Ala Bashir is a prominent Iraqi surgeon, painter and sculptor. He is well known in his country for the thousands of plastic-surgery operations he performed on Iraqi soldiers during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.
During a ceremony to honour distinguished Iraqi professionals, Saddam Hussein shook hands with him, and thanked him for his public service. The president told the surgeon that he highly admired an artist who also the bore the name Ala Bashir.
Saddam was surprised when one of the attendants told him, "Mr President, the fine artist and the great surgeon are one and the same person".
The president held the multi-talented Dr Bashir in such high esteem that he eventually made him a part of his inner circle.
Dr Bashir does not regret the services he rendered to Saddam. To him, he says, Saddam was a patient just like any another.
"To a doctor, an illness is an illness. The status of the patient is immaterial. Doctors only see a human being in need of treatment," he said.
Be that as it may, Dr Bashir was one of the very few people that Saddam would turn to for advice on political issues.
Sources close to the deposed Iraqi president recounted that, on one occasion, Dr Bashir was the last resort of Saddam's half-brother Barazan al-Takriti when the he failed to convince the former president about a particular issue.
"To a doctor, an illness is an illness. The status of the patient is immaterial. Doctors only see a human being in need of treatment"
Dr Bashir, defending his services to Saddam
"Even Saddam's brothers were surprised at the level of respect Saddam had for me. They used to seek my help whenever they needed to tell him something that they knew he would not like to hear," Dr Bashir told Aljazeera.net.
Having become familiar with the politics of Iraq, Dr Bashir found himself morally obliged to document a critical part of his country's history.
After Iraq's museums and archives were looted and destroyed following the US-led invasion, he said, he came across a great deal of false information as well as willingness to rewrite the country's history to suit certain ends.
"I was reading an unbelievable amount of falsehood about Iraq, and thought it was my responsibility to tell what I know," Dr Bashir said. "I was reading and hearing information which seemed to come from people's imaginations and guesswork."
His book is based on Iraq's history spanning centuries. He believes that what happened in Iraq cannot be separated from its myths.
"Nowadays, newspapers and books speak about bloodshed in Iraq as if it's an unusual thing for the country, whereas the truth is very different.
Culture of violence
"Iraq has always been a volatile country, and warring parties have always been forced to use the ultimate form of violence to achieve their goals," Dr Bashir said.
He cites examples from history and says the culture of violence has been present in Iraq since the dawn of history, because it is a rich country and has always been endangered.
"If we look at Iraq since the third millennium BC, we will see that wars for power and wealth have always been going on between internal parties and between Iraqis and invaders, and they have always ended in bloodshed.
"In modern history, let us review what happened in Mosul in 1959. People were slaughtered and bodies were hanged in the streets, when communists backed by the then Iraqi president, Abd Al-Karim Qassim, crushed an uprising by pan-Arab nationalists."
'I always believed [Saddam's]
end would not be pleasant'
The book has already appeared in local-language versions in
the Nordic countries. A Dutch version should be in the shops soon and agreements for English and Arabic editions have already been signed.
Readers in the West may find it interesting that Saddam considered the British superior to Americans - because of their history - but rated the "honest and humanistic" French higher still. He regarded France's Charles de Gaulle as the world's greatest statesman.
Saddam's red line
"I disagreed with him on many occasions. Often he had the right point of views but failed to act properly," Dr Bashir said.
"I always sensed that the end of such a stubborn leader would not be pleasant, even if he was clean on the inside."
He said Saddam regarded any contact with Israel or involvement in the peace process as a red line not to be crossed by Iraqis.
Dr Bashir said he believed Saddam remained committed to the cause of liberating Palestine until the end, and because of that he was regarded as an obstacle that needed to be cleared away.
Being also the family doctor, Dr Bashir had to attend to Saddam's second wife Samira al-Shahbander.
He denied that Saddam fathered a son with Samira, as rumours both inside and outside Iraq have suggested for more than two decades now.
"No human being called Ali Saddam Hussein exists. I never saw the supposed Ali, unless Saddam wanted to hide him from me, which made no sense because I was one of the first people who learned about his second marriage," Dr Bashir said.
"The pain of a cut on the wrist was nothing compared to the misery and pain of being a wife of a president in a country like Iraq"
Dr Bashir, quoting Saddam's first wife Sajida
He draws a very different picture of Saddam's family life compared with what has been generally reported. Owing to the pressure of his security needs and presidential duties, the family had a difficult and disjointed existence.
Dr Bashir recalled: "One day I was at Saddam's palace doing minor surgery on Sajida, his first wife. I was so tired that I forgot to give her anaesthetic, but after I cut her wrist I realised my mistake.
"I said to her, is it painful? She said yes. I asked her why she did not scream or try to bring her condition to my notice. She replied that the pain of a cut on the wrist was nothing compared to the misery and pain of being a wife of a president in a country like Iraq."
Bashir has included in his book the controversy about Saddam's doubles - the subject of much debate and speculation over the years.
He said that as a plastic surgeon, no one ever approached him to make a double for Saddam, and that he was not aware of any operation of this kind in Iraq.
"The only face surgery I did on Saddam was in February 1991, when he had several minor cuts in his face from a car accident during a blackout in Baghdad in the first gulf war."
Born in 1939
Earned his degree in medicine from Baghdad University in 1963.
Studied in Baghdad’s Fine Art School 1959-1961.
Became FRCS in surgery from Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1970.
Ala Bashir left Iraq shortly after the the April invasion.
He moved to Qatar where he
has since dedicated himself to art.
His latest collection of paintings, entitled Mask, was exhibited recently. The work is a reflection of his belief that every human being hides himself behind a mask.
Dr Bashir says the practice of taking shelter behind a mask developed after Adam's son Cain killed his brother, Abel. Filled with remorse, Cain sought to hide himself behind a mask to avoid his brother's soul, which he believed was pursuing him day and night.