Sunday, July 27, 2003

MOSUL, Iraq — All day, glaziers from Sheik Nawaf al-Zaydan Muhhmad’s contracting firm had been working on the windows of their employer’s ornate, three-story villa on the boulevard of Al Falaha in Mosul.

Mukhlis Jubori, Mr. al-Zaydan’s next-door neighbor and closest friend, was curious. The windows did not need replacing and glass has been scarce since the war. Where was Mr. al-Zaydan, he wondered? He had not seen him for almost three weeks.

That Sunday a week ago, as he watched the house, Mr. al-Zaydan finally appeared in his garden, and Mr. Jubori beckoned him to his porch.

“I offered him tea, and I saw how his hands shook as he reached out to accept the glass. I remember thinking how pale and frightened he seemed,” he says, recalling what was to be his last proper talk with Mr. al-Zaydan.

“He looked at me for a long time, and told me he was having bullet-proof glass installed. Then he told me why. He was trembling so hard his legs seemed to give way. He had to squat down on the steps of my house,” he said.

Mr. al-Zaydan’s confession shocked Mr. Jubori. It explained, too, why his neighbor had been so elusive of late. Until a few weeks ago, it had been Mr. al-Zaydan’s habit to take plastic chairs from his home and place then on the pavement outside his house each evening. Neighbors would wander by and drink Pepsi and sweet tea with him, discussing events.

Mr. al-Zaydan had money, standing and, most importantly, powerful connections. He was, in Western parlance, “nouveau riche” — his house was expensive, yet his furnishings, in keeping with his humble background, lacked taste.

That said, he also had the patronage of Saddam Hussein before the war, and his status in the town still commanded prestige. His walls were adorned with pictures of himself with the Husseins.

But the casual neighborly meetings on the pavement had ended abruptly. Hardly anyone now saw Mr. al-Zaydan or Shalan, his 19-year-old son, his wife and five daughters. What neighbors had noticed, however, was a new BMW parked at the side of his house.

Five days after his last conversation with Mr. al-Zaydan, Mr. Jubori sits again on his porch and smiles broadly, showing a mouthful of gold fillings.

Mr. al-Zaydan’s “eyes were full of fear,” says Mr. Jubori. “He said to me: ‘They asked to stay with me in my house, and how could I refuse? But I knew this would be a disaster for me.’

“He might have been frightened then, but I knew he would weasel his way out,” Mr. Jubori continues. “I know al-Zaydan, he is a schemer. Always he plots. He thinks, ‘What can I get out of this?’ That is his reaction to everything. al-Zaydan did, in the end, what he always does. He made money out of Saddam Hussein. A lot of it this time. The jackpot.”

This weekend, seven days after confessing to Mr. Jubori that Uday and Qusai, Saddam’s infamous, sadistic sons were holed up in his luxurious villa, Mr. al-Zaydan is a fugitive. His home is in ruins, he and his family are living in protective custody with the U.S. military, and he has been denounced as a dishonorable outcast by his former friends.

He is, however, an extremely wealthy fugitive. In their lifetime, Saddam’s sons may have showered him with money, land and favors, but, unwittingly, in death, they bequeathed him much more: $30 million, the price President Bush put on the heads of the Ace of Hearts and the Ace of Clubs in the coalition’s deck of most-wanted “cards.”

The Hussein brothers, while playboy sadists in life — Uday branded the women he raped with the letter U and humiliated them further by sending money to their fathers — died holding the rank of brigadier generals.

On April 4, while the coalition forces pounded Baghdad, Saddam called his sons to a secret meeting to promote them. He could give them no insignia, all he could do was make the pronouncement.

Two days later, Uday sent for Ala’a Makki, the former director of his television station. He asked Mr. Makki what the Iraqi people were thinking.

“He was depressed,” says Mr. Makki. “Since he was disabled in the gun attack on him in 1996 he had become increasingly erratic and inhumane. His final words to me were: ‘This time I think the Americans are serious. Bush is not like Clinton. I think this is the end.’”

Three weeks ago, increasingly isolated and running out of places to hide, the brothers teamed up, taking with them Mustafa, Qusai’s 14-year-old son, and Abdul Assamad, a close family friend. They left the safe Sunni triangle of Fallujah, Baghdad and Tikrit for Mosul. Once there, they called in their favor from Mr. al-Zaydan. He was in no position to refuse.

Unknown to them, however, Mr. al-Zaydan held a grudge. Two years ago Sadan, Mr. al-Zaydan’s younger brother, a drunk who traded on his brother’s prestigious position, had boasted once too often that the brothers were cousins of Saddam. Such an erroneous claim carried a prison sentence and Sadan was condemned to seven years. Although he was released within a month, Mr. al-Zaydan still brooded about the family humiliation.

For the past 12 years, this once humble builder whose first home was a tiny, three-room building in an outlying village, has prospered greatly thanks to his president. When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1991, Mr. al-Zaydan rallied the Al Bunaser tribe to respond to Saddam’s call in Mosul, not a natural Saddam stronghold.

“Al-Zaydan was an opportunist,” says Shahir Al Khazraji, who lives in a pink villa directly opposite him. “He knew he could curry favor with Saddam. The president needed supporters; al-Zaydan delivered the Al Bunasers.

“When the first Gulf war ended, al-Zaydan went to Baghdad and petitioned Watban Ibrahim Hasan, Saddam’s half-brother. He insisted that, although distant, he was related to Saddam. He had been loyal, all he wanted, he said, was a letter. He got it. It made him head of the Al Bunaser tribe, a venerated position that promised an annual payment of $200,000. It also brought him patronage.

“Saddam himself never visited al-Zaydan’s new, luxurious home, but his sons and many of his relatives did. And that led to much more.

“Uday gave him 2,500 acres of fertile farmland that had once belonged to Kurds. He gave him lucrative contracts worth millions of dinars. And in January came the biggest prize: a contract worth $480,000 to build Saddam’s new mosque in Mosul. I suspect Saddam knew that mosque would never be built; that money was a payment for future help. And three weeks ago, Uday and Qusai called in his debt: they turned up on his doorstep.”

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