‘Abbas al-Janabi, private secretary to Saddam Husayn's son ‘Udayy for fifteen years
(1983-98), escaped from Iraq with his wife and five children in the spring of 1998. Now about fifty years old, Mr. Janabi is hiding in Great Britain from the Iraqi regime and writing an autobiography. His revelations below offer an insider's view of the extraordinary way of life at Saddam's court and the role of the first family in Iraqi life.1 Mr. Janabi was, in the words of one observer, a "man who was very close to ‘Udayy and knows everything about him."2 His information has been described as "gold dust."3 Originally published in Al-Hayat, the London-based Arabic newspaper, on Oct. 18, 20, and 22, 1998, the following interview is republished, including some minor changes, with permission.
Question: How did you meet ‘Udayy?
‘Abbas al-Janabi: In 1984, ‘Udayy wanted to establish a newspaper entitled Al-Ba‘th ar-Riyadhi [The Sporting Ba‘th]. He requested the presence of three experts in the field of sports reporting, and I was chosen.
Q: How do you, as a journalist, explain the ‘Udayy phenomenon?
Janabi: ‘Udayy is a partial replica of Saddam. The son follows the father step-by-step. Go back to Saddam's early history, and you'll find that Saddam also focused on journalism. In his early years, he took responsibility for the secret party newspaper.
One should also look at "the ‘Udayy Phenomenon" as a method of keeping control of the Iraqi public. The press is one of the methods that Saddam uses for internally controlling Iraqis. Saddam is currently not concerned with externally expanding his control, he is concerned with getting his house in order. Once he gets his house in order, he will embark on steps abroad. Who better to organize his information campaign internally than ‘Udayy?
Q: When did ‘Udayy begin to gain prominence?
Janabi: Around 1983 or 1984. ‘Udayy's press empire began in 1984 and culminated in the establishment of the Babil newspaper.
Q: Is ‘Udayy a part of the Ba‘th Party?
Janabi: ‘Udayy has his own power base. However, outwardly he acts as if he is part of the party. His goals are to use the party to further his ambitions. For example, he is a member of the central youth office of the Ba‘th Party, which enjoys the position of being a branch office of the party. This will enable ‘Udayy, when the time comes, to launch his bid to become a member of the regional command of the Ba‘th Party [the highest Ba‘th Party organ]. His goal is to become a member of the regional command.
Q: What would stop him?
Janabi: Probably the only thing are differences with his father. His father has different ambitions for ‘Udayy. His father wants to prepare him step by step for something major. He, on the other hand, has more immediate goals, such as amassing a fortune and collecting expensive cars.
Q: ‘Udayy has a reputation for cars and women. Is that true?
Janabi: These are not rumors. They are true. He has a large number of cars. He stole around 160 cars from Kuwait. You may not believe it when I tell you that ‘Udayy has 1,300 luxury cars, such as Rolls Royces, Porsches, Ferraris, Range Rovers, Lincolns and others.
Following ‘Udayy's shooting of [his uncle] Watban, Saddam tried to confiscate and blow up ‘Udayy's cars in one garage. But that garage contained only thirteen cars. Saddam did not know that ‘Udayy has several other garages; I know of at least six more.
Saddam feels helpless with ‘Udayy with regards to his womanizing. Also, if he forgives him for murdering people, how would kidnapping or raping a woman be any worse? His father, with all the intelligence and security apparatuses at his command, knows everything about ‘Udayy's womanizing.
Q: Where does ‘Udayy stand in the struggle within the family?
Janabi: ‘Udayy is at times the primary cause of the internal squabbles and at others a catalyst for such squabbles. The divisions within Saddam's family are deep and profound. Saddam is a member of the Al Bu-Nasr clan [from Tikrit], or more accurately the Al Bu-‘Umar branch of it. This branch is split between the Al ‘Abd al-Ghaffur sub-branch (of which Saddam is a member) and the Al Khattab sub-branch (of which Barzan [Saddam's half-brother] and Ibrahim al-Hasan [Saddam's step-father and Barazan's father]) are members.
The split in Saddam's family began in 1983 because of Raghd, Saddam's oldest daughter. A nephew of Barzan was the first person to ask for her hand in marriage. Barzan was the one who went to Saddam to ask on his behalf. Saddam refused, which led to Barzan resigning from all public duties; at the time, he was head of the intelligence directorate. ‘Udayy was strongly opposed to this marriage as he was influenced by his mother, Sajida [Saddam's wife and first cousin]. Sajida was also the sister of Barzan's wife, but the two sisters did not get along. Barzan thought that ‘Udayy was behind Saddam's decision.
