Searching for Saddam
Saddam had a lot of bodyguards. Which one was hiding him?
See a Magnum Photos gallery on the capture of Saddam Hussein.
The raid on Mohammad al-Hadooshi's farm had to happen fast. The plan had been to storm several targets in nearby al-Oja, where Saddam Hussein was born, as a way to divert the enemy. But the insurgents had struck first, firing RPGs at members of the 1-22 Infantry. Now 1st Lt. Chris Morris, the recon platoon leader, made the snap decision to raid the farm with his scouts before the enemy could regroup. There was, after all, a slim chance that Saddam himself might be on the premises.
The farm, which belonged to Saddam's bodyguard and drinking buddy, was evidence of the lucrative life that the dictator's closest friends enjoyed. Sitting below a bluff near the Tigris, it included a fish hatchery and an orchard of citrus, dates, plantains, and other staples of the fertile region. The surrounding bluffs provided a natural defense, limiting the available routes of approach and making an attack particularly risky. Nonetheless, the recon platoon was able to overwhelm the guards at the compound as reinforcements arrived.
Saddam was nowhere to be found. However, the 1-22 got several consolation prizes: $8 million in U.S. currency secreted away in two fireproof bank boxes, much of it still in Chase Manhattan wrappers; another $1 million or so in Iraqi currency; sniper rifles, night-vision goggles, and other sophisticated weapons; and the personal jewelry collection of Saddam's first wife (and first cousin) Sajida, the mother of his sons Uday and Qusay. In the inexpert appraisal of the 1-22, the jewelry was worth another $2 million.
Included among Sajida's personal effects were her national ID card, passport, and what would turn out to be the most valuable find of the night: the Saddam family photo album. Among the birthday and wedding photos were many images of Saddam with his cabal of personal bodyguards. It was no secret that most of Saddam's protectors—known as Himaya, a term that broadly encompassed bodyguards, confidants, and other inner-circle players—hailed from Tikrit. Many of them were now within reach—if only anyone knew their names. (To learn more about how the U.S. military used the photo album in the hunt for Saddam—and to view 10 rare photos from that album—click here to read a companion slide-show essay.)
In the coming months, coalition forces used a grueling series of raids to flesh out a diagram of who's who in Tikrit. Many of these operations were overseen by Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander of the 1-22 Infantry that had raided the Hadooshi farm. Russell reported to Col. James Hickey, the brigade commander who ordered up the social network of the Iraq insurgency. Russell's battalion helped fill out that diagram by gathering photos and other documents from the farms and houses of suspected insurgents, taking a lot of fire in the process.
Russell and his intelligence team originally worked off the "Black List" of Iraq's most-wanted men. This was an extended version of the Defense Intelligence Agency's deck of cards with hundreds of names of lower-level government officials, like members of Saddam's Special Security Organization. But the Black List was far from authoritative: The target of one of Russell's raids, supposedly a dangerous operative, turned out to be a 12-year-old boy.
Russell believes the list's many errors were due in part to failures to understand local nomenclature. Men in Iraq have five names: Their given name, their father's name, their grandfather's name, their family name, and the name of their hometown, which is often omitted. (My name, for example, would be Christopher Timothy Geoffrey al-Wilson al-Charlottesville—my dad is Timothy, his father's name is Geoffrey, and I'm from Charlottesville, Va.)
"The Western understanding of names as first and last … caused many analysts to garble and confuse" the names of their Iraqi targets, Russell explained to me via e-mail. After they began to understand the naming code, though, analysts had a head start in constructing their social network diagrams. Once you learned a man's complete name, you already had an abridged family tree.
Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.
Photograph of al-Hadooshi raid courtesy Army Public Affairs. Still from The Sopranos © HBO. All rights reserved. Chart of Saddam's network by Lt. Col. Brian Reed.