Tikrit, Aug. 3: In the end, only the imam sobbed. Uday and Qusay Hussein were buried under harsh, stony soil outside their father’s birthplace yesterday, in ground that was as unforgiving as they had been during their lives of privileged brutality.
Near an ornate shrine built in the memory of Saddam Hussein’s mother, Subha, a loyal crowd of 70 gathered around the shallow graves to mourn men they insisted on calling martyrs.
We were allowed to approach the mourners just as the Iraqi flag designed by Saddam was being plastered on the graves with water and mud by 20 or more hands, while the crowd chanted “There is no God but Allah”.
A few hundred yards away, US troops providing security lined up for a group photograph, as the crowd seethed with anger against the troops who had killed the sons of the Iraqi dictator during an ambush in Mosul 10 days ago.
The bodies were laid in the family cemetery in Ajwa.
A single brave soul at the graveside, who had been at school with Uday, quietly rejoiced that a man he called evil was now buried.
He remembered how Saddam’s eldest son had changed when his father became President. “The stories about women and alcohol started soon after,” he told me. “Many of us were forced to provide him with everything he demanded.”
Other mourners, however, accosted me to complain about the hasty arrangements for the funeral, which started at 12.30 pm, when most residents of the nearby Saddam stronghold of Tikrit were preparing for midday prayers.
Senior mourners sat in the shade of a nearby meeting hall, while lesser mourners jostled for a spot beneath a single palm tree, with some suggesting that the bodies should later be given a proper burial in a more opulent fashion.
“They were martyrs who lived in a good and generous way and died in the same manner,” said Nibras Zaidan Khalaf.
The hastily gathered mourners had been expecting to bury the two sons.
But when the Iraqi Red Crescent handed over the bodies to the master of ceremonies, Sheikh Mahmoud al-Nida — head of Saddam’s family tribe, the Bejat — there was an unexpected third coffin.
It belonged to Qusay’s teenage son, Mustafa, who is believed to have been the last man standing during the Mosul raid.
The ceremony was held up for nearly an hour after his father and uncle had been put in the ground, as a diesel- powered jackhammer was brought in to gouge out Mustafa’s grave.
The bodies were interred in the aluminium caskets provided by the American morticians at Baghdad airport, from where they had been flown earlier in the day.
The body of the fourth member of the group killed in Mosul, Abdul Samat, one of Saddam’s bodyguards, was not returned — an omission that prompted a voluble graveside argument between his grieving uncle and Sheikh Mahmoud.
Loyalists vowed to take revenge on the American forces who had killed Saddam’s sons, whom they had hoped would inherit his power.
“The day is coming when we will extract vengeance for them,” said Nashi Atwan Ali. “When that time comes, we will kill double the number of Americans that they have killed in Iraq.”
More diplomatically, Sheikh Mahmoud would only mutter that it was a sad day for his clan, which, he said had benefited enormously from the patronage of the dictatorship and is now bearing the brunt of the mass manhunt for Saddam Hussein.
The decision to hand the bodies over was taken on Friday at a lunchtime meeting between Iraq’s new governing council and Paul Bremer, the US governor.
The Americans had worried that the burial site would become a place of pilgrimage, but the sudden, perfunctory funeral ceremony ensured the crowd remained small.
It was, indeed, small but it became increasingly hostile. After Mustafa was buried, the mood of the mourners turned ugly.
As the imam led a prayer line, one man surged forward and shouted: “Death to the Americans!”
Pandemonium ensued when the sheikh announced that there would be no fatiha, the traditional three-day wake, given the unusual circumstances of the funeral.
“We will do it anyway,” shouted a dozen mourners.
“Our souls, our blood we will give for you, Saddam,” they chanted.