BAGHDAD — Uday Hussein’s personal bodyguard broke a three-month silence yesterday to give the first authoritative account of how Saddam and his sons spent the war.
In an exclusive interview with The Times of London, the bodyguard claimed that, far from fleeing Baghdad, the three men held out in the capital for at least a week after its fall.
He said that they evaded repeated American attempts to assassinate or capture them, and even appeared in public under the noses of U.S. troops.
During a three-hour interview in a house in a town an hour northwest of Baghdad, the bodyguard said that Saddam and his sons had remained in the capital throughout the war, convinced they could hold the city.
When the first bombs fell on a house in a southern suburb, where the Americans believed Saddam and his sons were meeting, he and Uday were on the other side of the city in one of dozens of safe houses belonging to trusted friends and relatives through which the three men were to pass in the weeks to come.
The bodyguard said the Americans’ next “decapitation” strike came a lot closer, and that Saddam survived only because several safe houses had come under attack and he suspected there was an informant within his camp.
Saddam asked the suspect, a captain, to prepare a safe house behind a restaurant in the Mansour district for a meeting. They arrived, and left again, almost immediately, by the back door. “Ten minutes after they went out of the door, it was bombed,” the bodyguard said.
Saddam had the captain summarily executed while the Pentagon was claiming that the strike had probably finished off Saddam and Uday.
The 28-year-old man, who asked that his name be kept secret for fear of reprisals, served as one of Uday’s coterie of handpicked personal bodyguards from 1997 until the moment his former boss finally left Baghdad to organize guerrilla resistance further north.
Uday bade him farewell with a $1,000 golden handshake, promising to be in touch again “when he was needed”. On Tuesday U.S. troops killed Uday and his brother, Qusay, in a gunfight in the northern city of Mosul. On Thursday the Pentagon released pictures of the dead brothers.
When Baghdad fell on April 9, Saddam, Uday and Qusay were in separate houses in Adhamiya, a Sunni neighborhood full of loyalists where Saddam had been on a televised walkabout two days before.
Uday’s bodyguard was not present on that occasion, but was there two days later when, to the astonishment of all around, Saddam and his sons appeared at Friday prayers at a mosque in Adhamiya, a few miles from where American troops were patrolling.
“There were crowds all around and an old woman came up to Saddam and asked, ‘What have you done to us?’,” the bodyguard recalled.
“Saddam clapped his hand to his head and said, ‘What can I do? I trusted the commanders but they were traitors and they betrayed Iraq. But we hope that, before long, we will be back in power and everything will be fixed’.”
The men never appeared in public again, but the bodyguard said that they were able to travel freely from safe house to safe house in unmarked cars, sometimes under the noses of the Americans.
“Once we were in Mansour, their convoy was going by and we just drove right past them in ordinary cars. They never saw us,” he said.
For an increasingly anxious Uday, it was a moment of comic relief. “He made fun of them. When he saw a soldier with a red face, he said, ‘That’s not a soldier for war’.” Uday offered an obscene suggestion of what the soldier’s face might be better used for.
The bodyguard said that Saddam and his sons had remained in Baghdad in the genuine belief that they could hold the city. Only later, when they believed they had been betrayed by their commanders, did they consider an alternative. “The resistance was not factored in before the war,” he said. “There was a closed meeting five or six days after the war, and that is when they began to discuss the resistance.”
A couple of days later, the bodyguard was summoned by Uday, who handed him $1,000 in cash and said he could go home. Uday would not say where he was going — only that it was time to begin the resistance. “He said you can go. We’ll get you when we need you,” the bodyguard said. “They only kept their relatives with them after that. They didn’t trust anyone else.”