My friends were skinned alive by Saddam’

IRAQ: THE LOOMING WAR

Kuwaiti businessman Alfajji once called Saddam his friend but now sees him as a dangerous fiend who must be removed

BODIES scalded by acid – it is an image that will always haunt Mohammed M. Alfajji, a former friend of Saddam Hussein turned resistance leader.

During the Iraqi invasion in 1990, the Kuwaiti businessman had to bury some of his friends who were left hideously disfigured after their Iraqi tormentors tied their bodies to racks and dipped them bit by bit into pots of boiling acid. ‘They were naked, skinned alive,’ said the 47-year-old Kuwaiti.

‘I never imagined that Saddam could do anything so cruel. He is an even bigger monster than Hitler.’

But 10 years before the invasion, he had a different impression of the Iraqi leader when he first met him in Baghdad. He told The Straits Times during an hour-long interview: ‘He had a very soft handshake, spoke quietly and put almost everyone who met him at ease.’

The Iraqi leader, he recounted, first came to know of him through his extensive business links in Iraq from the late 1970s. A wealthy trader, Mr Alfajji then controlled a fleet of trucks that plied between Kuwait and Iraq, carrying goods. When the Iraq-Iran war broke out in 1979, he continued to provide supplies to Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and other parts of the country.

‘The Iraqis were very grateful,’ he said. ‘It was then that Saddam invited me to his private residence to thank me personally.’

From then on, their relationship grew.

There were times when he would take his eldest son to stay over at the Iraqi leader’s house.

‘He liked my family. In Iraq, one seldom hears of Saddam describing anyone as his friend. But he told all his aides that I was his close friend.’

In 1986, Mr Alfajji said Mr Saddam told him that Baghdad would always be grateful to Kuwait for its help and generosity during the war with Iran.

‘He said that if the Middle East had more countries like Kuwait, the region would be a better place.’

That was why it was so hard for him to believe it – four years later – when Iraqi troops stormed into Kuwait.

‘My brother who was then a manager at Kuwait airport called me up at 4am to tell me that the Iraqis had invaded the country.

‘At first, I thought it was all a bad dream.’

He said the Iraqis assumed that he would be sympathetic to their cause and support an occupation.

But, feeling betrayed, Mr Alfajji had other ideas.

He set up a resistance movement of about 5,000 Kuwaitis to fight the Iraqi army and was one of the key leaders in touch with the Kuwaiti royal family in exile in Saudi Arabia during the early months of the occupation.

In early November, he and another resistance leader Mahmood quietly slipped into Iraq.

They visited friends in several Iraqi cities to tell them of the atrocities being committed by Mr Saddam and his army in Kuwait.

This attracted the attention of the Mukhabbarat al-Amma, the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS), then headed by the President’s brother Sabey Brahim Takriti.

The IIS nabbed Mr Alfajji while he was travelling by road from Baghdad to Mosul in North Iraq.

They kept him blindfolded for four days in a maximum security Alhakmiah prison.

Over a period of three months, he was shuttled back and forth between different prisons. And he did not escape torture. Before the interrogations began, he was taken into a room with a small iron desk and an open closet stacked with implements of torture.

There were thick canes, tightly twisted electric wires and electric cables.

Most sessions were accompanied by threats to hurt him and his family.

The beatings and electric shocks would begin.

‘Every time they turned the knob on the machine, I felt a thunderbolt hitting me,’ he said.

Mr Alfajji was freed by the Red Cross in March 1991 after a US-led attack forced the Iraqis to give up their occupation of Kuwait.

More than 12 years after the Gulf War, he is at a loss to explain Mr Saddam’s action.

‘I don’t know what happened. Maybe he was influenced by the people around him. I only know that we will only be safe if he is out of Iraq. He is a very dangerous man.’

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