Woman had rare insight into Uday's twisted world
On a visit to Iraq Camille spent a night with Uday Hussein. She told her story to Lara Marlowe.
Camille's encounter with the most hated man in Iraq's ancien régime frightened her so badly that she told her family about it only after Uday Hussein was killed last week.
"I feel as if a scorpion has been crushed," she says. A French artist, Camille was in her mid-20's in 1999, when she received a last minute invitation to join a French "friendship group" going to Baghdad. "Our mission was to testify about the effects of the embargo," she explains. A political novice, Camille went on a whim, for the chance to travel and meet Iraqi artists.
But the trip quickly turned into a nightmare. "The moment we arrived, Iraqi television shoved a microphone under my nose and asked me what I thought of the "vile embargo". The group leader told us there were listening devices everywhere, that we had to say 'our friend Saddam Hussein' whenever we mentioned his name."
Before the group's audience with Uday, an attractive young woman slipped a wedding ring on her finger on the advice of the group leader. "It was as if we were walking into a tiger's cage and he was warning us how to behave. He said Uday was known to like very young and pretty girls, that he sometimes wanted to keep them. So they dreamed up a phoney marriage - she was live prey."
Uday sat in an armchair in front of a painting of an Arab fighter brandishing a sword. "He told us, 'There are 100,000 men like him in Iraq, ready to drive out the enemy.'
Then he said, 'The 21st century will not be American'." Camille found Uday poised and theatrical. "He moved very little, like an automaton, like robo-cop." (Saddam's eldest son was hit by eight bullets in an attempted assassination at the end of 1996.) "He seemed at ease, confident, as if he were all powerful and we were toys. He gave the impression he knew we feared him, and that it amused him. There was something perverse, almost sadistic about it."
Uday invited the 30-strong group to his private club the following evening. Around 9 p.m. Camille was told: "You have been chosen to dine with Uday and his aunt, in his palace."
She and the three prettiest women in the group were taken back to the Al Rashid Hotel and told to dress up. Camille donned a baggy dress and pulled her hair into a severe pony tail.
At Uday's palace, the car doors were opened by men in western suits with pistols tucked into their waistbands. The entry was equipped with x-ray machines and a vault-like passage where the second door opened only after the first was locked. The visitors arrived in a large, black marble room with plate glass windows overlooking the Tigris, where they were greeted by Uday's aunt, her French husband and their adolescent daughter.
The guests were served a meal worthy of the Thousand and One Nights, Camille says. But the one thing she wanted - a glass of water - never materialised. She does not drink and watched as the other young women downed bottles of wine.
Around 1 a.m., the group were ushered into an adjoining room where Uday waited on a sofa. "Do you like arak?" he asked them, referring to a pastis-like drink. "The girls were completely drunk by then," Camille says. "One misunderstood him and declared, 'I love Iraq!' They brought in trays of arak and everyone drank except me."
"You're not drinking?" Uday asked Camille in English.
"I was so terrified that I said the first thing that came into my head," Camille says now. "I told him, 'No, I won't drink because otherwise I will be sick on your carpet'."
"You will be sick because you are not in love," Uday responded.
"Yes, yes, I am in love, but my love is in Paris," Camille said.
"Do you want me to take you to Paris in a boat filled with treasure?" Uday asked.
Camille said, "No thank you. I'll go back on a flying carpet."
"You are clever," Uday laughed. "Come back one day with your husband."
At that moment, Camille said to herself, "I am saved". The night dragged on, with Uday caressing his young cousin; the girl boasted to Camille that he had promised her a necklace "if she was good". The child's French father seemed very frightened. "Anything can happen. You must do whatever he asks," he told Camille.
Two voluptuous dancers were brought in. "Looking back on it, I think they were meant for the French group leader and his secretary, as presents," Camille says.
At some point Uday announced, "Now you will dance for me," and everyone danced. "He was like the Lord being entertained, and we were his puppets. While we were dancing, he took out a pistol and fired three shots in the air. He said, 'Don't worry, it's a tradition in honour of my father'."
Just before dawn, Camille noticed that one of the French women had disappeared. In an anteroom, she found Uday's aunt, his bodyguard, the French group leader and the woman. "The aunt was saying, 'You must stay with him; you must. We can't tell him things aren't done like that in France. It's an honour for you'."
The woman was very drunk, but stood her ground and refused to stay. Camille came to the girl's rescue. "Either we all leave together, or we don't go. We didn't come to Iraq to be whores," she declared.
The French group leader warned she would create a 'diplomatic incident'. "In any case, I'm not leaving if she stays," Camille insisted. Thereupon, the bodyguard went back and whispered in Uday's ear. "Thank you very much" Saddam's degenerate son announced a few minutes later. "You can go now." The sun was rising over Baghdad.
"All I wanted was to go back to Paris. The group leader said, 'What's the big deal? Haven't you ever been in an orgy in Paris?' I said, 'No, really never'. That was a horrible moment, but later he thanked me."