Could you live with the devil for five years? How about become him?
At only 23-years-old, Iraqi military official Latif Yahia faced both dilemmas, as the psychotic eldest son of Iraq’s notorious dictator brought him to the edge of hell and back with a job offer.
Or rather, a job assignment.
To be a fiday, a double…
Adapted from Yahia’s autobiographical book, the 2011 Sundance film “The Devil’s Double” directed by Lee Tamahori and starring Dominic Cooper as both Yahia and Uday Hussein, is being called a “must-see summer movie” and the “Scarface of Arabia.”
While Yahia praised the film and Cooper’s performance, stating that “no one has played him [Uday] as well as Dominic….great performance,” it’s apparent that nothing about the film’s inspiration was glamorous.
For five years Yahia, now a Ph.D and well respected author, endured torture, forced plastic surgery, and psychological torment at the hands of a man he calls “completely erratic” – Uday Hussein.
Yahia and Hussein became classmates in their adolescence but it wasn’t until the closing of the Iran-Iraq war that Yahia was called summoned to undertake what would become the most heinous and disturbing task of his life.
Becoming Uday Saddaam Hussein.
Yahia recalls the emotional chords struck by certain scenes in Tamahori’s film: “The scene that affected me the most was the torture scene where Uday is whipping me on the bench. It reminds me of all the torture that I suffered at his hands. The scene where he tries to have me kill the father of the raped girl, not just because I refused and slit my wrists but because, although the movie doesn’t show it, Uday actually took the gun as I was bleeding and shot the man anyway, right there in his office.”
Forced to duplicate Hussein’s mannerisms, demeanor, and even dental alignment, Yahia assured me that Uday, as crazed and powerful as he was, never truly took hold of who he was.
“I never lost myself, if I had I would have given in to Uday’s lifestyle and psychotic behavior as his “friends” did,” Yahia says. “Always in the back of my head I would say “I am Latif Yahia, my father is Yahia, he raised me to be a strong and true man.”
Reflecting on the most difficult aspects of his experience as a body double, the now husband and father recalled the anguish of witnessing Uday’s treatment of women.
“Uday would find them anywhere and everywhere, if they didn’t come willingly he had them abducted. He had his pimps bring groups of girls around and he would choose, whomever was leftover the pimps could have…. I believe they should all rot in hell.”
While discussing film, which has not been shown in Iraq, Yahia also notes the sociopolitical impact “The Devil’s Double” had on the Muslim world, and why U.S. involvement in Iraq has destroyed a connection to his homeland.
“Iraq has been brought back a thousand years, thanks. The Muslim people all know what their leaders are and how they behave, in Iraq we had one Saddam and one Uday, now we have hundreds, every Ministers’ son acts in the way Uday did.”
He continues, “Anyone who says Iraq is stable is lying, delusional, corrupt and/or working for the American government. I have no feeling for a country that is run by Iranians and occupied by American forces.”
In 2003, Uday Saddam Hussien was killed along with his brother Qusay and nephew Mustapha during a U.S. Task Force 20 confrontation. Yahia was less than satisfied at hearing the news.
“I was FURIOUS! Not because he I liked him! I wanted justice! I wanted to see him in court, I wanted to stand in front of a judge and say ‘Look what this madman did to me,’ I wanted the Iraqi people to get Justice, killing him was the easy way out. No one got closure or justice that day.”
What is justice?
After reading Yahia’s book and seeing the film, I am moved by the power of individual resilience and personal character, even when the world is trying to rip it away from you. Perhaps justice is the ability to propel forward, unscathed by the evils of one’s past.
Having spent the last 15 years in Ireland, despite 105 letters to the Ministry of Justice in Ireland, Yahia still awaits to hear back from his third citizenship application. His previous two were denied.
“I will never give up my fight for free speech, freedom, and justice…I work for peace around the world, with people who believe in peace and humanity.” Yahia is now working on what he refers to as a “controversial” documentary film, and seems to be following the promise made on his personal website.
“As my dearest friends and family say ‘I don’t have a filter’ but for me it’s easy to talk about these things, I don’t have a political party to toe the line in, I’m not affiliated to anyone or anything. Therefore I can speak the truth and the only one that will pay the price will be me. If I survive the release of the documentary.”
Although Latif Yahia is still in search of a homeland, 19-years after the darkest chapter in his life, it seems that he is, in some way, at home with himself.