Saddam's Last Poem From Hussein, a Florid Farewell to the Iraqi People

Verses written by Saddam Hussein after he was sentenced to death are believed to be his last written words, according to his relatives.

By Marc Santora and John F. Burns

BAGHDAD, Jan. 3 — The dictator sat alone in his cell, three years in American custody. His beard had gone gray, his sons were dead and the gallows were being readied.

Saddam Hussein and his former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti berate the court during their trial in Baghdad in this December 5, 2005 file photo. Saddam's last poem shows defiance and no remorse.

Saddam Hussein and his former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti berate the court during their trial in Baghdad in this December 5, 2005 file photo. Saddam's last poem shows defiance and no remorse.

Saddam Hussein in those final days turned to poetry, so often his source of solace in times of difficulty, inspired by his vision of himself as inseparably tied to those he led.

The poem, “Unbind It,” is his rallying call to be sounded from the grave.

It is a mixture of defiance and reflection, but no remorse. No mention of the tens of thousands of lives he was responsible for taking. No expression of guilt or sadness or regret.

The poem, flush with florid phrases that were his trademark, begins with what sounds like a paean to the love between himself and his people, who were about to lose him.

Unbind your soul. It is my soul mate and you are my soul’s beloved.

No house could have sheltered my heart as you have.

He moves quickly to more aggressive language. He refers to the foreigners who swept him from power and to the Iraqis who rose to rule here in his place.

The enemies forced strangers into our sea

And he who serves them will be made to weep.

Here we unveil our chests to the wolves

And will not tremble before the beast.

The verses were written by Mr. Hussein after he was sentenced to death and, according to his relatives, are believed to be his last written words.

A handwritten copy of the poem was passed along by the Iraqi authorities to his family in Tikrit, along with his final will and testament, according to Mr. Hussein’s cousin Muayed Dhamin al-Hazza.

Mr. Hazza read the poem on the telephone, saying he hoped Mr. Hussein’s farewell would underline the manner in which the execution was carried out.

Iraqi and American officials confirmed that a poem left among Mr. Hussein’s belongings at the American military detention center was delivered to his family.

In the poem, Mr. Hussein praises those who continue to fight for the Iraqi nation and condemns the “wolves” who have brought ruin through their invasion. He portrays himself as a martyr.

His poetry, like his speeches at decisive moments of his dictatorship, was often obscure, highly alliterative and difficult, even for Arabic speakers, to comprehend fully.

At the height of his power, Iraqis brave enough to discuss the subject would shake their heads at his rambling speeches and convoluted verse. Some would suggest, with glances over their shoulders, that in his efforts to show himself as a scholar of Arab history and literature, he inadvertently revealed some of the darker recesses of his mind.

According to news reports, Mr. Hussein even made gifts of his poetry to his American captors.

Iraqis familiar with his style helped translate his death cell poem. Sections that would have been unintelligible in a literal translation have been interpreted loosely in an attempt to reveal the meaning Mr. Hussein intended.

He is most clear when talking about how he sees himself in light of his impending death.

I sacrifice my soul for you and for our nation

Blood is cheap in hard times.

Mr. Hussein told his official biographer that he cared little what people thought of him when he was alive, but that he hoped to be revered as one of the giants of history -- as a Nebuchadnezzar or Saladin -- 500 years from now.

He ordered that one in every 10 bricks used in reconstructing the ancient palace at Babylon be stamped with his name or an eight-pointed star to symbolize the eight letters in his name in the Arabic alphabet.

For a man whose vanity was in proportion to his brutality, he appears, from the poem, to have seen himself as dying for a greater good. It was a theme he returned to repeatedly in the courtroom where he was condemned to death for crimes against humanity, telling the judges that he was speaking to history.

Many Iraqis viewed the thousands of portraits of Mr. Hussein erected around the country -- in business suits, as warrior, as Arab sheik -- as a sort of guidebook to his illusions about himself. Even as his secret police murdered tens of thousands, he sealed himself off with the conviction that he was widely loved.

One of his favorite books was “The Old Man and the Sea,” but his style could not be mistaken for Hemingway. No short crisp sentences for Mr. Hussein.

While still in power, he wrote, at least in part, two romantic novels. “Zabibah and the King,” which is set in a fanciful Arabia of long ago, tells of a lonely king who, while powerful, feels cut off from his liegemen. He encounters Zabibah and is entranced by her beauty and wisdom. But outsiders soon invade the kingdom, which is described as the cradle of civilization, and Zabibah is raped -- on Jan. 17, a reference to the beginning of the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

When the book was released, Central Intelligence Agency analysts reportedly pored over it, searching for clues into Mr. Hussein’s mind.

But they could just as easily have turned to “The Old Man and the Sea,” which Mr. Hussein had first read as a young man in a different prison: “A man can be destroyed not defeated.”

In that spirit, he urges his followers to be fierce and noble, saying:

We never kneel or bend when attacking

But we even treat our enemy with honor.

Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting.


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