For children and adults alike, Star Wars represented the defining film of a generation — but most children didn’t grow up to lead a paramilitary force as the son of a brutal authoritarian.
From 1995 until his death in Mosul in 2003, Uday Hussein, the erratic eldest son of the country’s former president, led the paramilitary group Fedayeen Saddam, or “Saddam’s Men of Sacrifice.”
Saddam admired science fiction movies like “Star Wars,” but it was Uday who took his admiration of the series to the extreme, infusing elements of the films’ characters into the Fedayeen’s uniforms. Made up of the elder Hussein’s most loyal supporters, the roughly 40,000-strong group adopted one prominent look from the series’ most notable villain — Darth Vader.
“Helmets were made of black fibre-glass with a deep neck & ear guard, culminating to a pronounced point to the centre of the peak,” according to a description from the Imperial War Museums. “Above the right side is fitted a black rubber oval (fitted upside down in this case) showing a silhouette of Saddam Hussein wearing his military style beret.”
Also on the rubber oval was Arabic writing that translated to “The Lord, The Homeland, The Leader.” Regardless of appearance, the helmet offered virtually no ballistic value, a lack of protection Darth Vader would no doubt find disturbing.
The helmets were further described as having an “impression of being sinister” to the civilian population, an appearance that was reflected in the group’s ruthless attacks on political opponents and extrajudicial killings, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Uday also employed the group to carry out the beheadings of approximately 200 women as part of an anti-prostitution campaign, according to a State Department report.
In the end, the group’s guerrilla attacks on coalition forces following the 2003 invasion may have surprised military leaders and policy makers in Washington, but the Fedayeen Saddam’s efforts would ultimately not prevent the unit’s dissolution.
Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.