The lights die and small red flashes go off beneath the black cloak that covers a bowl of magic powders and water. The visitors feel pokes and jabs and things fluttering over their heads in the darkness - "birds," the wizard says. Water splashes from the bowl.
The genies have arrived, and the questions begin.
Will Saddam be found? A genie answers in the old man's voice: "Yes."
Dead or alive? "Dead."
And the $25 million question: Where is he? "Dhuluaiyah," he says. Dhuluaiyah is a village 55 miles north of Baghdad.
Thousands of magicians, fortunetellers and faith healers make up a huge world of Iraqi spirituality that thrives despite being considered by many Muslims to be sinful.
But this man is different. He was Saddam's own sorcerer, and therefore, for Iraqis his visions of the dictator's demise carry special weight.
The sorcerer asks that he not be identified, and won't even pronounce the name of the man he once served.
"That man is still alive, so I'm afraid," he says. "I helped him, his sons, his ministers, his wife, his cousins, but I can't mention names. When he is dead I can talk about him."
According to the magician and several others interviewed in Baghdad, Saddam was a firm believer in magic, and even applied himself, with modest success, to "studying the sands" and summoning genies.
He consulted frequently with two magicians from Iraq, one from Turkey, one from India, a French Arab and a beautiful Jewish witch from Morocco, the wizard says.
Saddam is still protected, he says, by a pair of magic-infused golden statues. The deposed president speaks daily with the king and queen of genies - the same ones who provided the information on his whereabouts.
Other magicians also talk about Saddam, some describing fleeting meetings in which the president measured them up. Several said he has a powerful stone - or the bone of a parrot - implanted under the skin of his right arm to protect him against bullets and to make people love him.
Maher al-Kadhami, a Baghdad faith healer, repeated a story often told in post-war Iraq: Some years ago, a fortuneteller told Saddam he would fall on April 9, 2003. Saddam flew into a rage, killed the fortuneteller and launched a violent campaign against all those dealing in the occult.
And lo and behold, April 9 turned out to be the day the world saw Saddam's statue topple in Baghdad.
Tales such as these abound in Iraq and are firmly believed, Islam's abhorrence of witchcraft notwithstanding. Saddam's oppressive rule actually made the magicians stronger, academics say.
"When you are weak, when you are oppressed, where can you go? You can't go outside. You go inside yourself," says al-Haareth Hassan al-Asadi, who studies parapsychology at Baghdad University. "You stimulate the superstitious part of your psyche, which is there innately."
It was Saddam himself who ordered the parapsychology department set up to help him wage psychological warfare during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and later to mind-read U.N. inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, according to former Iraqi officials.
Al-Asadi reckons more than half of Iraq's 24 million people use some sort of magic, and a tour of magicians in Baghdad bears out his words.
Unannounced storefronts across Iraq boast a rich array of psychics, fortunetellers, healers and spellmasters, most of whom invoke the Islamic, Christian and even Jewish holy books in their bids to control the genies, or spirits, that many Iraqis believe rule their lives.
In his dingy Baghdad house, Sayed Sadoun Hamid el-Moussaoui al-Refai, 56, squats on cushions wearing a traditional Iraqi robe and skullcap. To demonstrate his prowess, he pushes a kebab skewer through his cheek and wipes away the blood.
His 7-year-old son, Hassan, is his medium. Recently, he says, a family came asking about their son, who disappeared during the war. Hassan entered into a trance and looked into a mirror.
"I saw him tied up, surrounded by Americans," the boy says. "He was in Basra, but I knew he would be released soon."
Indeed, al-Refai claims, the young man returned home days later, having been a prisoner of the Americans in the southern city of Basra.
"We use the genies or the angels," the magician says. "But we prefer the angels, because the genies lie 75 percent of the time."
Khalifa Ahmed al-Duleimi, 53, combines spiritual healing and diatribes against the Jews, who he says have sent Israel-educated genies to control President Bush.
Abbas Abdullah, 42, walks in to complain that after one-and-a-half years of marriage, his wife, Zeyneb Fadel, 31, doesn't like him anymore. Abdullah pushes her onto a chair and tells al-Duleimi to exorcise the genie - a Jew, of course - that is competing for her affection.
Al-Duleimi screams Quranic verses into Fadel's ear, converses with the genie inside and beats her with a rubber hose. Abdullah, clearly thrilled, yells at the genie inside his wife: "Get out or I'll pour boiling water over you!"
Zeyneb, her face swollen from tears and pain, confesses quietly to a journalist: "I don't like my husband."
Saddam's wizard is in a different category. He has been studying magic since he was 10, learning from his aunt's husband. Now 62, he is one of the most revered magicians in Iraq.
He shows visitors a guest book of other powerful clients: a Saudi prince who paid 20,000 riyals, or about $75,000, for a spell to make a woman love him; a Jordanian businessman who wanted his daughter to divorce her abusive husband; a Syrian singer who wanted more success.
For Saddam's family, he dealt mostly with issues of love, faithfulness and sexual prowess. He says he was once imprisoned for six months when Saddam suspected his wife of having the magician throw a spell that made his leg hurt. The magician was pardoned.
He occasionally dabbled in politics as well. But his last attempt to advise Saddam on strategy, just before the war, met with failure.
"I told him through (his son) Qusai's assistant that he faced great dangers in the war," he says. "I told him that for a Rolls-Royce and 100 million dinars ($59,000) I would give him the specifics. I would show it to them on the wall before it happened, but they just laughed. Qusai said the old man had gone crazy."
"I only wanted 100 million dinars," the wizard says, then begins to sway his hips in a clumsy rendition of a sexy dance. "That's what they gave their belly dancers."
As for the magician's information about Saddam's whereabouts, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the coalition commander in Iraq, laughs when told about it. But he notes the name of the town and says he'll order a raid.
He means it, says his spokesman, Col. Guy Shields.
"We know it's about a one in a thousand chance, but we do check stuff out," Shields says. "When the boss says `Check it out,' we check it out."
By Niko Price