The Americans have stripped the Iraqi flags from the graves of Uday and Qusay Hussein. The red, white and black banners were laid on the mounds of clay above their bodies at their funeral on Saturday, alongside the grave of Mustafa Hussein, Qusay’s 14-year-old son, who also died when 200 American troops attacked the Mosul villa in which they were hiding two weeks ago. But the Americans have allowed only the child’s remains to be honoured with his country’s flag. Uday and Qusay have no memorial save for the footprints of US Army boots.
Even 34-year-old Felah Shemari who dug the graves was shocked, and he has no reason to love the brothers; he spent 10 years in prison on the orders of Saddam’s half-brother for a murder he says he did not commit.
“When we dug the graves, we were told they were just for the brothers,” he says. “But when the two ambulances arrived escorted by American Humvees, they took young Mustafa’s body out of the second ambulance and we had to dig another grave in a hurry. Of course, we put our Iraqi flags over all three. This is a sign that they were martyred.” But the Americans thought differently.
“At sunset, when all the people had gone, the soldiers came back and took the two flags off the graves of Saddam’s sons. Then they stayed on to watch anyone who came here afterwards. They only allowed 20 cars at a time, and only if they were members of the family. No one else. Now they watch this place all the time. They think Saddam will come here to see his sons and they can capture him, but Saddam is more clever than this.”
The last resting place of Saddam’s notorious sons is a glade of burnt grass, rustling bushes and silver birch trees, an ironically tranquil passage into the afterlife for two young men who caused so much pain and anguish and grief.
“They are the sons of the president, and this is his land and so we are sad for them,” Mr Shemari says. “They died fighting so they were martyrs. Qusay was not so bad, I think, people respected him. Uday, maybe not. After 40 days, it is the tradition to cover the grave with stones and put the gravestone in place, but we do not know what the family will do.”
Mr Shemari’s explanation for the vicious state run by Saddam’s family was grotesquely mundane. “When I was in prison, I met diplomats, educated people, academics, even the Minister of Agriculture. If Saddam had known all this, he would never have allowed it.” So Uday and Qusay and their father get a clean bill of health.
Even without the graves of Uday and Qusay, the family cemetery provides a bleak enough footnote to the violent history of modern Iraq. A few metres to the west is the tomb of Saddam’s mother, Subha al-Tulfah, who lived for years with a second husband – Saddam’s stepfather – who treated the family with great cruelty.
And then, a little further away, lies the evidence of another slaughter of the innocents during the Anglo-American invasion; two local families, most of them children, 21 in all, blasted to pieces in the village of Awja when the Americans bombed their homes on 2 April in the hope of killing Saddam. They were supposedly distant cousins of the dictator.
We never heard of this bloodbath during the war, of course. Nor was it reported afterwards. But here are the victims. The child martyr Reem Mohamed Abdullah, aged five; Lawza, her two-month-old sister; their mother, Fatma; her brother, Faez; their father, Mohamed, and Jassim Mohamed Turki and his family, two of them babies.
Mr Shemari says: “All their graves are covered with the Iraqi flag because they too were martyrs. I think each martyr will go to paradise. For what did this child do to suffer a fate like this?”
And what of Uday, I asked? Will he go to heaven or hell? “Yes, Uday will also go to paradise,” Mr Shemari replies. “For Muslims in general, each hero who confronts the occupation forces, he will be given respect and will be a hero for a long time. I am a schoolmaster and I tell my children that this is like the war between the early Muslims and those who worshipped idols.
“Now the future of Iraq is in the hands of foreigners. They promised us freedom. Where is that freedom? They said they would liberate us. Where is that liberation?”
And where, I asked him, were the Americans? “They will find you,” he replied. And they did. Four hundred metres from the graves, a squad of US soldiers holding automatic weapons and bent double came running from ambush positions behind bushes and trees.
My floppy hat and English accent – cheerily calling out “Good morning, gentlemen” is always an enjoyable experience though they had The Independent’s driver standing by his car with his hands on his head – had the soldiers slowing to a walk before they even had a chance to see if I was Saddam.
But for the soldiers of the 22/4th Infantry Division, it was a serious matter. What was the purpose of my visit? What was my identification? Hidden behind the trees was a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and another unit of troops. “Did you know we were here?” a sergeant asked.
I kind of guessed, I replied. Because the bodies of Uday and Qusay never seem to lose their fascination for the Americans.