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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 15:36 GMT
Iraqis consider life without Saddam
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Reports of a stroke in January were denied
A growing number of Iraqis, including some officials, are now discussing a previously taboo topic -- the eventual death of their leader, Saddam Hussein.

In a report from Baghdad, the New York Times newspaper quotes several Iraqis as saying their president is seriously ill and acknowledging he will not live for ever.

There has been renewed speculation about the health of Saddam Hussein, who is 63, with reports at different times that he has cancer and suffered a stroke.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attending a military parade on New Year's Eve
The Iraqi leader at a military parade on New Year's Eve
But the BBC's Middle East analyst, Roger Hardy, says it is unusual for senior figures to speak so openly about such a sensitive subject.

A few years ago, when doubts about his health surfaced, the Iraqi president appeared on television saying he was fit enough to swim the River Tigris.

Unthinkable

And in January this year, Iraqi television broadcast film of Mr Hussein at work, following reports that he was in intensive care after suffering a severe stroke.

Nevertheless, officials known to be part of Mr Hussein's inner circle are now speaking openly about the consequences of his ill-health.

Saddam Hussein
1937: Born Takrit, central Iraq
1963-68: Jailed for involvement with opposition Ba'ath party
1979: Becomes head of state
1980: Invades Iran; eight year war ends inconclusively
1990: Invades Kuwait; driven out in Gulf War of 1991
2000: Unconfirmed reports of poor health
In an interview with the New York Times correspondent, John Burns, former Higher Education Minister Abdul-Karim al-Hashemi insisted that the Baghdad Government was not a one-man show.

Senior official, Human Abdul Khaliq al-Ghaffour also discussed the issue of cancer treatment, and openly acknowledged Mr Hussein will not live for ever.

Family feuds

According to the BBC's Roger Hardy, one possible explanation is that the Iraqi leader is trying to prepare his succession.

There is no love lost between his sons, Qusay and Uday, but Mr Hussein is thought to favour the younger and less impulsive of the two, Qusay.

Saddam Hussein shakes hands with his younger son Qusay (right)
Saddam Hussein with younger son Qusay
Iraq-watchers also point out that the president recently published a novel about a king and his corrupt family.

Some see the message of the book as being that no ruler is immortal, and only if the ruler's family cleans up its act and remains united, can the nation be safe.

Whatever the reasons, Saddam Hussein's state of health remains the focus of controversy. While he does appear pale and to have lost weight, some diplomats in Baghdad are not convinced he is seriously ill.

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See also:

06 Jan 01 | Middle East
Saddam bids to dispel health doubts
04 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Doubt cast over Saddam images
04 Sep 00 | Middle East
Saddam 'stricken with lymph cancer'
24 Jan 99 | Middle East
Saddam Hussein: His rise to power
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