When Raghd married the late Husayn Kamil, Barzan was enraged and the split widened. Sajida wanted Husayn Kamil, who at the time was a member of her security detail, to marry her daughter and preferred him to Barzan and the al-Khattab sub-branch. The split has continued and still has many repercussions, too many to highlight here.
Another source of the family split was Saddam's marriage to Samira Shahbandar [who became his second wife]. ‘Adnan Khayrallah [Saddam's cousin, brother-in-law, and former defense minister] succeeded in mediating the squabble caused by this marriage. As you may know, ‘Udayy was against this marriage and so killed Kamil Hanna Juju, his father's bodyguard and food taster. ‘Udayy killed him publicly in front of people because Kamil Hanna Juju acted as the liaison between Saddam and Samira Shahbandar. It was a brutal murder. I was present, as was [President Mubarak of Egypt's wife] Suzanne al-Mubarak, who cut her trip short as a result. ‘Udayy hit Kamil on the head with a stick. Kamil collapsed in a pool of blood. He died in hospital the next morning.
Q: Saddam has children from Samira Shahbandar who are not in the limelight. Why?
Janabi: Saddam has one son, ‘Ali, from Samira Shahbandar. He is thirteen years old. He is a member of the board of an athletic club. He is treated in a special manner by his father, with many servants and bodyguards. The press does not focus on ‘Ali because ‘Udayy does not want him to have any public role. Even though he is a director of the largest athletic club in Baghdad, ‘Udayy refuses to have any publicity surrounding his role. ‘Udayy hates him. ‘Udayy cannot tolerate his [younger full-] brother Qusayy, let alone ‘Ali.
Q: It is said that ‘Udayy's relationship is not good with many members of his family, including Qusayy. Is that true?
Janabi: It is ‘Udayy's nature to antagonize others. Even before the attempted assassination, ‘Udayy was a complex personality. It has to do with his upbringing. Saddam personally took charge of bringing up his younger brother Qusayy. Although Saddam also participated in bringing up ‘Udayy, he did not devote so much attention to him. It was ‘Udayy's mother and her father [Khayrallah Tulfa, Saddam's maternal uncle] who had the most influence on him. This is why we see Khayrallah Tulfa's known traits in ‘Udayy, such as the love of money, the love for taking over other people's property, violence and extremism. ‘Udayy obviously has some of his father's traits as well, but it is his maternal grandfather that seems to have influenced him as well.
Q: How is ‘Udayy's health now?
Janabi: He is doing all right. He cannot walk normally without the aid of walking sticks or crutches. Doctors have infused new bones in his left leg, but his brain seems to have rejected them.
ATTEMPT ON ‘UDAYY'S LIFE
Q: Did the assassination attempt affect ‘Udayy's relationships, especially with his brother Qusayy?
Janabi: The attempt on his life has seriously depressed ‘Udayy and has made him less trusting, especially towards Qusayy. The differences between the two brothers started in 1988, after the murder of Kamil Hanna Juju, because Saddam asked two individuals to collect information on ‘Udayy and the incident—Husayn Kamil and Qusayy. Husayn Kamil operated in a devious manner as he did not report all the information that came to his attention, especially those relating to ‘Udayy's business activities and sexual misdemeanors. Qusayy, however, reported all that came to his attention about ‘Udayy and did not hide anything. ‘Udayy was angered by this, as he believed that Qusayy was trying to ruin him.
This happened again when ‘Udayy shot his uncle Watban. Saddam asked us in and informed us that ‘Udayy was finished and that we should disclose everything about him. None of us dared say anything as we believed that it was a trap or at least a public attempt by Saddam to show that he is doing something against his son.
‘Udayy had previously become isolated. After the attempt on his life, however, he was reinstalled in his previous positions, from which he had been fired in 1995. It is therefore my opinion that the assassination attempt on ‘Udayy has revived his political fortunes.
Q: When was ‘Udayy isolated and why?
Janabi: In 1995, after he shot his uncle Watban. Saddam wanted to teach him a lesson by isolating him. The reason why ‘Udayy shot Watban was a result of a business conflict between Lu‘ayy Khayrallah Tulfa [Sajida's brother; ‘Udayy's maternal uncle and his childhood friend] and one of Saddam's other half-brothers, with Watban becoming the
All official positions in Saddam's family are controlled strictly by Saddam. It seems to me that the roles given to ‘Udayy are greater than those given to Qusayy. Even though Qusayy controls the special security services and the Republican Guard, ‘Udayy's responsibilities, which include the youth and student organizations, the press and the Martyrs of Saddam [Fida'i Saddam], are not minor and demonstrate that he is preparing himself well for the assumption of more power.
