LOS ANGELES, March 3: The eldest son of Saddam Hussein was plotting to overthrow his father just as US troops advanced on Baghdad in March 2003, journalist Peter Arnett claimed in Playboy Magazine.

Uday Hussein, known for his ruthlessness and flashy lifestyle, had won the support of the leadership of his father's Fedayeen militia to overthrow Saddam's 35-year rule, according to an advance copy of the April edition of Playboy.

The controversial reporter, who was fired by the US Cable News Network in 2003 after suggesting that the US invasion plan in Iraq had failed, made the claim following an 18-month investigation in which he says he gained access to Uday Hussein's inner circle.

The article cited a letter from Saddam Fedayeen commander General Maki Humudat, dated March 26, 2003, in which he swore allegiance to a new Iraqi government under the control of Fedayeen chief Uday Hussein.

"According to your direction and command to form a new government under the leadership of your Excellency (Uday), we have informed all the senior officers of the Saddam Fedayeen of your desire to appoint them as your candidates for office in your government," the letter said.

Uday had planned to announce his seizure of the crumbling reins of power later the same day, but was thwarted when US jets bombed his Youth TV studios in Baghdad, according to PeterArnett.

The ambitious heir had even formed a shadow government on the outskirts of Baghdad that was disguised under the cover of his powerful Olympic committee and funded by murky oil deals, he said.

According to Mr Arnett, the oldest son of the former Iraqi president had long been chafing under his father's iron fisted rule and blamed his father for the punishing international sanctions on the country.

"Though it has not been reported until now, Uday Hussein was the biggest proponent of regime change inside Iraq," Arnett wrote. "During the previous 10 years, he had slowly assembled the elements of power - military, military and political management - designed to overthrow his tyrannical father," said the reporter who was in Baghdad as US troops approached following the launch of the March 19, 2003 US-led attack.

But, according to the journalist, Uday's coup plan came too late as US-led forces were just days away from the Iraqi capital. He and his younger brother, Qusay, were forced to flee Baghdad along with their father as the Baath party military machine collapsed ahead of the US seizure of the city in early April. Uday and Qusay were killed in a blistering battle in the northern city of Mosul on July 22, 2003. -AFP

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