BAGHDAD – A daughter of Saddam Hussein (search) said last night that she is convinced her father is still alive. In her first interview, Raghad, 36, said: "I know he survived the war."
Raghad described how she, one of her sisters and their children escaped being killed by American missiles at a family farm on the first night of the war. The former Iraqi dictator's eldest daughter said she was no longer in touch with her father or brothers Odai (search) and Qusai (search) but believed they had all survived.
"The last time I spoke to my father was five days before the war," she said. "He was in good spirits. I know he survived the war. But once Baghdad fell it was all so quick, all the family went our own ways. I am not in touch with any of them. But I believe they are still alive."
Of Saddam, she said: "I hope he's alive. He was a very good father." Speaking to The Sunday Times in an hour-long phone conversation made to the home of her brother-in-law, Jamal Kamel, Raghad denied persistent reports that she had considered seeking asylum in Britain.
"I like England," she said.
"I have been there before and it's nice, quiet and very cold. But politically it is impossible." She described her family's fear when the "shock and awe" bombing campaign began. "It was terrifying," she said. "The first night I was on our farm in Baghdad with my sister and our children and 10 missiles fell all around us. We just got to the shelter so we were not hurt but we were very scared. Every night, the noise."
Raghad revealed that she was still in Iraq this weekend, living with her four children aged between 10 and 19, and with her sister Rana, 34, and her three children. The family did not leave Baghdad until April 9, the day the city fell.
"We heard on the radio that the Americans had entered the city and occupied it so at noon that day we all left.
"After a few days everyone went their own way. We tried to hide in Baghdad. We had not expected it to happen so quickly." She and her sister were now living in "a simple house," she added.
Speaking fluent English, which she learned at Baghdad University where she specialized in translation, she said: "I spend my days cooking typical Iraqi food, washing dishes, doing housework, laundry.
"I do things I never did in the past because since I was a child we always had maids, housekeepers and lived in big houses with swimming pools."
Raghad and Rana were reported to have been estranged from their father since the murder of their husbands, Hussein Kamel al-Majid and his brother Saddam Kamel, both cousins of Saddam.
Once head of Saddam's weapons procurement programme and one of the most powerful men in Iraq, Hussein Kamel became the country's highest-level defector when he and his brother fled to Jordan in August 1995, taking their families with them. Partly because of pressure from their wives they returned six months later, apparently believing that as the fathers of Saddam's grandsons, they would be forgiven. Instead they were murdered while their wives were visiting their father.
Refusing to speak about her husband's killing, Raghad dismissed the notion that she had broken off relations with her father: "He is my father and I am his daughter. He was a good father and a good grandfather."
In the background it was possible to hear the sound of children playing. But she insisted: "The children are very upset. They miss school and their friends, and they feel lonely in the middle of their country. I don't know what to tell them."
Raghad does not go out: "I don't like the situation, the American troops everywhere, seeing the statues of my father broken, his pictures torn down. You can imagine how I feel."
She said she had accepted that there was no immediate future for her in Iraq. "I cannot stay in my country," she said. "Rana and I discuss all the time where we can live."
She is believed to be negotiating for asylum in the United Arab Emirates: "All I want is to be able to live peacefully with no fear and nobody asking us any awkward questions. We have been through a lot and now we just want peace."