I admit to a slightly pornographic fascination with the details of Saddam Hussein's life on the lam; the contrast between his splendiferous palaces and his bum-like recent existence has a morality-tale quality to it that I cannot get enough of. And so, in reading details about his attempts to lie low, I noted this passage in a Knight Ridder dispatch yesterday:
The yard on Monday was strewn with garbage and rusting tools. Chickens and turkeys clucked in a barbed-wire cage outside, and a lone dog sniffed around for food. Inside, the former dictator ate canned ham and tuna and processed cheese. By his bedside, he kept cans of rat poison and bug spray to kill cockroaches. He had no phone. … No one knows how long Saddam lived in the hut, but it was apparent that he had spent some time there. The bedroom was filled with men's clothes, including new shirts and socks still in their wrappers, suggesting he had shopped recently. There was a pair of shiny black leather slippers with gold ornaments. A plastic bottle of Lacoste Pour Homme cologne sat on the shelf. About 20 Arabic-language books were on a small bookshelf. … A gold-plated mirror hung in a corner. At the back was a small, closet-size toilet that also served as a shower. Half-eaten pomegranates and orange peels were in the wastebasket.
And here is an account from the Times (London) today:
How long Saddam Hussein had lived in the squalid mud hut beside the orchard outside the village of Dawr is not known, but a half-finished dinner of Turkish delight and baklava cakes suggest he was in the middle of eating when hundreds of US troops, backed by tanks and attack helicopters, swooped on his rural hideout. Elsewhere in the rough hut a pair of gleaming new patent leather Italian sandals, still in their box and wrapping paper, sat incongruously pristine yesterday amid the squalor and detritus as triumphant US soldiers took journalists on a tour of the deposed dictator's redoubt. He ate in an open-air kitchenette, dining off canned ham and tuna, processed cheese, mango slices in pickled oil and halal chicken sausages. Bounty chocolate bars were in the fridge.
Of the many details in these portraits, the one that jumps out at me is the "canned ham." In a predominantly Muslim country like Iraq, it's not easy to find pork products. Certain stores are known to sell them and they have an aura of semi-contraband. I surmise that Saddam's underlings knew of his taste for ham and made an effort to procure it for him – and that it was not just something that happened to be around and easily available. This in turn serves as a reminder of Saddam's Ba‘thist background and the relentlessly secular, if not anti-Islamic, quality of its ideology. (December 16, 2003)