SADDAM - THE NOVELIST
by Gordon Thomas
Saddam Hussein has been allowed to continue writing his unfinished novel. His British and American interrogators hope it will provide further clues to his mindset - and how to handle the situation in Iraq today.
The villains of Saddam's story are Tony Blair, George Bush and Ariel Sharon. Saddam has cast himself as the hero - Salim. In the book he is described as "a pure virtuous Arab. Salim is tall and handsome with a straight nose and full moustache". This is the second time that Saddam has created a hero based on himself in a book. Two previous titles have been Iraqi bestsellers.
Details of Saddam's return to authorship emerged last week after an international Red Cross team visited him again in his prison compound. They found him impatient to get on with his writing. A source close to the team said Saddam spends up to five hours a day composing.
The central storyline is of close interest to his MI6/CIA interrogators. The manuscript reveals an uncanny prediction of how Salim/Saddam leads an underground resistance movement when the war started last year. But that part of the book was written six months before the invasion.
Intrigued interrogators want to know if that was why Saddam offered no planned resistance to the invasion? And could it explain the ever-deepening crisis in Iraq today?
But after a promising start following his capture - when Saddam was voluble and talked non-stop for hours - his interrogators have encountered stubborn resistance from him to their questions.
Then, on the advice of the small team of specialists - psychologists, behaviourists and psychiatrists who advise the interrogators - Saddam was given back his unfinished manuscript to continue writing.
Entitled "Curses Upon The Enemy", it was found in a loose-leafed folder in one of Saddam's Baghdad palaces a year ago.
Every day now, in his high-security custom-built compound, Saddam sits at a desk and continues composing his fantasies in between interrogations. He writes in longhand in exercise books.
"His previous books were instant bestsellers in Iraq. Every family had to buy one on penalty of death", recalled Saad Hadi, an Iraqi journalist who once acted as an "editorial consultant" to Saddam.
But one of the dictator's ghost-writers, Sami al-Anizi, was given three days to complete a previous novel of Saddam's. His wife, Mujiba, recalled: "Sami came home one night before the war and kissed our children goodnight. He said 'our uncle has given me a special task'. We all knew he meant Saddam. Two months later, Sami was poisoned to keep secret how he had worked on the book". Its title was "Be Gone Demons".
In an insight to his vanity, Saddam has told his interrogators he sees his latest novel as a cross between "Gone With The Wind" and Russia's epic defence of Stalingrad in World War Two.
The reality is that the manuscript is filled with more of his paranoid invective against Israel and the United States. But there is no mention of Osama bin Laden.
"Saddam doesn't like to share the stage with anyone", said an intelligence source close to the interrogation team.
Aviv Rubin, a former Mossad agent who is an authority on Iraq, said: "the significance of letting Saddam play out his fantasies on paper is that they could offer important clues to his relationship with countries like Syria, Egypt and even Iran. His characters are thinly disguised but based on living Arab leaders. Bush, Sharon and Blair are the bad guys Salim has to destroy".
The one certainty is that Saddam's complete novel will be a strictly Limited Edition - read only by his interrogators and their spymasters in London and Washington.
"It will never be published. That would make it a collector's item for fanatics - rather like having a first edition of Hitler's Mein Kamph", said Rubin.