Who was Uday Hussein?
Uday Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti was the eldest of the two sons of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the founder of the Fedayeen Saddam, a paramilitary force that was loyal to Saddam’s Ba'athist government. Known for his extravagant and erratic, violent behaviour, Uday was presumed by many to be his father’s successor but later was replaced by his younger brother Qusay, who had culminated a public image of being poised and collected. Uday was born during his father’s imprisonment and apparently was a good student throughout his academic life, graduating with a degree in engineering. He gained notoriety due to multiple allegations of rape, murder, torture, and corruption. After he killed his father’s favourite servant Kamel Hana Gegeo in 1988, Uday fell out of his father’s favour. Initially imprisoned and sentenced to death, he was later sent to Switzerland. In 1990, he returned to Iraq and held several positions in the subsequent years, including the chairmanship of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the Iraq Football Association. Uday survived an assassination attempt in 1996, but it left him with a permanent and noticeable limp. In 2003, the United States-led coalition attacked Iraq, accusing it of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Dubbed as Operation Iraqi Freedom, the ensuing war saw the decisive defeat of Iraqi forces and the deposition of Saddam Hussein. Following this, Uday, alongside Qusay and Qusay’s son Mustapha, was killed at their house in Mosul by Task Force 20 after a three-hour gunfight.
Childhood & Early Life
Uday Hussein was born on June 18, 1964, in Tikrit, Iraq to Saddam and his first wife Sajida Talfah. He was about two years older than Qusay, who was born on May 17, 1966. Saddam was still in prison for attempting to assassinate the 24th Prime Minister of Iraq, General Abd al-Karim Qasim, when Uday was born. Sajida used to take the baby whenever she visited him, carrying concealed messages from other Ba’athist members in the baby’s nappies. Uday and Qusay had three sisters, Raghad, Hala, and Rana.
Since his childhood, he idolized his father. When Uday was five years old, he participated in a family picnic in a public square and witnessed the executions of several “spies”, mostly Iraqi Jews. His father took pride in toughening his sons up by letting them watch the torture of the “enemies of the nation” and liquidation of “traitors”.
Despite immensely respecting his father, Uday was never really close to him. His mother, Sajida, on the other hand, shared a deep bond with him. Scholars speculate that it was the relationships he had with both of his parents that shaped his character.
He was an accomplished student at school and later enrolled at the Baghdad University College of Medicine. However, only three days later, he left and began attending the College of Engineering, which is situated only a kilometre away.
He received a degree in engineering and graduated summa cum laude from the Baghdad University, coming first among 76 students. Many of his professors have since revealed that he barely managed to maintain passing grades and only won the honour of being the valedictorian because of who his father was.
Uday grew up to be violent, ruthless, and psychotic. According to the sources in the opposition, Uday, who was only 15 then, took part in the 1979 massacre of Iraqi cabinet ministers, which occurred soon after his father had become the Iraqi President.
In 1983, during the Iraq-Iran War, Uday showed interest in joining the military. He enrolled at the Al-Bakr Military Academy to study military strategy. There, he learned how to pilot a helicopter and would often wreak havoc by flying missions without due training.
Eventually, Saddam had to ban him from flying again after he destroyed vehicles and caused multiple deaths on his own side. There is a rumour that his master’s thesis on Iraq’s strategy during the Iraq-Iran War wasn’t written by him but by Mohammed el-Dury, a military strategist and adviser in the Foreign Ministry.
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In 1985, Uday Hussein began running a youth radio station and then a television station and set up a youth paper. In 1990, he established Babel, a daily newspaper which eventually became the mouthpiece of Ba’athism.
Initially, he was being groomed to be his father’s successor but Saddam himself was weary of his increasingly excessive and violent lifestyle. In October 1988, after the murder of Saddam’s personal valet and food taster, Kamel Hana Gegeo, Uday permanently fell out of his father’s favour. Some claim that Sajida asked him to kill Gegeo, as he had introduced Saddam to Samira Shahbandar, who eventually became Saddam’s mistress and later second wife.
During a party organized in honour of Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Uday bludgeoned Gegeo with a club, stabbed him with an electric carving knife, and by some accounts, eventually shot him to death in front of horrified guests.
The incident angered Saddam, to whom Gegeo’s loyalty and fidelity was unquestionable. Uday was imprisoned and sentenced to death. While in prison, he was even tortured and Saddam ordered his precious car collection to be set on fire. He was finally freed after personal intervention from King Hussein of Jordan and sent to Geneva, Switzerland to serve in the Iraqi mission in the UN. He was deported in 1990 by the Swiss authorities following his repeated arrests for fighting.
Back in Iraq, Uday began to work on regaining his father’s favour. Saddam made him the chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the Iraq Football Association. Uday tortured athletes and footballers after they failed to perform to his expectation. Moreover, he set up the sports club Al-Rasheed, signing all the top footballers in the country to the team. They dominated the Iraqi club football and won several competitions before they disbanded in 1990.
