Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Saddam enjoys poems, muffins

GAINING WEIGHT The former dictator leads a quiet life in prison, gardening on his exercise break and writing poetry, a human rights official reported after a cell visit

THE GUARDIAN , BAGHDAD

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is spending his time in solitary confinement writing poetry, gardening, reading the Muslim holy book and snacking on muffins. He even wrote a poem about US President George W. Bush.

The intriguing glimpse of the former dictator's daily routine as he awaits trial on war crimes and genocide charges was given yesterday by Iraq's human rights minister, Bakhtiar Amin, who visited Saddam in detention on Saturday.

Amin, an Iraqi human rights campaigner whose family had lost members to killings by the former regime, said he could not bring himself to speak to Saddam but observed that he was "in good health and being kept in good conditions."

Yet he said the ex-president "appeared demoralized and dejected."

Saddam is being held in a 3m-by-4m white-walled air-conditioned cell, Amin said. He is kept apart from the other prisoners, who can mix with each other during the daily three-hour exercise periods.

Saddam has been reading the Qu'ran and writing poetry, Amin said. "One of the poems is about George Bush, but I had no time to read it."

Saddam's health was "generally good" but he was being treated for high blood pressure and had suffered a chronic prostate infection for which he had received antibiotics. The former president had refused a biopsy to test for signs of cancer.

Amin said Saddam "was regaining weight again" after a self- imposed diet in which he "resisted all fatty foods" and had lost about 5 kg. Like the other high-value detainees, Saddam's day begins with a substantial breakfast that provides 1,300 calories. He also gets hot food twice a day. The former leader has developed a penchant for American snacks such as muffins and cookies.

For relaxation there are no newspapers, TV or radio, but there are 145 from the Red Cross, which visits detainees every six weeks.

"He is looking after a few bushes and shrubs, and has even placed a circle of white stones around a small palm tree," said Amin, who is the first member of Iraq's new interim government to visit Saddam. "His apparent care for his surroundings is ironic when you think he was responsible for one of the biggest ecocides when he drained the southern marshes."

On July 1, Saddam and 11 other ex-officials were arraigned in a Baghdad courtroom on charges that include killing rivals, gassing Kurds, invading Kuwait and suppressing Kurdish and Shi'ite uprisings.

Amin said the prisoners were technically under Iraqi jurisdiction but would remain at the US military prison until Iraqi authorities are ready to take custody of them.

US and Iraqi officials have said that Saddam has not provided much information during interrogation, but some of his aides have. They include Ali Hassan al-Majid, who reportedly ordered chemical weapons to be used against Kurds; Saddam's half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti; and his secretary, Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti.

Amin insisted: "There will be a just trial and a fair trial, unlike the trials that he [Saddam] inflicted on his enemies, on the Iraqi people."

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