Q: Where were you when ‘Udayy was shot?
Janabi: I was at the Olympic Committee headquarters when the assassination attempt took place. I was watching the soccer game between Iraq and Thailand as it was taking place in the United Arab Emirates. ‘Udayy asked me to report the result to him by telephone. It was Thursday night and, as is common on Thursday nights, ‘Udayy went to the Mansur neighborhood where he tried to pick up girls. I tried reaching ‘Udayy by telephone on a number of occasions but could not get through. I was told that he went to the Avicenna Hospital. When I arrived there, I learned that he was shot. The press tried to blame Iran but the truth is that ‘Udayy's actions made him a target for such an operation. Every Iraqi knows that ‘Udayy goes to that specific location every Thursday night without any bodyguards.
The interesting point here is that the person who saved ‘Udayy's life by driving him to the hospital, the singer ‘Ali as-Sahir, received a death threat from Saddam personally in front of others. I was waiting outside the hospital with Qusayy when Saddam arrived in a helicopter. He asked for ‘Ali as-Sahir, who was brought to him. In front of us, Saddam told him: "If anything happens to ‘Udayy, I will cut you in pieces." Saddam thought that Sahir was behind the attempt.
‘UDAYY AND KUWAIT
Q: How did ‘Udayy behave during the Gulf War?
Janabi: The day before the air attacks [i.e., January 16, 1991], ‘Udayy shaved his head completely and donned his black army uniform and went to a frontline [An-Nasiriya in southern Iraq]. He returned at around 4:30 in the morning from An-Nasiriya. He was scared and panicking. I was with him then. He did not go to his house or the allocated secure houses but went to the house of his friend Muhammad Qaraghuli in the Al-Ma'mun district of Baghdad. He locked himself in a room and refused to see anybody, including me. We waited for him for a full day when he finally asked for me. When I saw him, he seemed to be in a better frame of mind. He said that he had not been afraid but was concerned above all about his family, whose whereabouts he did not know. He then moved to one of the secure houses in a tourist area [on an island]. He continued to be afraid.
As the bombing continued, ‘Udayy began to feel more and more secure and began to regain control over the media. He began to direct the media campaign and took it over from Latif Nusayyif Jasim, the minister of information. His control over the media was such that when his father decided to withdraw from Kuwait, he signed an order and asked for it to get publicized. Even though the decision carried the presidential seal, the press was too afraid to publicize it without ‘Udayy's prior permission. The editor of Al-Jumhuriya [newspaper] tried to contact ‘Udayy to no avail to gain his permission. So he contacted me and I relayed the message to ‘Udayy, obtaining his approval.
Q: Did ‘Udayy have different views than those of his father with respect to the Gulf War?
Janabi: Yes. According to ‘Udayy, his father committed three mistakes during the Kuwait invasion and the Gulf War. First, he made a mistake in releasing the hostages, or as they were called "our guests." Second, Saddam should not have allowed the massing of allied troops in central Saudi Arabia. Saddam should have attacked them as they were building up. Third, Saddam should have captured the provinces in eastern Saudi Arabia, including the oil installations. He would then have had leverage to blow them up if Iraq was attacked by the United States. I heard ‘Udayy personally pronounce these statements.
Q: Kuwait was looted. Did ‘Udayy participate in this?
Janabi: I have a report of all that ‘Udayy took from Kuwait. He took printing presses, cars, clothes, carpets, furniture, chandeliers, a fleet of Volvo cars, gold and jewelry. He has no intention of ever returning them. In fact, he sold some of the material. For example, he took the printing press of the Kuwaiti armed forces, which was brand new, and sold it to a Iraqi businessman.
Q: What is ‘Udayy's position with respect to the sanctions and the embargo?
Janabi: ‘Udayy is the single largest beneficiary of the sanctions because he controls many facets of smuggling in Iraq—whisky, tobacco, fertilizers, petrol, and other goods. His business interests extend to Turkey, Iran, and Jordan. ‘Udayy has trading links with Iranians through intermediaries in Paris. I do not want to disclose who they are because they are friends. The Paris link also has other functions such as liaisoning with businessmen in Lebanon and with one of the Kurdish leaders.
He has also gained control of all aid going to Iraq from the United Arab Emirates. He stores this aid in warehouses owned by the Olympic Committee and only distributes a small portion of it, always in front of the press. ‘Udayy then arranges for this aid to be sold in stores, and gets the proceeds.
