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October 17, 2005

Lebanonwire

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Saddam's family scattered across Arab world
by Randa Habib

AMMAN - When Saddam Hussein's "throne" crumbled after the US-led coalition overran his iron-fisted regime in 2003, two of his sons were killed in the conflict and the rest of his closely-knit family was scattered across the Arab world.

Throughout his rule Saddam made it a point of honour to underscore the importance of family life in his public speeches, but he also fiercely protected his privacy from the public eye.

Even after he married three other women, Saddam never divorced his first wife, Sajida.

Sajida was his cousin and the daughter of his uncle, Khairallah Tulfah, who took young Saddam under his wing along with his widowed mother.

Saddam and Sajida had five children -- sons Uday and Qusay who were killed by US troops in July 2003 and three daughters, Raghad, Rana and Hala.

The five are the only offspring who officially carry Saddam's name.

Another son, Ali, born of his marriage with Samira Shahbandar in 1982, had always been considered a taboo topic and journalists who dared mention his name faced death threats by Saddam's regime.

And yet Saddam had fallen madly in love with Samira and forced her to divorce her husband, the then director of Iraqi Airways, Nureddin Safi.

Ali is now 22 and fled Iraq with his mother following the US-led invasion in March 2003. They went first to Lebanon before settling in Canada.

As the US-led attack grew imminent, Saddam ordered members of his family to safe havens outside Iraq and gave them money to help them start a new life.

Sajida, her three daughters and 11 grandchildren initially left for Syria but on July 31, 2003, a week after their feared brothers Uday and Qusay were killed, Raghad and Rana and their nine children sped to Jordan.

Years earlier, in August 1995, neighbouring Jordan had already provided safe haven to the two sisters, their children and husbands, General Hussein Kamel Hassan and his brother Colonel Saddam Hassan, as well as several other family members.

They had defected after the general was sacked as industry minister. It was the first defection by members of the Iraqi president's family, formerly the backbone of his support, and Iraqi opposition leaders said it left Saddam weakened and isolated.

Saddam promised amnesties and lured back home the Hassan brothers, along with their father and other Kamel family members. They were subsequently killed on Saddam's orders in February 1996.

Jamal Kamel, the only one to survive Saddam's wrath, helped his sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces settle in Jordan.

"Jordan asked for a green light from the Americans. They did not have any objections because, after all, Saddam's daughters had nothing to do with the crimes committed by their father," he told AFP.

But despite the assassination of their husbands at the hands of Saddam's regime, Raghad and Rana have steadfastly refused to criticise their father in public.

After Saddam's arrest by US troops in December 2003, Raghad, who has been often nicknamed "little Saddam", began organising his defence.

Sajad and her third daughter Hala, whose husband Jamal Mustafa al-Takriti is also detained by US troops, chose Qatar over Jordan as haven. Raghad and Rana often visit them there.

Raghad, 36, and Rana, 34, bought homes in Jordan where their children go to school. The two sisters keep a low profile after having been urged by the Jordanian authorities to avoid politicking.

Raghad has three sons, Ali, Saddam and Wahej, as well as two daughters, Haris and Banan. Rana is the mother of three sons, Ahmad, Saad and Hussein, and a daughter named Nabea.

Raghad's son Ali, 18, is said to be Saddam's favourite grandchild. Recently he received birthday wishes from the former Iraqi dictator in a message sent through the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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