Why Was Saddam Hussein Haunted by the Brutal murder of Iraq's Boy King?

Roundup: Talking About History

Waiting in a spartan, concrete-lined chamber at Camp Justice, an Iraqi army base in Kazimain, a north-eastern suburb of Baghdad, the 69-year-old fallen dictator Saddam Hussein, dressed in a black overcoat, stood on the trapdoor of the gallows.

Found guilty of crimes against humanity during his 24 years as President of Iraq, he had been sentenced to death.

But even now, in his last moments, he maintained his old defiance.

Spurning the use of a black hood over his head, he shouted 'Allah is great', as three masked executioners placed the rope around his throat.

The platform dropped and there was an audible crack, indicating that his neck was broken. One of modern history's most ruthless tyrants was dead at last.

Only moments before the end, on December 30, 2006, Shi'ite observers at the execution had hurled sectarian insults at Saddam (a Sunni), taunting him with the name of his great antagonist, the radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr.

'Moqtada! Moqtada!' they jeered. Saddam repeated the name mockingly, adding: 'Do you consider this bravery?'

But despite the hopes and jubilation of his enemies, Saddam's thoughts in those final moments are unlikely to have been of Moqtada, but of another much younger man - one born only two years before himself: the tragic last King of Iraq, whose brutal murder 50 years ago this summer not only shocked and horrified the world, but haunted and obsessed Saddam for the rest of his days...

...Was it because he somehow already had a premonition that his own end would be every bit as macabre as that of the far more decent, honourable and innocent young man who had perished all those years before him?

The saga begins some 17 years before Saddam's birth. After the end of World War I, Britain, France and the United States seized the rights to 95 per cent of the oil in Iraq.

In 1920, the newly-formed League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over Iraq in the form of a kind of pre-independence trusteeship...

...The Hashemite constitutional monarchy imposed on Iraq by the British was headed by 35-year-old King Faisal I, who was born in what is now Saudi Arabia, had never set foot in Iraq, spoke an Arabic dialect that was barely intelligible to his future subjects, and had no knowledge of the disparate Iraqi tribes.

Faisal spent his 12-year reign attempting to hold the balance between British interests in his kingdom and Iraqi suspicions over his alleged pro-Western sympathies.

The strain undermined his health, and he died from a heart attack at 48 within a week of his arrival.

Faisal's son, King Ghazi, a 21-year-old playboy who resented British domination, inherited the throne but six years later, in 1939, he crashed his sports car in Baghdad after a night of heavy drinking and died from his injuries.

The crown then fell to the playboy's only son, four-year-old King Faisal II, who began his reign under the regency of his repressive and hugely unpopular maternal uncle, Crown Prince Abdullah.

Faisal II was educated in Britain at Harrow, along with his cousin, King Hussein of Jordan.

Faisal, the intelligent ruler of a rich country, appeared destined for greatness. Hussein, king of a penniless backwater, described by his housemaster as 'not a success at Harrow', seemed bound to fail...

....In 1982, Saddam arranged for King Hussein of Jordan - who, unlike his less fortunate cousin, had survived wars and countless assassination attempts as he walked a tightrope across the abyss of Middle Eastern politics - to come to Adhamiya to visit King Faisal's final resting place.

In that same year, by presidential decree, Saddam remodelled the royal cemetery, providing Iraq's last King with a magnificent new marble tomb.

Some whispered that the President 'believed himself to be of Hashemite descent'; others that he was merely obsessed and fixated by Faisal II's tragically brief life and reign.

On several occasions, Saddam astonished the cemetery officials by asking for the marble slab that covered Faisal's grave to be removed, and for the royal coffin, sealed for more than a quarter of a century, to be opened for his inspection.

Was it the corpse of the murdered monarch at which Saddam gazed with such morbid fascination? Or was it the spectre of his own destiny?

That destiny closed in upon him all too rapidly after the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003.

His sons Uday and Qusay and his 14-year-old grandson Mustapha were killed in a three-hour gunfight with American forces three months later, followed by the humiliating capture of the bearded and dishevelled Saddam himself at a farmhouse in ad-Dawr, near his native Tikrit in December.

After the invasion that ousted him from power, American forces for a time occupied the royal cemetery at Adhamiya, damaging the tomb of Faisal II's grandfather, when they searched it for weapons, and also several of the chandeliers in the mosque.

Protests by the local Iraqi population eventually forced the Americans to withdraw.

'Now no one dares to come here,' says the royal cemetery guard, Ghanem Jamil Ali. 'If you go to the main gate, you will see a tank in front of it.'

Yet there, among the evergreen trees and close to the historic Tigris River, stands the strangest and most mysterious relic of Saddam's 24-year reign: his monument to the tragic young King he regarded as a royal martyr.

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