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Uday's big fat Iraqi wedding

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 18.05.08

Saddam Hussein himself was an elusive figure. He had an official residence and he reportedly operated from the Presidential Office. However, no one knew where he was on any single day, how he travelled or where he spent the night. On most occasions, Iraqis got to see him only on TV. Even when foreign visitors were received, no one, including Iraqi officials, was aware of the venue of the meeting. Several routes were changed, as were several cars before reaching the meeting place… Most meetings with Saddam usually took place after sunset. This was essentially designed for security reasons, as Saddam Hussein was a hunted man...

Nevertheless Saddam never forgot the courtesies due to a foreign Ambassador. On Christmas Eve, a shiny new Presidential car with a smart young lady arrived at our residence, carrying a cake from Saddam Hussein wishing us a ‘Happy New Year.’ The young lady also carried Saddam’s visiting card along with his greetings. It was deft touches such as these, even in war-torn Iraq, which made you feel that Saddam was not the ‘demon’ that the Western media made him out to be. This gesture was repeated every year just prior to Christmas. Needless to say, the cake was delicious!

My interactions with the family of Saddam Hussein were limited as could be expected in the environment that prevailed in Iraq at that time. Occasionally, there were meetings. However, in July 1993, I was sitting in my office one afternoon when I received a communication from Barazan al-Tikriti, the President’s half-brother. Barazan himself was a powerful figure in the regime and I was at once curious and anxious to see what was in the communication. It was an invitation to attend the marriage reception of Barazan’s daughter with (Saddam’s son) Uday Saddam Hussein. In those days such invitations were never declined, but more than that I was most anxious to meet Saddam’s family in an informal setting. I was keen to talk to them and to see for myself what they were actually like. Many thoughts raced through my mind. It was common knowledge that Uday Saddam Hussein was earlier married to the daughter of Izzat Ibrahim. Obviously the marriage had failed. The question was what would be the political implications, for Izzat was not only the President’s closest comrade and confidant but belonged to the very prominent and powerful al-Duri clan… It is to the credit of Izzat Ibrahim that we never received any report that he ever wavered in his loyalty to Saddam. Nevertheless, this was a hot subject of debate in the diplomatic community. We were not sure whether this new marriage represented a shift in the internal alignments of the ruling group or was simply an affair of the heart.

The wedding day and reception were fixed for 29th July 1993. We arrived at Barazan’s house full of expectations… Almost all Iraqis whom we met were petrified of Uday Saddam Hussein. Born in 1964, Uday reportedly studied engineering at the University of Baghdad. He visited the US in mid-1982 with the title of Counsellor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Western press prior to the Kuwaiti invasion would indulgently describe him as ‘spoiled and troublesome.’ However, after the Kuwaiti invasion, attitudes completely changed and horrendous crimes were attributed to Uday. He was vilified almost daily. Some of the reports that we read suggested that he was a philanderer, an alcoholic and a killer. Thus it would be most interesting to meet him in person.

Barazan’s house was located at Jadriya, a fashionable district, just behind Baghdad University. As could be expected security was very tight. The house was a huge one and located within large, sprawling and splendid gardens. Inside the house the furnishings were bright, and it was fully air-conditioned. There were massive chandeliers, marble floorings and a staircase leading to the second floor. The house opened out on the river Tigris and sitting in the gardens one could see the river flow by ever so slowly. It was indeed a splendid view almost out of a fashion magazine.

As we entered the main hall, Barazan and his wife greeted us very warmly. Standing nearby was Uday and a little further away his brother Qusay and their family members. Uday greeted us warmly and spoke in English, as did his brother Qusay. Uday was about 5’11” tall and was wearing a smart brown jacket with an open collar… Both the brothers spoke to me about Indo-Iraqi relations and generally indulged in small talk.

The cream of Iraqi society was present, including ministers and generals in uniform and other high-ranking officials. Liquor flowed freely and food was plentiful, including imported items. An Iraqi band in full Western style regalia was in attendance. Seated on a specially built wooden podium near the Tigris River that flowed in the background, the band played popular but old American numbers. Iraqi fascination with America was so apparent! The party lasted late into the night.

The women were dressed in Western style clothes and mingled easily with the guests. Some spoke excellent English, some very hesitatingly so, some not at all. Not unsurprisingly, they showed no inhibitions when it came to consuming champagne! Looking at the party, the food, the music, the well-dressed guests, it all seemed so unreal, so make believe. And yet it was so normal. This could have been a party anywhere in the world to celebrate a marriage...

There were many surprise guests at the party. The Bishops of the Syrian Church and the Orthodox Church were present. There were also some rather well-known gentlemen wearing Kurdish dresses! In these unreal times, most people were unsure of the future and most liked to hedge their bets. What if Saddam survived and was reprieved and eventually rehabilitated by the West? Better to be safe rather than sorry! Saddam personally never came for his son’s wedding reception, at least we never met or saw him there. Neither did Uday’s mother Sajda.

Finally came the time to depart. Uday escorted us to the door and he said his goodbye like a gentleman. His whole demeanour was very polite, very courteous. Was he a murderer, an alcoholic, a womanizer or a butcher as popularly portrayed? It was very difficult to decide, and perhaps it is best left to history.