Baghdad, Dec. 17: Saddam Hussein spent the final weeks before the war writing a novel predicting that he would lead an underground resistance movement to victory over the Americans, rather than planning the defence of his regime.
As the war began and Saddam went into hiding 40,000 copies of Be Gone Demons! were rolling off the presses.
Most were destroyed by bombing and looting but the Telegraph has obtained one of the few remaining copies of the novel — an historical epic which reveals both Saddam’s increasing detachment from the world and his inflated sense of self.
The narrative meanders through the history of Iraq from Biblical times to the present and is filled with paranoid invectives against the Jews, who delight in inciting troubles between Muslim nations and encouraging the Romans — a synonym for the Americans — to attack Iraq.
The arch-villain of the piece is Ezekiel, an immortal Jew whose presence runs throughout time. He is a fat, evil old man. Saddam probably had Ariel Sharon in mind.
According to the author, the Iran-Iraq war began when Ezekiel convinced the head of the Iraqi tribe to invade his neighbour. The Iraqis, led by a doddering old Sheikh, are quickly defeated and Ezekiel seizes power in the country.
Enter Saddam as the resistance fighter Salim — “a pure, virtuous Arab. Salim is tall and handsome with a straight nose”, he enthuses.
The 1991 Gulf war is portrayed as an ambush by Ezekiel, which Salim shrugs off, driving him out of the country with the words: “Be gone demon.” But Ezekiel returns instead with Roman allies.
In the ensuing battle Salim “fights the Romans like a hawk”. The onslaught proves irresistible and Ezekiel and the Roman king flee, only to discover the twin towers of the Roman capital in flames.
As Saddam faces captivity, trial and a possible death sentence he may seek solace in his imaginary world.
“He lost touch with reality,”said Saad Hadi, a journalist who was involved in the production of Saddam’s novels. “He thought he was a god who could do anything, including writing novels.”
Saddam published three equally bad volumes between 2000 and his downfall.
According to Hadi, Saddam’s favourite novelist was Ernest Hemingway, in particular The Old Man and the Sea, whose style he tried to emulate. “He’d sit in his state room and recount simple tales, while his aides recorded his words,” he said.
To begin with, distinguished writers were asked to improve Saddam’s yarns. Mujiba al-Anizi, whose husband, Sami, contributed to his first novel, Zabibah and the King, recalled how he was summoned from his job one morning and told he had three days to produce a book from the President’s notes. “Sami normally came home and kissed his children goodnight,” recalled Mujiba.
“But that evening he just stood in the hallway sweating. He said ‘our uncle” had given him a special task.”
Two months later, just as 250,000 copies of Zabibah and the King were being anonymously distributed, al-Anizi came home, walked into the kitchen, drank a jug of water and fell down dead.
His widow believes he was killed on the President’s orders to hush up his role in the book.
The novel was badly received, although once word of who had inspired it spread, sales took off. Abdul al-Jabouri, a shopkeeper in al-Mutanabbi book corner in Baghdad, said: “Everyone bought it just to see what was on the President’s mind. Most people concluded he was mad.”
The Fortified Castle and Men and the City — a romanticised account of the rise of the Ba'ath Party in Tikrit — followed, with Saddam increasingly penning the works himself, before Be Gone Demons!
South Korea has decided to dispatch up to 3,000 troops to Iraq to help rebuild the war-torn country. The defence minister said the troops would be in addition to the 675 medical and engineering personnel already serving in Iraq.