Uday's Home Movies

There was the private zoo. The wild parties. The torturing of Iraqi soccer players. Now, U.S. troops have discovered, Saddam Hussein's notorious son Uday had another predilection: watching videos--often of himself.

When American soldiers moved into the remains of Uday's bombed-out palace last month, they found thousands of videotapes among the rubble. NEWSWEEK has watched almost 100 of those recordings, many of which feature the Hussein scion at work and at play.

Those viewed so far have been less pornographic than puerile. There are professionally produced music videos of Uday playing with his pet lions--now about to be dispatched to new lives in South Africa. One recording shows Uday hunting animals from a helicopter over the desert; others portray him "valiantly" overcoming the injuries sustained in a 1996 assassination attempt that was rumored to have left his left leg paralyzed. Some scenes show him hobbling around with a cane and a gun in his belt; other clips picture him in hospital, then walking around in a seeming bid to prove that he had recovered. One tape features a Russian physical therapist demonstrating to Uday's doctors what they should do to help him manage stairs or sit down on his bed.

More in keeping with the stories of his sordid lifestyle, a number of tapes were marked PRIVATE. These, too, starred Uday--whose current whereabouts remain unknown--at the center of raucous, drunken parties thrown at his mansion. The tapes, which appear to have been shot in secret from behind a two-way mirror, include Uday making out with two women at once on his couch, and one of his friends chasing another woman around the room--unsuccessfully attempting to force himself on her.

The tapes also feature women applying for jobs as TV presenters on the national Youth Channel run by Uday. According to the Baghdad rumor mill, those who wanted to appear on TV first had to spend private time on Uday's casting couch, but these videos feature only official screen tests of the applicants.


One of the most memorable tapes is of a birthday celebration. When the drunken Uday becomes bored with sullen dancing girls, he pulls out a machine gun and starts shooting in the air in time with the beat from the band. When that palls, he fires at champagne bottles with his pistol and orders one of his flunkies to throw beer bottles in the air for him to shoot at with an assault rifle. For fun, he aims a few rounds over the heads of his guests, some of whom throw themselves on the ground in terror, only to arise laughing and clapping at the prank, and, no doubt, in relief at still being alive. Uday then finishes off the party by shooting directly over the heads of the band members, who amazingly, keep playing. The keyboard player crouches behind his instrument, still pounding the keys, as Uday shoots up the HAPPY BIRTHDAY sign hung at head level across the stage. When he runs out of bullets, Uday shakes hands with the frightened singer, and just to show he's a good sport, tells the keyboard player: "See all those holes? All those bullets could be in your belly." Then he laughs.

In all of the birthday party tapes, the only person who seems to enjoy himself is Uday. Everyone else, including the band, seems petrified with fear. Most of his guests are women, who dance together listlessly as everyone keeps an eye on the guest of honor. In the video showcasing his 32nd birthday in 1996, he hands an AK-47 to a young boy, and helps him fire shots in the air. The highlight of that event: when the fireworks set the brush and lawn next to his house on fire.

Uday is shown in other roles too. On one tape he presents awards at a function of the Iraqi Olympic committee, which he headed. The athletes and officials present appear terrified--hardly surprising given Uday's practice of torturing and beating those who performed poorly in competitive events. In another video he lectures officers from the fedayeen--the militia that harassed U.S. troops on their recent march to Baghdad--about the history of the organization. Only one tape shows Uday with his father and family--a beautifully shot home movie of the clan on vacation near Habbaniya Lake, sometime around 1980.

The tapes are now in the possession of the U.S.-funded Iraqi Media Network, established to replace the old state-controlled TV and radio. Editors from IMN are combing through and cataloguing the collection, hoping to find images suitable for screening on their new network. They plan to air the best of his private tapes to give Iraqis a look at the lifestyles of the rich and infamous.

The collection may also give ordinary citizens a chance to view some of the global movie hits of recent years. Uday's taste was eclectic, his choices ranging from romantic comedies like "Shakespeare in Love" and "Green Card" to action movies like "The Terminator," and family movies like "Air Bud", the adventures of a basketball-playing golden retriever. Uday apparently liked the dog so much he owned three copies of the video.