Hiding Saddam Hussein: The story of Alaa Namiq, the man who hid Iraq’s former dictator

The documentary by Halkawt Mustafa marked its Arab premiere at the Red Sea International Festival

Alaa Namiq helped Saddam Hussein evade American soldiers for 235 days. Photo: Red Sea International Film Festival
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“In Arab culture, we don’t ask a guest how long they’re intending to stay. And if that guest is Saddam Hussein?” Alaa Namiq asks, the absurdity of his situation apparent in his tone. Namiq’s answer to his own question is an account that is stranger than fiction.

Sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor with prayer beads in his hand, Namiq recounts his tale in Hiding Saddam Hussein ­– a documentary by Halkawt Mustafa that marked its Arab premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival.

Namiq was the man who helped Hussein evade American soldiers for 235 days, hiding the former Iraqi president on his farm and even digging the hole that he was eventually found in. Hussein was captured in December 2003. Three years later, he was executed.

Namiq has long been reticent about the time he spent with Hussein. Hiding Saddam Hussein is the first time he has shared his story on camera. Supplemented with archival footage, as well as re-enactments, Namiq’s interview makes for a riveting, illuminating watch.

Namiq did not know Hussein prior the encounter.

Living as a farmer in Ad-Dawr, a small agricultural town in Iraq’s Saladin Governate, Namiq’s impression of Hussein came from what he was exposed to on state radio and the single channel that his television aired. He was not aware of the brutality with which Hussein ruled. For Namiq, the Iraqi president was a mythological figure, in line with the image Hussein wanted to impart to the Iraqi population. He never imagined he would meet him in person.

Then one day, just after the US and allied forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, Namiq's brother knocked on his door to tell him they had a guest. He couldn’t say more. That guest, of course, turned out to be Hussein.

He had heard that Namiq had a good lay of the land, and Hussein wanted to avoid expectations that he would go into hiding with those close to him, deciding instead to go to the otherwise innocuous area of Ad-Dawr and task Namiq with helping him evade the 150,000 American troops who were looking for him.

The documentary then depicts the transformation of Hussein from a fierce authoritarian ruler accustomed to palaces and an armed entourage to a fugitive masquerading as a farmer. The documentary shows how Hussein was planning an insurgency to reclaim his rule, and how, in the end, those closest to him would be instrumental in his capture.

But perhaps what is most riveting is the relationship Hussein develops with his host. Namiq – at first intimidated by Hussein – doesn’t dare object to his decisions or even converse with him. However, as the months go by, the two strike up a friendly rapport and when Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, are killed in a US military operation in July, he even refers to Namiq as his son.

The documentary is replete with scenes of the two interacting, which are re-enacted based on Namiq’s testimonies.

Hiding Saddam Hussein has been more than a decade in the making, as Mustafa revealed in a conversation after the film’s first screening at the Red Sea International Film Festival.

“The craziest thing I’ve done in my life is making this movie,” Mustafa said. “It took 12 years.”

The difficulty in locating Namiq accounts, in part, for the film taking so long to make, as well as the great lengths Mustafa went to to confirm the events and political developments featured in Hiding Saddam Hussein, aiming to do so with journalistic precision.

“It was a lot of information, a lot of fact,” he said. “I was working as a journalist for many years. When you have the information, you need the confirmation. It was difficult but I'm very happy that I really spent time to study the story.”

A Norwegian-Kurdish filmmaker, Mustafa briefly touches upon the atrocities Hussein committed against Iraq’s Kurdish population in the film, most horrifically with the Halabja attack in 1988, where thousands were killed by chemical weapons.

The film, however, as Mustafa stated, is less about Hussein’s autocratic rule and politics than it is about the man who was tasked with hiding the Iraqi president.

“I think this is coming from my Norwegian perspective,” he said. “For me, it was very important to see this story like a movie. I wanted to make a movie about the man who was hiding Saddam Hussein, not about Saddam Hussein.”

Mustafa said he first heard about Namiq after reading a Washington Post article in 2012. It took the filmmaker a long time to find the farmer but at last, with the help of a sheikh in Iraq, he managed to find Namiq and eventually to convince him to tell his story on camera.

Namiq was also present at the premiere and recounted meeting Mustafa. Though other journalists had approached him and tried persuading him to share his account of hiding Hussein, Namiq said he felt at ease with Mustafa and therefore agreed to being filmed by him.

“Of course, the events took place 20 years ago,” he said. “But I couldn’t talk about it because of the regional circumstances and developments in the region. Halkawt tried hard to find me and sought the mediation of one of the sheikhs in the region, someone I knew very well. I told him I’d like to think about it.

“I believed I should remain silent, because we need to protect our family. But the press started to talk about the whole thing and social media too, so I decided to come out and to do this movie to tell the real story.”

Namiq shared details of what he experienced after he was arrested by American troops along with Hussein. He spent more than seven months in Abu Ghraib, a prison located west of Baghdad, which was a site of prisoner abuse and torture at the hands of the US army and the CIA.

“Honestly, this whole issue actually was costly,” Namiq said, referring to his family. “When I say costly I don't mean money or my property, or the properties of my family. The year after I was arrested, my father died [of grief] because of what happened.”

Updated: December 09, 2023, 1:34 PM