Copyright 2003 The Irish Times
The Irish Times
December 17, 2003
SECTION: CITY EDITION; WORLD NEWS; Pg. 13
LENGTH: 733 words
HEADLINE: Saddam's last novel indicates deluded mind
A rare copy of Be Gone, Demons! presents a dashing hero, clearly based on Saddam, fighting against foreign forces, reports Jack Fairweather in Baghdad
In the weeks before his downfall, Saddam Hussein was writing a novel predicting he would lead an underground resistance movement to victory over the Americans.
Forty thousand copies of Be Gone, Demons! were rolling off the printing presses when the war began and Saddam went into hiding.
Most copies of the book were destroyed by bombing and looting but The Irish Times has obtained one of the few remaining copies of the novel - a historical epic which reveals both Saddam's increasing detachment from the world and his inflated sense of self.
The narrative meanders through the history of Iraq from biblical times to the present. This being Saddam, the text is filled with paranoid invectives against Jews, who, he says, delight in inciting troubles between Muslim nations, and encouraging Romans - a synonym for Americans - to attack Iraq.
According to Saddam the author, the Iran-Iraq war begins when the arch villain in the narrative, a Jew named Hescel, convinces the head of the Iraqi tribe to invade his neighbour.
The Iraqi tribe, led by a doddering old sheikh, is quickly defeated and Hescel seizes power in the country.
Enter Saddam as the resistance fighter Salim, "A pure, virtuous Arab," enthuses Saddam.
"Salim is tall and handsome, with a straight nose and a natural face. He's so confident."
The first Gulf War is portrayed as beginning with an ambush by Hescel, which Salim shrugs off, driving him out of the country with the words, "Be gone, demon." But Hescel - a fat evil old man some readers might identify with Ariel Sharon - returns instead with Roman allies.
The ensuing battle brings out Saddam's purple prose: "Salim took off his shirt and he freed his long hair. He was so strong. He was fighting the Romans like a hawk.
"He was riding a white horse that he called Nisr (meaning hawk). He was shouting 'Allah Akbar'," writes Saddam.
The onslaught proves too much and Hescel and the Roman king flee only to discover the twin towers of the Roman capital in flames. "Arabs had set the towers on fire. How adventurous they are when they become nervous!" rejoices Saddam. Hescel weeps whilst Salim, of course, lives happily ever after with his beautiful wife.
As Saddam faces the death sentence in captivity he may look for solace in his imaginative world, in which he was increasingly living in the last years of his reign.
"He lost touch with reality," said Saad Hadi, a journalist who was involved in the production of Saddam's novels.
"As others took over the running of the country he had a lot of time on his hands. He thought he was a god who could do anything - including writing novels."
Saddam published four long and equally bad volumes of fairytale-like romances and parables between 2000 and his downfall.
According to Hadi, Saddam's favourite novelist was Ernest Hemingway - in particular his tale The Old Man and the Sea - whose style he tried to emulate.
"He loved parables. He'd sit in his state room and recount simple tales, whilst his aides would scribble to record his words."
To begin with, Saddam's stories were farmed out to distinguished writers to touch up.
Mujiba al-Anizi, whose husband Sami contributed to the writing of Saddam's first novel, Zabeeba and the King, recalled how her husband was summoned from his job one morning and told he had three days to write a novel from the president's notes.
"Sami normally came home from work and kissed his children goodnight," recalled Ms al-Anizi.
"But that evening he just stood in the hallway sweating. He said 'our uncle' had given him a special task."
Sami died two months later, just as 250,000 copies of Zabeeba and the King were being anonymously distributed. His wife believes he was killed on the president's orders to hush up his role in writing the book.
The novel was badly received at first, though once word spread of who had inspired it - and orders passed down the Baath Party chain that Zabeeba and the King was required reading - it duly sold like hotcakes.
The Fortified Castle and Men and the City - a romanticised account of the rise of the Baath Party in Tikrit - followed, with the president increasingly doing the writing himself.
Abdul al-Jabouri, a shopkeeper in Baghdad's al-Mutanabbi book souk, said: "Everyone bought a copy just to see what was on the president's mind. Most people concluded he was going mad."
LOAD-DATE: December 17, 2003