Hussein's sons, Uday (R) and Qusay (L), at a political rally
- May 2001. Credit: Agence France-Press
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
looks on as Iraq's national soccer team defeats Nepal, 7-0
- June 1998. Credit: Agence France-Presse
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.
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
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
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.
Relevant to this Article
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)
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.
TO: A Family Affair: Iraq's Ruling