Woman: Was Secretly Married to Saddam
AL HATR, Iraq (AP) _ As the bride and groom signed their names in the traditional Muslim marriage book, the bride’s father was frightened, and with good reason.
The groom was Saddam Hussein, and he had handpicked the man’s 17-year-old daughter for a secret marriage.
For ten years, Mansia Khazer says she remained Saddam’s secret consort, living in a villa facing the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad. She had jewelry, money and a nice car _ until Saddam cut her off, furious over a relative’s defection.
Khazer’s story has attracted the attention of U.S. forces stationed in nearby Al Hatr, who have been questioning her regularly since they learned of the tie.
She comes from a large tribe, and many of its leaders want her story kept quiet, fearing negative attention. During her interview with The Associated Press _ which she said was her first with a journalist _ she was constantly interrupted by male relatives who looked in. She refused to be photographed.
Khazer was also worried that Saddam or one of his supporters would try to punish her for speaking out.
``As long as he’s alive, I will be afraid,″ she told The Associated Press.
Maj. Jose Thompson, of the 1st Brigade’s Field Artillery Regiment 101st Airborne Division, said he was waiting for Khazer to provide written documentation of her marriage to Saddam, but so far, she has not.
Khazer was 17 when Saddam made her swear to keep their marriage a secret.
``Saddam didn’t want it to be something shameful, or for people to say that he had raped me,″ Khazer said. ``It was a secret marriage, but who knows? There could have been a thousand girls like me who caught his eye and he decided he had to have.″
Her 10-year relationship with the former dictator was common knowledge among the villagers, who whispered behind her back that she was Saddam’s girlfriend, lover, mistress, or worse _ a procurer who arranged for other girls when Saddam came visiting.
Khazer said she was about 15 years old when she met the former dictator. Saddam was visiting her tiny village in the early 1980s and a teacher ordered all the students to pay their respects to the president.
``He was a handsome young man,″ Khazer said, wrapping her black headscarf about her head. ``I was walking with some other students and he told his bodyguards to call us over.″
She said she gathered her courage, faced the president, shook his hand and said hello.
``He said afterward that he liked that I was so direct, I was not afraid to speak up, he said he saw something of himself in me,″ she said.
From 1985-95, Khazer said she lived in the villa as Saddam’s wife. When he was there he loved to listen to the radio, she said _ Arabic music, or talk shows in which Iraqis aired their grievances. Apart from playfully punching his bodyguards she never saw him physically hurt anyone.
But his temper was terrifying, Khazer said.
``When he got mad, my legs used to shake, he was capable of anything, the smallest word or action would set him off even if you had nothing to do with it, he would yell at you,″ she recalled. ``If something bothered him you could see him erupt.″
She never considered herself as anything other than his wife. Once she avoided an encounter with Saddam’s first wife Sajida. According to Muslim custom a man can have four wives.
``She wanted to meet me, to find out exactly what was going on between us, but I ran away. She could have done anything she wanted to me and there’s nothing I could have done about it,″ Khazer said.
Throughout the conversation Khazer, 35, would smile, laugh or gasp at a recollection, a moment long ago. Chipped pink nail polish on her toes stuck out beneath her black robe.
Her brown hair and almond eyes, the faint blush on her cheeks and full lips indicated she was once a striking beauty.
``He never refused anything I asked of him, so I was happy,″ she said. ``I was proud that he distinguished me out of all my friends, I had jewelry, money. I wasn’t the prettiest of my friends, but he chose me.″
They had no children.
Did Khazer love Saddam, the man to whom she devoted ten years of her life?
``He was the first man in my life that I came to know, but I began to lose trust in him. There was a time I no longer felt safe around him,″ she said.
She eventually fell out with the dictator when her brother, Sultan, fled to Jordan with Saddam’s son-in-law, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel, in 1995. Saddam abruptly cut her off, placing her and her family into the hands of the feared Mukhabarat secret police.
``I never saw him after that. He never spoke to me again,″ she said.
She said the Mukhabarat recorded a telephone conversation in which she urged her brother never to return to Iraq.
``I knew that if Sultan came back to Iraq it would be the end of him,″ she said.
The security service then took away her home and her car. She, her other brothers and Sultan’s wife, spent days inside the Mukhabarat’s jail.
Kamel and his brother, Saddam, were married to Saddam’s daughters Raghad and Rana and defected to Jordan with plans to overthrow the dictator. They were eventually lured back to Iraq and killed. Sultan stayed overseas, returning only after the fall of the regime in April.