The death of Saddam's sons

Published : Aug 15, 2003 00:00 IST



THE fourth week of July was an eventful one for the United States' forces in Iraq: they managed to kill the sons of Saddam Hussein but suffered a significant number of casualties. Officials close to President George Bush described the week as the best he had had in months. Bush himself, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, welcomed the killing of Uday and Qusay.

An unnamed U.S. military official, quoted in the U.S. media, described the killings as "a very beneficial hit. They (the Iraqi opposition) cannot feel anything other than doom, since if we can take them, we can take anybody". Hundreds of U.S. soldiers using automatic weapons, rockets and rocket-propelled grenades took more than six hours to kill the brothers and 14-year-old Mustapha, a grandson of Saddam Hussein, who was with them, on July 22 in the northern city of Mosul. Apache helicopters, A-10 Warthogs and fighter aircraft were also used in the operation.

The people of Mosul were not seen celebrating the siege of the villa where Uday and Qusay had taken refuge. "There is no reason to celebrate. Uday and Qusay were Iraqis after all," an Iraqi told a U.S. news channel. In Baghdad, there were mixed reactions. While celebratory gunfire could be heard in parts of the city after the U.S. confirmed the killings, in a residential area, angry neighbours demonstrated in front of a house belonging to the person who is said to have betrayed the brothers.

The two brothers were betrayed by one of their kinsmen, in whose house they were staying. He is said to have collected the $30 million reward and U.S. military officials hinted that he would be relocated in a safe haven far away from vengeful Iraqis.

The Hussein family was not very popular with Iraqi Shias. The radical Shia Islamist group, the Da'awa, was said to be responsible for an assassination attempt on Uday in 1996. He never recovered fully from the attack and it would have been difficult for him to survive on his own while on the run.

The Pentagon claimed that U.S. forces had nabbed most of Saddam Hussein's bodyguards and implied that they were closing in on Saddam Hussein.

The three audio-cassettes sent out by Saddam seem to have played a part in galvanising Iraqi resistance. The first speech explained to the people the circumstances leading to the fall of Baghdad and the collapse of the government. The second tape urged them to get ready for a long-drawn-out struggle. The third conveyed broad guidelines for the organisation of the resistance. Arab analysts say that even if the U.S. forces manage to eliminate Saddam Hussein, the low-intensity war will continue. They say that with Saddam Hussein no more, the Baath Party will be in a better position to forge a wider resistance front among Iraqis.

Dead men tell no tales, and Iraqis are puzzled that the U.S. troops did not try to capture Uday and Qusay alive; the overwhelming force they used showed that they had no intention of taking the brothers alive. Many Iraqis, especially those who were opposed to the Baath regime, would have preferred Uday and Qusay to face trial in an Iraqi court.

Saddam Hussein and his close circle are privy to many dirty secrets, many of them involving previous U.S. administrations. Many leading personalities of the current Bush administration, including Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney, had close links with the Baath government. In February 2002, the U.S. National Security Archives released 60 documents detailing the deep linkages that existed between the Reagan administration and the Iraqi government throughout the 1980s.

Rumsfeld visited Baghdad in December 1983 as the special envoy of President Ronald Reagan and had an intensive 90-minute discussion with Saddam Hussein. The New York Times, in a report published in March 2003, said that the U.S. and France were the sources of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons programme. Many of the inspectors who served on the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) team in the 1990s claimed that Qusay was in charge of developing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme. If Qusay had been captured alive, he would have provided valuable information on the WMDs, if they did exist. By eliminating him, the Bush administration has once again proved to the international community that it is not serious about proving the existence of WMDs in Iraq.

The brothers, especially Uday, were accused of being involved in a lot of crimes, ranging from homicide to embezzlement. Uday was sentenced to one year in prison by an Iraqi court in the mid-1980s for his role in the killing of his fathers's personal bodyguard. The sentence was commuted but Uday had to live in exile in Switzerland for some time. He emerged as an important player in Iraqi politics in the 1990s despite a fiery temper and an unorthodox lifestyle. He was the editor of the influential newspaper Babel and president of the Iraqi Olympic Committee. More important, he was in charge of the "Fedayeen Militia", an elite praetorian guard raised to protect the government. U.S. military officials credit the remnants of the militia with many of the daring hit-and-run attacks against their troops.

Qusay preferred to maintain a low profile. By the late 1990s he had begun to assume important positions in the administration. He played a major role in putting down the Shia revolt in southern Iraq after the Gulf War. He was a member of the Iraqi National Security Council and the more important Special Security Committee. He was credited with foiling one of the most serious coup attempts against Saddam Hussein in 1996. The coup was planned by the Iraqi National Accord (INA), an opposition group consisting of former Baath officials, funded by the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The putschists had managed to penetrate the upper echelons of the Iraqi administration, including the Republican Guards and the Presidential Security. Saddam Hussein had put Qusay in charge of Baghdad district when the U.S. invaded Iraq. Before Baghdad fell, Qusay was in charge of both the security and the intelligence services of the government. When this correspondent was in Baghdad late last year, shops and business institutions had put up portraits of Uday and Qusay standing with their father.

The display of the pictures of the bullet-ridden bodies of Uday and Qusay in the electronic and print media violated civilised norms. When the pictures of some captured U.S. prisoners of war were shown on Iraqi television after the U.S. invaded Iraq, Washington complained that the Iraqi government was violating international conventions relating to war.

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