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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Sylph-like Saddam 'been working out'
By Martin Asser
BBC News Online

Saddam Hussein led away from court hearing
The "new look" ex-president was led from court by two burly prison guards
Has Saddam Hussein achieved something in US detention that seemed to elude him when he was the all powerful ruler of Iraq - a successful weight loss programme?

Gen Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the former president has lost about 5kg (12lb) since his capture in December 2003 - working out in jail as part of his regime.

Gen Myers was speaking hours after the former Iraqi president appeared for the first time before an Iraqi judge looking noticeably thinner than his paunchy old self.

"My understanding is he's lost about 12 pounds, on purpose, and he's worked out, I think twice a day," the general told US channel Fox News.

"He's had more time to work out than I have," Gen Myers added drolly.

Until then, questions had been asked as to whether Saddam Hussein was ill or the food in jail was not to his liking.

This was, after all, the man who - according to the US military - was discovered at his Tikrit hidey-hole with the two cooks and copious supplies of Mars bars.

Huge banquets

Gen Myers' remarks made many Saddam-watchers think back to the heady days of the oil-for-food programme, when the president was accused of squandering Iraq's meagre income on luxury items as his people starved.

In 1998 London accused Baghdad of requesting the following through the UN sanctions committee that checked all Iraqi purchases:

  • a liposuction machine worth more than $16,000
  • a teeth whitening laser worth $126,000
  • silicone breast implants

"Saddam Hussein's perverse priorities are to provide luxury goods for his cronies rather than food and medicine for suffering children," said UK Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd at the time of the revelation.

Saddam at military parade
The Iraqi leader used to cut a much chunkier figure
It was never revealed whether the president himself would have benefited from the items on the list, but all purchases were blocked by the UN.

In his prime, the Iraqi leader clearly enjoyed a lavish lifestyle that included, reputedly, huge banquets cooked every day in all of his many palaces just in case he happened to pop round on any particular night.

But he was also very conscious about weight issues.

Last year as the storm was gathering that would sweep him from power, he decreed that overweight army officers and officials would forfeit half their salaries if they failed an annual fitness test.

Cosmetic surgery

By coincidence, another story has been doing the rounds of Arabic gossip columns concerning Saddam Hussein's daughter Raghad.

It is reported that she has been using her time in exile in Jordan to work on her own appearance.

This has apparently included a tummy tuck last August - shortly after her brothers Uday and Qusay were killed in a gun battle with US forces - and breast implants.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify the rumours that since 1990 Saddam has been an aficionado of the diet of Dr Robert Atkins - who died just before the war that unseated him.

However, it looks as though the former political strongman - who faces a possible death penalty if found guilty of his alleged crimes - will have plenty of time to devote to his fitness programmes during the lengthy legal process.

The BBC's John Simpson
"He was polite to the judge but took the opportunity to score a number of points"

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