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Saddam hands younger son key role

Dubai, March 16 (Reuters): Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who has never named a successor, gave his ruthless younger son Qusay a key role in war plans announced this weekend.

Saddam placed Qusay in charge of the Baghdad-Tikrit area, the government’s power base, after dividing Iraq into four military districts to confront a threatened US-led invasion.

A rapid accumulation of power has catapulted Qusay ahead of his elder brother Uday, who had been tipped as successor until he was badly wounded in an assassination attempt in 1996.

Saddam decreed no new role for Uday when he put Iraq on a war footing yesterday, but both sons are close to the centre of a web of family and clan networks that their father has used to control the country for more than three decades.

Qusay, born in 1966, has traditionally kept a lower profile than the more flamboyant Uday, who retains influence through ownership of media outlets, among other roles.

After the 1996 shooting, which left Uday on crutches for three years, Qusay took command of key parts of the Iraqi military and feared security apparatus.

He controls the elite Republican Guards, the intelligence services and a special force providing security for Saddam, making him arguably the second most powerful man in the country.

Qusay regularly appears at his father’s side in most official functions shown on Iraqi television.

Always wearing a civilian suit, Qusay respectfully bows and kisses the hand of Saddam whenever he meets him in front of the cameras.

In leadership or military meetings, Qusay says little but listens intently to Saddam’s every word, taking notes.

Like his father, diplomats say Qusay has been ruthless in dealing with opponents. He is said to have put down political disturbances in 1998 and sent dissidents to their deaths.

Qusay’s prospects of succeeding his father were for a time clouded by apparent rivalry with his brother.

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