LATIF Yahia can see the ghost of Uday Hussein simply by glancing in the mirror. Reflected in the glass are the thick eyebrows, broad-planed cheeks and full lips of Saddam’s eldest son.
Yahia’s uncanny resemblance to Uday was to dictate his fortune. Aged 24, he was plucked from military service in Iraq and told he had a new job – as the body double of Uday.
Sixteen years on, and after more than a decade in exile in the west, he is unable to believe the terror he suffered at Uday’s violent hands is finally over.
“Only when I have seen a photograph of Uday’s body can I believe he is dead,” said Yahia yesterday. “Only then will I go to sleep very well after 12 years of knowing that Uday is trying to kill me.”
He was speaking just hours after the United States said it had unequivocal proof that Uday and his younger brother, Qusay, were shot dead in a fierce gunfight with US troops in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Tuesday.
Should Yahia get the confirmation he requires, he will have more cause than most to celebrate the death of the man who was heir apparent to Saddam’s regime of terror.
His role as Uday’s “fiday” – the Arabic word for body double – required him to mimic the lifestyle of Uday, and so brought the trappings of fast cars, fine clothes, imported cognac and cigars, and access to the corridors of power of Iraq.
But it also made him a victim of Uday’s penchant for violence, and witness to untold atrocities against his countrymen.
“At first I refused to be his body double,” recalls Yahia, of the day in 1987 that changed the course of his life. “So I was taken straight to prison and put in the Red Room – a cell measuring one metre by one metre. It was painted red and there was a red light. It is a psychological device to send people mad.
“I was left there for a week. After seven days Uday came and opened the cell door himself, and said: ‘What do you think about my job offer now? Do you say yes, or shall I bring your sister down here?’ I knew Uday meant he would rape my sister. So I signed up for the job.”
His training was watching hours of videos of Uday, learning his mannerisms. He was also forced to watch endless films of Iraqis being tortured on Uday’s orders. He saw victims pinned to rotating fans, tied to electric heaters and mutilated by electric saws.
According to Yahia, Uday was a serial rapist, regularly ordering the abduction of women who attracted his attention, and sometimes their execution.
Despite his special role, Yahia also found himself victim of Uday’s unpredictable rages.
Yahia recalls: “He hit me with an iron bar, on my arm and my back. He put burning cigars on my flesh, on my body. No excuse. He was just in the mood for it.”
As Saddam’s family became increasingly concerned about security, Yahia’s natural resemblance to Uday was no longer enough. He says Uday forced him to undergo dental surgery to replicate Uday’s overbite.
After four and a half years as Uday’s double, Yahia attempted suicide by slitting his wrists, no longer able to cope with his self-loathing at what his life had become.
In 1991, he finally escaped, walking out of a party in Baghdad, and fleeing to the Kurds. Today, he is settled in Ireland, with his Irish wife.
“Uday ruined my life,” he said yesterday. “I was mad when I arrived in this country, but counselling has helped.
“He has tried to have me assassinated four times since I left Iraq. He has taken me from my country, my family, my language, my faith.”
Now Yahia awaits further evidence that Uday is forever out of his life. “The US would say anything for propaganda. If he is dead, show me the photo. They put Saddam in power, he was their friend, and I blame them also for the terrible things which happened to me.”
He regrets that Uday was not caught and brought to trial for his crimes.
“Don’t tell me that the US could not have taken him alive,” he comments on the 200- soldier operation which took Uday and Qusay’s lives. “But the Americans did not want this because if you put these people in the dock, they would tell everyone that a lot of what they did they did because the American agents told them to.”
The Devil’s Double, Latif Yahia’s account of his years with Uday Saddam Hussein, is published by Arrow at £7.99.
See Joe Vialls ‘America’s Uday and Qusay Conjuring Trick': a detailed forensic analysis of the photos of a dead Uday Hussein, indicating a clear case of forgery