Saddam Hussein's nephew launched a bitter attack yesterday on America's "catastrophic" occupation of Iraq.
In the first interview by a member of Saddam's immediate family since the fall of Baghdad, Ali al-Tikriti said he had no idea where Saddam might be hiding. But he said the "president" would never give himself up voluntarily, adding: "I hope the Americans don't get him."
Speaking from Switzerland, Ali, whose father Barzan is Saddam's half-brother and Iraq's former head of security, said that the US invasion had turned into a disaster.
"Every day there are explosions. People are killed. This didn't happen before. I don't say that the government was made up of angels, but there was infrastructure, security and food," he told the Zürich-based newspaper Blick.
"Before the US occupation Iraq was a land without terrorism. It's now the new Afghanistan." As a result of the chaos, al-Qaida had found a new safe haven.
The Americans arrested Barzan al-Tikriti on April 19, shortly after he telephoned his family in Geneva to assure them he was still alive.
Ali, who lives in Geneva, dismissed as a "fairytale" the suggestion that Saddam and his relatives amassed millions during their years in power, including 462m Swiss francs (£207.7m) apparently hidden in Swiss bank accounts. The family was broke, he claimed.
Photos from the mid-1980s show Ali, then a small boy wearing shorts, sitting next to Uncle Saddam, together with Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay, Ali's sister, and other relatives. Uday married Ali's sister a decade later. The marriage collapsed almost immediately, amid allegations that Uday was a violent psychopath.
Asked whether Uday, who was killed by US troops four months ago, had beaten his sister, Ali replied: "Uday did not beat her black and blue but treated her like a princess. My sister was only 16, and had different ideas about marriage. That's why they separated soon after the wedding."
Ali's father Barzan, who was security chief until 1983, moved to Switzerland in the late 1980s, after Saddam made him ambassador to the UN. In 1998 he went back to Baghdad, leaving his children behind.
Ali said his father had warned him to avoid politics and that he had, as a result, declined to become a member of the Ba'ath party.
"As an Iraqi and as Saddam Hussein's nephew I believe that the 1990 invasion of Kuwait was wrong," he said. "You can't simply march into a country." But there were double standards at play. "When Iraq does it, it is punished. When America does it, nothing happens. Is it just that Saddam is judged and Bush isn't? And why is it that only the leaders of third world countries appear in court?"
Iraq had plenty of weapons of mass destruction during the Iran-Iraq war - when Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, was greeted in the White House - but later got rid of them, he said. Every Iraqi now wanted the Americans to leave Iraq, he added.
"The problem is that the consequences could be terrible. I don't rule out civil war. Barzani and Talabani [the two main Kurdish leaders] are good leaders, but have the disadvantage of being Kurds. The Shiites will never accept them. The other members of the government are either puppets of Iran or thieves like Ahmad Chalabi" - the leader of the pro-Washington Iraqi National Congress.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003