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Athletes Now Breathe Free of Uday's Chokehold
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Author: Morello, Carol
Date: Apr 24, 2003
Start Page: A.17
Section: A SECTION

"I thought many times of leaving soccer," said Laith Hussein, captain of the national team and a star in Iraq. "But how could I? I was afraid of what [Uday Hussein] would do to me and my family. I would sit and cry when I was by myself. I want to play soccer for myself, and for the Iraqi people, not for Uday."

Though the tales of punishment were not a closely guarded secret in Iraq, it is only now that many athletes are talking freely about their experiences. A common thread runs through all their narratives. After losing a competition, players and their retinue were taken to the Olympic Committee building, where they were harangued before being transferred to a prison, usually Radwaniya. They often had their heads shaved as a mark of shame and spent the first days in prison without food. Many said they were whipped on their backs, legs and arms by thick metal cables that hung from a wall in the prison and were named after snakes. And if they were offered jobs playing abroad, Uday Hussein demanded a cut of the contract if they wanted exit visas to leave Iraq.

Instead of going to prison, they were driven to a farm outside Baghdad. Guards said it belonged to Uday. They working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. cleaning the farm and feeding the animals, Abu Kheir and [Mazen Jaber] said, and slept in a large cow stall. At day's end, Jaber said, "we just sat crying."

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