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It was mid-March, a week before the war began, and Saher El Jaff had decided for the first time to accompany her older sister to the Jadriea Equestrian Club, a favourite haunt of Uday Hussein, the sadistic playboy son of Saddam Hussein.

It was a foolish decision. By the end of that evening, Saher's life had changed forever.

Chosen from the crowd of girls and women at the nightclub by the 39-year-old Uday, she was taken by his private bouncers to a nearby room where he raped her. Saher, a pretty girl trying hard to look like a woman, is 13.

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For losing her virginity to the man who is now No. 3 on the U.S. military's list of Iraq's 55 most wanted, Saher was given 250,000 dinars (the equivalent of about $200).

Saher, accompanied by her sister, Helen, and a friend named Gina, told their harrowing tales of Uday Hussein's predatory sexual habits as they drove through the battle-scarred boulevards of Baghdad yesterday with a reporter and his interpreter.

It was a chance encounter at the al-Saah restaurant in al-Mansour -- what passes in Baghdad as a posh neighbourhood -- that led to the discovery of Saher's story. The restaurant is just around the corner from the house pulverized by huge U.S. bombs near the end of the war in an attempt to kill Mr. Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay.

There is no way of corroborating their stories but they do coincide with the emerging portrait of Uday as the thuggish son of a dictator who used his unquestioned power to feed his depraved sexual fantasies.

"Absolutely everything about Uday was abnormal," Adeeb al-Ani, his personal secretary for 12 years, said in a recent interview with the Boston Globe.

Mr. al-Ani described a bizarre man with a phobia of daylight who built up vast collections of wild animals, pornography, liquor and prescription drugs to feed his tastes.

Mr. al-Ani was recently freed from jail by U.S. forces after being imprisoned by Uday for trying to quit. His predecessor had long ago been executed.

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Only now are some of the most horrific details of the younger Hussein's role in his father's regime coming to light.

Several Iraqi soccer stars have told Western reporters in recent days about how Uday, as head of the country's soccer program, ordered them beaten or imprisoned for missing penalty kicks.

His treatment of women was even more cruel.

According to Mr. al-Ani, Uday wanted a different woman every night and would have his bodyguards kidnap those who caught his eye, often very young girls but also women from wealthy Baghdad families. He insisted on paying them all as though they were prostitutes.

"Under Uday and the old regime we were forced to do what the regime wanted, not what we wanted," said Mr. al-Ani, a 53-year-old former journalist. "The message was: I am the master, I am Uday, and you are the servant."

That was certainly Saher's experience.

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When Uday sent his guards for her and she refused to go, one of them grabbed her by the hair and dragged her away.

"The guard gave me something to drink but I refused to drink it," she said. She was then forced into a room where she was left crying alone for three hours.

"He came into the room and told me to get undressed," she continued, telling her story calmly.

"I refused and he ripped off my clothes and told me to lie on my back.

He started slapping me over and over again. I scratched him in his face with my nails." In 30 minutes, it was all over.

"My life is completely ruined. I can never get married," said Saher, who hasn't gone home to her family since the rape for fear of her parents' reaction.

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Did she think of going to the police? Her sister's friend, Gina, answers for Saher. "If we had gone to the police, they would have just killed us."

Gina has her own memories of losing her virginity to Uday. She recalls the night in July of 2001 when she and three other girls were picked out of the crowd at the Jadriea Club and were taken to a waiting room by Uday's guards.

"They gave us drinks. It was like juice. I can't remember anything but I know I couldn't say no." She was 19.

Since then, Gina, a buxom girl with heavy makeup, has slept with Uday on other occasions but she was only paid 20 per cent of what she was given the first time.

"It made making love a lot easier getting that 50,000 dinars," she says matter-of-factly. Along with Helen, Saher's older sister, she has turned to prostitution.

Helen, a bleached blonde, said that with two children to support and a husband who was wrongly jailed for a crime she says he didn't commit, she had no choice but to sell herself. "I'm the sole provider for my children. I don't know how else to feed them."

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The three women are some of the few Iraqis who have no hesitation in welcoming the U.S.-led invasion of their country.

"I love George Bush," she says, puckering her lips with a big kiss. "And Tony Blair and [Ariel]Sharon."

She takes out an Iraqi bank note and rips it in pieces.

"Look, I am killing Saddam."

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