‘Udayy is also one of the parties who controls the U.S. dollar/dinar exchange rate and the smuggling of dollars overseas. Because of the large number of U.S. dollars he has, he can affect the movement of the exchange rate at any given time to the benefit of his commercial operations. I estimate that the sanctions have greatly benefited ‘Udayy. It is in his interest for the embargo to continue.
Q: What is the role of The ‘Udayy Foundation in the trading and smuggling of oil?
Janabi: It is the principal player in the trading of petrol. ‘Udayy is the primary smuggler of oil in Iraq. He obtains the petrol from the ministry of trade, with the approval of the minister of trade, Muhammad Mahdi Salih. ‘Udayy indirectly owns about fifty vessels that are used for smuggling oil through the Gulf, using Iranian fronts. He pays approximately $100 for each ton exported. In addition, ‘Udayy uses a fleet of trucks to smuggle oil to Turkey, coordinating his activities with certain Kurds.
‘Udayy has strong contacts with particular individuals in Kurdish parties. He told me on a number of occasions that he can influence events in the north. He has met many Kurdish leaders, including those who have historically cooperated with
All these oil smuggling operations are for ‘Udayy's account and not for the benefit of the central government. He has made hundreds of millions of dollars from them. The vessels are not registered in ‘Udayy's name; some are registered in the name of [Asil Tabra], who coordinates their movement with agents in Dubai, Damascus, and Amman. Since last year, ‘Udayy has also sold oil to local merchants who themselves take care of smuggling the oil out through their own contacts.
Some of these companies are registered in my name, which has caused ‘Udayy problems after my defection. For example, I own stakes in the Aba' Company for Livestock and in the Iman Company for Meats and Chicken.
Q: Where do the Martyrs of Saddam lie in the Iraqi military and security landscape? Do they operate independently from the military and security forces, in parallel with such forces, or as part of those forces?
Janabi: The Martyrs of Saddam are armed militias specially trained by army officers and Iraqi military experts, some of whom have been trained overseas, such as in Sandhurst [the British military academy]. Their role is to gain control of key points in Baghdad in the event of an uprising against the regime.
The Martyrs of Saddam have completed military exercises during which they surround and contain three neighborhoods in Baghdad. These three (Ath-Thawra, Ash-Sha‘la and Al-Iskan) were targeted because of the regime's view that unrest or popular uprising would start in them, populated as they are by Shi‘is not loyal to Saddam.
Members of the Martyrs of Saddam have benefits above those granted to other members of the military. For example, each member gets a monthly salary in excess of that granted to a colonel in the armed forces. The Martyrs of Saddam take orders only from ‘Udayy and no other official has any say in any matters relating to them. In addition to the military objectives outlined above, the Martyrs of Saddam are responsible for ‘Udayy's protection. Some of them are also responsible for the protection of the family of Khayrallah Tulfa [Saddam's wife's family] and the special buildings and locations under ‘Udayy's control.
Q: If I gave you the names of officials, for example Tariq ‘Aziz, ‘Abd Hamid Humud [husband of Saddam's sister, Saddam's personal secretary and pilot], Arshad Yasin [head of Saddam's security], ‘Udayy and Qusayy ... Who is the most powerful among them, especially with respect to UNSCOM [the United Nations Special Committee]?
Janabi: I would say that ‘Udayy is the most powerful, then Qusayy, then ‘Abd Hamid Humud. Arshad Yasin is no longer in the circle of influence after it was discovered that he was involved in the smuggling abroad of Iraqi antiquities. If this accusation had been made against any other Iraqi, he would have been immediately executed, but Arshad is a close relative of Saddam and so he was just dismissed. At the end of the list is Tariq ‘Aziz.
Q: But Tariq ‘Aziz is responsible for international relations, especially the issue of the
weapons of mass destruction and UNSCOM.
Janabi: Believe me when I tell you that Tariq ‘Aziz, who defends the regime publicly, does not know what is going on and that the regime hides many important things from him. Tariq ‘Aziz knows that weapons of mass destruction are moved around from place to place, but he knows nothing of locations or where material is hidden. Only four people know of such locations—‘Udayy, Qusayy, Humud, and Rukan Rizuqi.
Q: How was Husayn Kamil killed in Baghdad and how true is the official story of his death?
Janabi: The official story is far from the truth. The decision to eliminate Husayn Kamil was not decided ahead of time but only after his return to Baghdad. On his return, Husayn Kamil was asked to go to the presidential palace. Saddam asked that both he and his brother divorce their wives (Saddam's daughters), but they both refused. In addition to ‘Udayy, Saddam had asked a prominent judge to attend the meeting with Husayn Kamil to prepare the divorce papers. I was at the palace at the time but I stayed outside the meeting room. I waited for ‘Udayy to leave the room, and he told me the details. After his refusal, Husayn Kamil went to his palace in the Ad-Dura area. The decision to eliminate them took place after their refusal to divorce.
