Last Updated: Fri Jul 29, 2011 01:05 am (KSA) 22:05 pm (GMT)

Richard Burchfield: Who is ‘The Devil’s Double’?

The Devil’s Double still features Ludivine Sagnier as Sarrab and Dominic Cooper as Uday Hussein. (File Photo)
The Devil’s Double still features Ludivine Sagnier as Sarrab and Dominic Cooper as Uday Hussein. (File Photo)

The Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq may be over, but the horrific acts of the former dictator won’t soon be forgotten.

It’s interesting to me at this point how little I actually know about what was going on during Saddam’s rule in Iraq, though I grew up in the 1990s and clearly remember “Operation: Desert Storm,” and the version in the 2000s, “Operation: Iraqi Freedom.”

To me, what’s even more compelling is the way Saddam lived his day-to-day life and those of his sons, particularly Uday Hussein. Regarded as the “Black Prince” for his acts of debauchery and revulsion, the disillusioned eldest son of Saddam was every bit a tyrannical figure in Iraq during the late 1980s and 1990s as was his father.

Let’s put the picture of Uday into perspective. The man lived a lavish, opulent lifestyle that most only dream about. We’re talking fast and luxurious cars, extravagant amenities, expensive clothing – a true lap of luxury. And he did it all on the backs of Iraqis. Uday used his extreme wealth and offensive power supreme to extort the people of Iraq – one man in particular, Latif Yahia.

During this time, Saddam would often keep many “fiday” – body doubles – to sit in his place in threatening situations, one even losing his life in an assassination attempt. Saddam even customarily used Hussein family relatives as body doubles. Uday sought the same protection as his father, but none of their family closely resembled the prodigal son.

That’s when he remembered his childhood classmate who looked like his “twin,” Latif Yahia, who was serving as a lieutenant in the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq War. When the proposition of acting as Uday’s body double came along, Latif politely declined, propelling Uday into a fit of rage. He later tortured and threatened Yahia until he agreed to submit to his will.

For the next five years, Yahia assumed the life Uday laid out for him – driving his cars, eating his food, wearing his clothes, and living in his palace in Baghdad. He also witnessed all the dreadful things Uday subjected people to, specifically women and those who opposed him. He was even close to Saddam himself and when first introduced to Saddam recalls him saying “Allah had given me two sons, and you are the third.”

However, I wouldn’t have known any of this if I hadn’t seen a movie trailer. “The Devil’s Double” is a movie that is unveiling in select cities in the US on Friday. As a self-proclaimed movie buff and aspiring documentary filmmaker, this movie caught my eye. Reading about the plot of the film, I soon realized what an extraordinary story this was, about a man thrust into a life created for him, and the man pulling the strings.

The movie is based on the book of the same name by Latif Yahia. Yet it still amazes me that there are people who lead truly unimaginable lives – doubling as Saddam’s son is no scoff, however harsh it may have been – nevertheless, still amazing. I have to give it up to the movies. Educating and entertaining me in one simple storytelling aesthetic. I want to read Yahia’s book, but I will undoubtedly see the film that sparked my curiosity.

(Richard is an Intern at Al Arabiya in Washington, DC. He is a participant of The Fund for American Studies & the Institute on Political Journalism at Georgetown University (DC). He can be reached at

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