Uday was also the secretary of the Iraqi Union of Students and founded Fedayeen Saddam, a para-military unit, who, at their height, had 30,000 to 40,000 members. In 1995, he shot and wounded Saddam's half-brother, Watban Ibrahim, after he was fired from his position as the interior minister. This resulted in his brothers-in-law, General Hussein Kamel and his brother Saddam Kamel, fleeing Iraq with their families to Jordan. After they returned six months later, a trap was set by Uday and both the Kamel brothers were executed.
In December 1996, Uday barely escaped an assassination attempt on his life. While driving to a party in Baghdad, he was ambushed by a group of gunmen who opened fire on his car. He was struck by between seven and 13 bullets and when he was ultimately taken to the hospital, the doctors thought he would be paralysed for life. Treated at Ibn Sina Hospital, he survived but was forced to spend the rest of his life with a considerable limp.
Despite multiple operations, two bullets still remained stuck in his spine and could not be removed. In the following years, he was in constant pain. Some sources claim even putting on socks in the morning was a painful ordeal for him.
His psychotic behaviour only worsened after the assassination attempt. The Iraqis always knew that while Saddam was bad, Uday was worse. He kidnapped women off the streets and raped them and was infamous for crashing weddings and other parties to “discover” women who he would later rape. He tortured and killed the members of the families of the women if they dared to speak up and even killed his friends and bodyguards if they irked him in any way.
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In 2000, Qusay was officially declared as their father’s successor. In effort to regain Saddam's favour, Uday tried to assassinate Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, but did not succeed.
The 2003 US Invasion of Iraq
On March 20, 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq, accusing it of stockpiling nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and claiming that they had found definitive proof of connection between the Iraqi government and Al-Qaeda. The war was over by 1 May and the entire country was in ruins.
Surprisingly, Uday performed much better as a military commander during the war than Qusay. While the latter was indecisive and nervous and ordered the Republican Guard to retreat, Fedayeen Saddam was the most active branch of the government during the war.
After the fall of Baghdad, Uday, alongside his father, brother, and brother’s children fled the city. Uday and Qusay eventually hid together in a house in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. On July 22, 2003, Task Force 20, accompanied by the troops of the United States Army 101st Airborne Division, surrounded the house, asking them to surrender. Uday was designated the Ace of Hearts on the most-wanted Iraqi playing cards. When they did not come out, the US forces opened fire, killing Uday, Qusay, Qusay’s son, 14-year-old Mustapha, and their bodyguard
The American forces later confirmed the identities of the dead bodies via dental records and graphic pictures of their bodies were released. There was celebration in Baghdad on the night of the brothers’ deaths and on several nights after. The combined $30 million award on both the brothers was given to the informant who had alerted the US forces about the brothers in Mosul.
Personal Life & Legacy
Uday Hussein shared a complicated relationship with Qusay. They were quite close as children and went on to enjoy each other’s company as adults. That changed after Saddam replaced Uday with Qusay as his successor. Uday grew envious of his brother and kept a distance from him as Qusay became more influential in their father’s government.
Uday reportedly married three times. When he was attending university, he wanted to marry a fellow student who hailed from a prominent Iraqi family. However, his father rejected the notion as he staunchly believed a marriage should strengthen loyalty within the family and occur within the clan. In 1983, on Saddam’s order, Uday married Nada, the daughter of Saddam’s first cousin "Chemical" Ali Hassan al-Majid. Despite the closeness between the families, the union did not last long and they eventually divorced.
While the validity of Uday’s union with Nada is still often questioned, his next marriage is well-documented. During his stay in Geneva, Uday married Saja, the daughter of his father’s half-brother and then-ambassador to the United Nations Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, in an Islamic ceremony. Their relationship was a tremulous one. He repeatedly emotionally and physically abused her as well as was unabashedly unfaithful. She eventually fled back to Switzerland.
Years later, during the US Invasion, a letter was found in a blue velvet box in the rubble of Uday’s 40-room Baghdad palace. Writing on a pink paper in pink ink in 1996, Saja had urged Uday to be “loyal and faithful” to her in the poignant note. She further wrote she would take him back almost on any terms.
In order to demonstrate his loyalty to Saddam, the vice president of the Revolutionary Command Council Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri agreed on a marriage between his daughter Suha and Uday. The marriage was predictably disastrous and eventually al-Douri made a petition to Saddam to dissolve the marriage. Soon enough, it was granted.
The middle-eastern news outlets also report a fourth marriage. Sometime in the 1980s, Uday apparently married beauty queen Sevim Torun, who was six years older than him. She was pregnant with Uday’s child when she fled to Turkey due to his abusive behaviour.
According to most sources, Uday did not have any children. However, there are a few respected global news outlets, like The Independent, that report that he had three sons, two with Nada and one with Suha. The middle-eastern news outlets, on the other hand, state that he had a son with Sevim as well. Some in the western media even speculate that his marriage with Suha was never consummated so no child was produced from that union.
There were reports that Uday had converted to Shia Islam but he vehemently refuted them.