedly ended in a hail of bullets.

Uday has often been compared to Vasya, the favorite son of another dictator, Joseph Stalin. Vasya was a drunk and a rapist who insisted on being called Prince Vasya. Indeed, most Iraqis started referring to Uday as "the Prince" when they watched Saddam's subordinates ordered to walk behind the boy at official events many years ago.

Saddam has been forced to rein in Uday from time to time. After he killed the bodyguard in 1988, Uday was briefly exiled to Switzerland, where he was soon asked to leave for carrying a concealed weapon. When he returned to Iraq, Uday was relegated to less important roles in the regime, and greater responsibilities were passed to his younger brother, Qusay, characterized as quiet, calculating and a more dutiful son. Uday focused on rebuilding his image and his power base and turned to his media properties to do so.

Then, in the early 1990s, as Saddam came under greater pressure arising from U.N. sanctions and his own increasing political isolation, he turned to his immediate family for defense of the regime and excused his eldest son's previous indiscretions. In 1994, he appointed Uday to a new security institution called the Saddamists, which Uday spun off into the feared Fedayeen Saddam, a 40,000-member-strong paramilitary unit with a secret death squad of masked members who report directly to the Presidential Palace.

Today, with all of the institutional tools at his command, Uday is widely recognized as Iraq's second-most-powerful -- and feared -- man, as well as his father's likely eventual successor.

Kelly Whalen is a freelance writer and documentary producer based in Oakland, California.

Links Relevant to this Article

Uday Calls for "Fact-Searching Media of the 21st Century"
After Saddam's regime recently moved to expel members of CNN's Baghdad bureau and other Western reporters, Uday Saddam Hussein is leading a charm offensive to convince reporters that Iraq is not hostile to Western news coverage, writes foreign correspondent John Burns in The New York Times. (October 28, 2002) (requires registration)

An Interview With a Defector
Iraqi defector Abbas al-Janabi, who held numerous key positions in media, commerce and national organizations working for Uday Saddam Hussein, gave a detailed interview to the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat. Read translated excerpts from the interview and more on al-Janabi's allegations of Uday's human rights abuses and his illegal business activities on the American Federation of Scientists Web site.

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