IRAQ: Saddam Hussein's alleged mistress tells all in new book
On a summer night in 1968, Lampsos' neighbor, Gina, had nagged her to come over and keep her company while her husband hosted a dinner party.
Then-16-year-old Lampsos put on her pink dress with a matching pink band in her hair and silver-colored shoes. She smelled of her favorite perfume, Je Reviens, and her golden anklets and bracelets dangled as she jumped over a fence separating the two families' houses with a bowl of tabbouleh in her hands.
A man wearing a blue silk suit and a blindingly white shirt introduced himself as Saddam. He was then a 31-year-old influential figure in the Arab nationalist Baath Party.
Lampsos says now that that she did not know who Saddam Hussein was at the time but that she was smitten by his good looks.
"He had these deep golden eyes. I was attracted. He was a real man. " she told Babylon & Beyond in a recent interview.
There, in Gina and Harout Khayyat's living room in Baghdad, while Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" blared out from the record player, began what Lampsos claims was her three-decade-long complicated and fearful, but also passionate, on-off romantic relationship with the former Iraqi dictator.
She said Hussein called her shaqra, or "the blond."
In her new book, "Mitt Liv med Saddam," or "My Life with Saddam." Lampsos, 57, who now goes by the first name Maria, describes in detail her purported relationship with Hussein and a life in the shadows. The book, regarded by her critics as wild fantasy, was written in Swedish by ghostwriter Lena Katarina Swanberg and has been sold in 10 countries so far.
Babylon & Beyond spoke with Lampsos, or Saddam Hussein's "mistress" as she has been dubbed by media outlets, in the small town on the Swedish countryside where she has been living with hidden identity for several years, until recently.
So what was it like being Saddam Hussein's mistress?
Lampsos wrinkled her nose at the term. She said she feels it's an ill-fitting description of her relationship with Hussein, who was executed in 2006. No, she said, she was different than the horde of other mistresses Hussein supposedly had. She was better. She was a classy girl who spoke Arabic, Greek, English and French and came from a good family. She liked her privacy, pursued jobs and was always herself.
"He saw me as different. I like simplicity. I don't want money. I'm happy the way I am. I never changed the way I am for anyone," she said, noting her family background and the positions she once held on the Iraqi Olympic Committee.
If one is to believe Lampsos, Hussein must have liked those attributes and qualities. In the end, she was the "mistress" he allegedly kept the longest.
But Lampsos' book leaves questions unanswered, and her story takes such dramatic twists and turns that the most explosive Hollywood spy thriller pales in comparison. So it perhaps comes as no surprise that there are those who believe Lampsos dreamed up the whole story, and they portray her as an opportunist and fortune-hunter looking to make a buck. Why would someone such as Lampsos, who lived with a hidden identity and in fear of repercussions, use a close-up photo of herself as the book cover, critics ask.
In the interview, Lampsos dismissed such criticism, raising her voice in irritation. Rolling her eyes, she talked of news reports that she says described her life with Hussein as taken out of "One Thousand and One Nights." She was, however, unable to provide pictures of her and Hussein together or any other memorabilia, such as letters or notes. But some news reports say pictures of Lampsos were found when U.S. troops raided Hussein's "love shack" in 2003.
As she tells her story, she was the cute and naive young girl from a wealthy Greek Christian family with roots in Lebanon, whose looks and stylish clothing from Beirut earned her the nickname "the Princess of Baghdad." Her father had taken a well-paying job in Iraq's fast-growing oil industry and had moved the family to Baghdad from Beirut, where Lampsos is born.
Young Parisoula, or "Pari" as people also called her, lived la vie en rose in late 1960s Baghdad, attending garden parties with the creme de la creme of Iraq's high society and spending lazy days by the pool at the exclusive Alwiya Club with her family and friends.
These were her glory days, when life was easy and she danced down the streets of Baghdad carefree and full of life. Later, she said, Hussein held her an iron grip, always keeping tabs on her. At times, he wouldn't contact her for years but she always felt his presence. She knew he would track her down sooner or later. Hussein was dangerous, and he was everywhere. He would never leave her or allow her to leave him.
