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Dead Is the Bodyguard

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz (left) walks with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Mecca, May 30, 2019. (Bandar Algaloud / Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court / Handout via Reuters)

A report from the Associated Press out of the Gulf begins like this:

A prominent bodyguard to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman was shot and killed in what authorities described as a personal dispute, state TV reported Sunday, offering few details on an incident that shocked the kingdom.

Tributes poured in across social media for Maj. Gen. Abdulaziz al-Fagham, with many including images of the bodyguard at work. One included him bending down to apparently help tie the shoes of King Salman, the 83-year-old ruler of the oil-rich kingdom.

Others show al-Fagham in the background of events with both King Salman and his predecessor, the late King Abdullah.

Details remained vague.

Yes. My guess is, there is a heck of a story there. And it reminded me of another heck of a story — from Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. May I tell it to you? In fact, I will excerpt my book Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators. The “Uday” in question is the elder of Saddam’s two sons.

Here ya go (and there’s a lot more where this excerpt came from, Saddam-wise):

October 18, 1988, was an important day in Uday’s life. It was an important day in Kamel Hana Gegeo’s, too. Gegeo was the valet of Saddam Hussein. He was possibly Saddam’s favorite servant. Gegeo was the son of a cook and a governess in the dictator’s service. On the day in question, the vice president of Iraq, Taha Muhie-eldin Marouf, held a party in honor of the first lady of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak (wife of Hosni). Gegeo was a guest at the party. But Uday was not. He crashed the party and killed Gegeo, in front of one and all. He clubbed him to death, or carved him up with an electric carving knife, or kicked him to death, or carved him up with an electric rose pruner. There are many accounts. What is known for sure is that he killed him. Why?

Gegeo apparently introduced Saddam Hussein to a woman named Samira Shahbandar, who became the dictator’s mistress, and then his wife. Saddam wed Samira without ever divorcing his original wife, Sajida. Gegeo was thought to have facilitated trysts between his boss and Samira (as a good valet would). Uday resented this. He was loyal to his mother, yes, and his mother may well have put him up to the killing. But he was also worried about his own position: How would this new relationship, this new marriage, affect his chances of succeeding the old man as dictator? Would his father and Samira have children? And was Gegeo, so close to his father, a threat to him — to Uday, that is?

Saddam Hussein was absolutely furious at his son’s murder of Gegeo. Indeed, he had a murderous fury. Some thought that he might kill Uday. To the people of Iraq, Saddam told an interesting story. It’s interesting that he felt the need to address them at all. Dictators seldom air dirty laundry.

He told them that Uday had killed Gegeo when trying to get the valet to quiet down. Gegeo was firing his gun at a villa near the presidential palace, you see. Uday ordered him to stop. The valet defied him — whereupon the dictator’s son killed him. Saddam said that Uday was in jail (which was true), pending a judicial investigation. He said that Uday, distraught, had tried to kill himself three times. (His ineptitude would have been odd. He rarely failed to kill others.) Saddam said, “It is my constitutional responsibility to enforce justice in the society . . . and that does not exempt anyone.”

Immediately, there was a campaign to spare the young man. The victim’s parents — the cook and the governess — pleaded for clemency. That was big of them. In a letter published in all the state newspapers, the father — or someone writing in the father’s name — asked for the judicial investigation to be called off. The murder of his son, he said, was “an act of fate and the will of God that could not have been avoided.” Also weighing in was King Hussein, from neighboring Jordan. He urged the Iraqi dictator to go easy on Uday. There had to be a cooling-off period, he said.

As near as can be determined, Saddam kept his son in jail for 40 days. Then he exiled him to Switzerland, where Uday was to serve as an assistant to the Iraqi ambassador. Predictably, Uday spent his days drinking and brawling. The Swiss tired of his presence, and expelled him in 1990. His father welcomed him back into the bosom of the regime.

He died with his brother, Qusay, at the hands of American forces on July 22, 2003. They had hurt and killed so many. Let me quote some more from Children of Monsters.

. . . the celebration across the nation was deafening. Many people died in this wave of relief and jubilation, because Iraqis fired their guns in the air, as Arabs have long done when celebrating. Bullets that go up, come down, and sometimes kill people. Writing in the Telegraph eight years later, Colin Freeman remembered the night that news of the boys’ death came: “The Iraqi capital erupted with so much gunfire that I thought a full-scale insurrection had broken out; by contrast, the celebrations when Saddam was caught five months later were more muted.” Saddam’s Iraq was called, in the title of a famous book by Kanan Makiya, the “Republic of Fear.” A significant part of that fear was instilled by Uday and Qusay.

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