Monday, 4 September 2000

Hussein gravely ill with cancer: newspaper

Takes steps to pass control to youngest son

Monday, September 4, 2000

Special to The Globe and Mail

Jerusalem - Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is gravely ill with cancer of the lymph system and has set up a family council led by his youngest son to take control if the President were to become incapacitated, a leading Arabic newspaper reported yesterday.
Western newspapers have reported several times in recent years that the 63-year-old President has cancer, but the London-based Asharq al-Awsat went into considerable detail in its report.
The Saudi-financed publication quoted an Arab doctor "with an excellent reputation" as saying that a medical team of three French doctors, one German and one Swede is taking care of Mr. Hussein. The team had been brought together by a committee chaired by the President's personal secretary and confidant, Abed Hamoud, the daily said.
Western diplomats in the Middle East said they could not confirm the accuracy of the reports.
The death of Mr. Hussein could spark a succession crisis between his two sons, both of whom are known for their ruthless behaviour.
Mr. Hussein was last seen in public last month as he was driven through Baghdad in an open-air car with visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
According to the unidentified Iraqi doctor who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat, Mr. Hussein is suffering from pains in his hip and lungs and has problems breathing. His sight has also been affected and he suffers temporary memory losses and is unable to concentrate, the doctor said.
The doctor said that Mr. Hussein had so far refused to undergo chemotherapy treatment.
The paper also said the President recently led a family meeting attended by his secretary Mr. Hamoud; his two sons, Udai and Qusay; and his three brothers, Barazan, Watban and Sabawi. They appointed a family council led by Qusay to run the affairs of Iraq in the event the President were unable to fulfill his duties or were to die suddenly.
Last month, the Arab media reported that Qusay had effectively been appointed his father's deputy and second-in-command. The reports said Mr. Hussein was seeking to change the constitution so 34-year-old Qusay could become president if needed; the legal age now is 40.
Qusay is known as the ruthless commander of the Special Security Organization, a key branch of the Iraqi security apparatus. In 1997, Qusay reportedly ordered the execution of 1,500 political prisoners, according to a United Nations report. Iraq denied the report, which said relatives were even ordered to pay for the bullets used to kill the prisoners before being allowed to retrieve their bodies for burial.
His older brother, Uday, 36, was badly injured in an assassination attempt in 1996 and is only just able to walk without assistance. He is a notorious playboy who made headlines in 1998 for clubbing his father's food-taster to death. He was considered the favourite to succeed his father until the attack. He still controls the official Babel newspaper and could mount a strong challenge for the leadership of Iraq when his father dies.

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