View Full Version : The Plush but Always Perilous Lives Of the Dictator's Three Daughters

07-23-03, 03:30 AM
By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 23, 2003; Page C01

Their hated father is hunted and in hiding. Their husbands are gone: Two were shot to death long ago at the behest of their father; the third -- the "loyal" one -- is now in the custody of U.S. officials. The palaces where they once lived in grandeur and privilege have been blasted by American bombs.

Now, as of yesterday, their brothers are dead. In Baghdad -- in the city where citizens celebrated the downfall of the father three months ago -- Iraqis took to the streets to rejoice over the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay.

And so Hussein's three daughters -- Raghad, Rana and Hala -- hide. And wait. And care for their children.

Like their father, Uday and Qusay were known worldwide for the horrors and atrocities they perpetrated on the Iraqi people, and have been hunted since the start of the war. The sisters, though, are a different story. They mostly lived in the background, as is traditional for Muslim women, while their father and brothers committed their terrible crimes. Their names and faces are not well known outside Iraq. And their future is anyone's guess.

According to a telephone interview Raghad gave to the Times of London in mid-June, she and Rana and their combined seven children fled Baghdad the day the city fell but remained in the country, in a small house in an undisclosed location. Hala, the youngest of the sisters, is hiding elsewhere with her children. Her husband, Gen. Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti, was No. 10 on the list of Iraq's 55 most wanted. He surrendered to U.S. forces on May 17.

Hussein's youngest son, Ali -- born to his second wife, Samira Shabandar, in the 1980s -- is believed to be in Switzerland. Both of Hussein's wives also are believed to be in hiding.

"Once Baghdad fell it was all so quick, all the family went our own ways," Raghad told the paper. "I am not in touch with any of them."

In the interview, Raghad described how she and Rana and their children feared being killed by American missiles the night the war began. "It was just terrifying," she said. "The first night I was on our farm in Baghdad with my sister and our children and 10 missiles fell all around us. We just got to the shelter so we were not hurt but we were very scared."

Their life in seclusion was far different from what she was accustomed to as the daughter of Hussein, she told the newspaper. "I spend my days cooking typical Iraqi food, washing dishes, doing housework, laundry," she said. "I do things I never did in the past because since I was a child we always had maids, housekeepers, and lived in big houses with swimming pools."

Some of that life, though, was lived under house arrest, at the order of her father. The relationship between father and daughters is a twisted one, yet another tangled branch in Hussein's dysfunctional family tree. Raghad, who was born in 1967, and Rana, born in 1969, married brothers who held prominent places in Saddam Hussein's regime. In August 1995, the two men -- Hussein Kamel Hassan Majeed (Raghad's husband) and Saddam Kamel Hassan Majeed (Rana's husband) -- and their wives defected to Jordan, ultimately because Hussein Kamel aspired to take over Iraq. This, of course, struck a terrible blow to Hussein's image of control in Iraq. From Jordan, the men criticized Hussein's regime and became informants for the West against their father-in-law.

The defections enraged Hussein, and he plotted revenge. Certain that Hussein Kamel and his brother would not find long-term asylum in the West, he went about luring the two families back to Iraq. According to Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn in the 1999 book "Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein," he made personal telephone calls. He cited his love for his grandchildren. He is even believed to have enlisted the unwitting aid of his first wife -- Sajida Khairallah Telfah -- who was in contact with, and trusted by, her daughters -- to reassure his estranged daughters and their husbands that they would be safe, and forgiven, if they returned to Iraq.

Eventually, they believed.

And it was all a lie.

As soon as the group crossed the border, where Uday was waiting, the daughters and the children were taken into custody and transported to Baghdad. The brothers were left on their own. They made their way to a family home in Baghdad. Then they were summoned to the presidential palace and were forced to sign documents that gave the daughters immediate divorces. At that point it appeared their fate was clear. They returned to the family home to wait.

The siege that ended their lives lasted 13 hours. A busload of spectators was brought in to witness it. Uday and Qusay watched from a car. Hussein's special forces were led by none other than Ali Hassan Majeed (known as "Chemical Ali"), the uncle of the men he killed. In the end, both brothers and several other family members were dead.

Raghad and Rana, "once Saddam's favorite children, never forgave him for the killings," the Cockburns wrote. "They assumed he had orchestrated the attack. . . . They continued to live with their . . . children in a family house in Tikrit, never going out, always wearing black, and refusing to see any member of their family apart from their mother."

In Baghdad, rumor has it that one of the sisters used to drive repeatedly by the house where the siege took place, still grieving for her lost husband.

The daughters' public words are more cautious and tempered. In her interview with the Times, Raghad would not address her husband's death and said of her father: "I hope he's alive. He was a very good father."

Raghad and Rana reportedly have tried to gain asylum in England and in the United Arab Emirates, though both efforts are believed to have been unsuccessful. The attempt to go to England was arranged by a cousin of their slain husbands, Izzi-Din Mohammed Hassan Majeed, who received asylum in England in 1995 after fleeing Iraq; he now resides in Leeds. He visited the women in Iraq in late spring and gave an interview to the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat in early June. In the interview, he described a life much as Raghad later would describe it: No electricity. Cramped quarters. Uncertainty.

"They live in a severe psychological disorder," he said.

And with their father's whereabouts and intentions still unknown, all they can do is wait