The decision to execute Husayn Kamil came from Saddam personally. Saddam had also decided that the execution should be carried out by Husayn Kamil's cousins in the al-Majid clan. It was the duty of ‘Udayy, Qusayy, and ‘Ali Hasan al-Majid to oversee the executions. ‘Udayy told me this expressly. The decision was Saddam's, as who else would dare make such a decision?
‘Udayy was not an initial proponent of his execution. However, after Husayn Kamil refused to divorce ‘Udayy's sister, ‘Udayy became a supporter of the decision to execute Husayn Kamil and his brother.
Q: Did you ever suffer ‘Udayy's wrath? If yes, what were the reasons?
Janabi: Yes, he has punished me on a number of occasions. After 1991, he sent me to jail on more than one occasion. Prior to that he used to have me arrested only. The reasons for my arrests mainly related to my lack of agreeing with him on his commercial dealings. There were other minor reasons that were well known by people in Iraq.
On one occasion, when I was editor in chief of the Babil newspaper, ‘Udayy wanted to punish me severely. He had asked me to write a front page-piece criticizing Ahmad Husayn, at the time the prime minister and now head of the presidential office. I wrote the editorial but did not put my name to it. Saddam got angry at it and blamed ‘Udayy, so ‘Udayy did not tell Saddam that the piece was written upon his orders but wanted to lay the blame for it on others. ‘Udayy had me arrested and sent to the Radhwaniya prison compound, where I was badly tortured. You can still see the effects on my back, as I was subjected to constant beating by electrical wire cables. This time he had me tortured in a much more severe way than the previous tortures I had been subjected to.
On another occasion, when I was head of the youth radio and television, ‘Udayy punished me for a very minor reason. I ordered that the car of one of the newscasters be fixed after an accident and that the costs be paid for by the person who caused the accident. ‘Udayy got mad and ordered my arrest. I was sent to the special security services compound in the Radhwaniya compound for nineteen hours and was tortured in a manner that I thought no human can tolerate. I had not imagined that such sadism and cruelty existed; I had not known that people can enjoy torturing others. I was beaten by electrical wire cables; they also kept sticking large needles into me.
Q: Was this treatment the reason that you left Iraq?
Janabi: It was one of the reasons. The main reason was that I supervised a cigarette importing transaction worth hundreds of millions of dollars. During negotiations with the other side, ‘Udayy accused me of leaning towards the interests of the other side as I came up with a proposal on which we could have reached an agreement.
Q: Have you seen ‘Udayy personally torture or kill people, apart from Kamil Hanna Juju and ‘Udayy's uncle Watban?
Janabi: Yes, I have seen ‘Udayy torture many people. I saw him torture his previous chief of staff Sa‘ud Samarra'i (who now lives in Jordan) in an extraordinarily harsh manner. He did this at a prison—‘Udayy has prisons everywhere you go. He has two prisons in the presidential palace, a prison in the armory, a prison in the Olympic Committee, and a prison at his farm in the Radhwaniya compound.
‘Udayy also killed his friend Muhammad Qaraghuli [the one whom ‘Udayy had stayed with during the Kuwait war] in a particularly brutal manner. He forced three bottles of gin down his throat by continuously beating him. Qaraghuli passed out. ‘Udayy then ordered that he be on a merry-go-round at an amusement park. Qaraghuli fell from it onto a metal stake that went through his head.
Q: What does ‘Udayy think of Iraq? What does he conceive of the country? What does he want for the country?
Janabi: To ‘Udayy, Iraq is a milking cow. He lives in it in a very privileged way and takes anything he wants from it at any time. Like his father, he sees Iraqis as no more than slaves. I am not saying this because I am against the regime but that is the reality. I see pictures of the starving children and how they are dying. Has any member of the presidential family suffered (or died) as a result of the embargo? Iraqis are now living under bridges, the educated ones selling their books to buy food. Every single Iraqi wants to leave in order to be able to secure food. However, ‘Udayy constantly says: The Iraqis were hungry people, and it was we who fed them.
1 On which, see Tonya Ugoretz Buzby, "Saddam's Dysfunctional Family," MEQ, Dec. 1995, pp. 22-30.
2 Abdel Wahab Badrakhan, an editor at Al-Hayat, quoted in Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 1998. For further information about Janabi, see "Cable Network News," Oct. 8, 1998; "60 Minutes," Nov. 22, 1998; Newsweek, Nov. 23, 1998.
3 The Washington Times, Feb. 17, 1999.