She said that when she married her husband, Sirop, a wealthy Christian Armenian man, Hussein had him thrown in jail and stripped of his assets. Sirop fled to Beirut in fear of Hussein's wrath and more repercussions and basically disappeared from the family while Lampsos stayed in Baghdad with the couple's two daughters, Liza and Aliky. Then one of Hussein's sons allegedly raped her daughter when she was 15.
Yet despite all the horrors, fear and humiliation, Lampsos said she would still go to see Hussein when he called. Often, she said, a luxurious car would pull up at her house and take her to one of Hussein's palaces, where she would spend a couple of hours or days with the dictator. Lampsos said she reasoned that if she didn't do as he wished, he would kill her and/or take out his revenge on her family.
However, when she speaks about Hussein, she also gives the impression of deep feelings for him as a man, separate from his gruesome behavior toward his opponents. She indicated that although Sirop, who she said she has no contact with today, was her husband and the father of her children, the man with those intense eyes and the strong passion she once felt for him have never left her.
Toward the end of the book, Lampsos' story becomes increasingly difficult to follow. In the early 1980s, she said, she became pregnant again. She left for Greece and gave birth to a son, Konstantinos. Lampsos declined to answer when asked who his father is.
She said she managed to get her daughter Liza out of Iraq and was planning to do the same for her other daughter, but Hussein had become increasingly paranoid and controlling. She said he would call her and tell her he was in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq, only to appear behind her a couple of minutes later.
One night, she said, a tired-looking Hussein looked at her and said:
"It's time we finish this, shaqra."
"How?" asked Lampsos.
"I am not sure. I have to think. One thing's sure. No other man will touch you," he answered.
She said she believed that meant a death sentence and that she had to escape. Immediately.
According to the book, Lampsos left Aliky in Baghdad in 2001 and attempted to flee the country via Dahouk, a town in Iraqi Kurdistan. However, betrayed by her handlers, she ended up being nabbed by the feared Iraqi security services, the Mukhabarat. She said she was kept in custody underground for some time before she was moved to a women's jail.
One day, she said, a group of guards came to pick her up from her cell.
"Where are you taking me?," she said she asked.
"You're going to Baghdad," they replied.
Lampsos said she was sure that she was on her way to her execution.
But she said the prison bus headed toward the Syrian border instead of turning onto the road leading to the Iraqi capital. She said she ended up at a hotel in Amman, Jordan, and discovered that it was the opposition group the Iraqi National Congress and, indirectly, the U.S. government that orchestrated her transfer out of the country.
After some unexplained interludes in Syria and Beirut, Lampsos said she was flown to Thailand to be interviewed by the CIA in hopes that she would contribute insight into Hussein's Iraq. She said she found some of the inquiries a bit trivial: Where did Saddam live? Where did Saddam eat? Where were the bathrooms located? Could she see the difference between Hussein and his doubles?
Lampsos was also interviewed about her alleged romantic relationship with Hussein by ABC News. The interview, in which Hussein is portrayed as a "Viagra-fueled lover who enjoyed watching 'The Godfather,'" aired only a few months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Lampsos said she doesn't doubt that Hussein watched the broadcast.
According to a Washington Post article, the ABC reporter and producer tracked down Lampsos in Beirut and spent several months verifying her claims with both U.S. and European intelligence officials as well as Iraqis.
Lampsos' daughter Aliky eventually managed to flee Iraq, going to relatives in Greece, while Lampsos ended up in Sweden, where her other daughter had settled with her husband.Her life in quiet rural Sweden is far from the luxurious, but Lampsos maintained that she is content with her modest surroundings. She said she walks her dog, washes up the dishes and chats with the vendors as she shops for fruits and vegetables in the town's main square.
"My heart is still in Baghdad," she said. "I close my eyes and cry. I think of my flowers in the garden. The smell of the gardenias."
-- Alexandra Sandels in Sweden
Upper photo: The cover of Parisoula Lampsos' book "My Life with Saddam," written in Swedish by ghostwriter Lena Katarina Swanberg. Credit: Forum Bokförlag.
Lower photo: Parisoula Lampsos. Credit: YouTube
Video credit: TV4