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thedrifter
04-14-03, 07:54 AM
Saddam may have fled as house of cards collapses

DAN MCDOUGALL AND SHARON WARD


ON Saturday, the seven of diamonds handed himself in. Yesterday, it emerged that the five of spades - Saddam Hussein’s half-brother Watban al-Tikriti - had been captured. Yet the ace of spades, Saddam Hussein himself, remains elusive.

The collapse of the house of cards that is Saddam’s regime continues to gather pace.

Watban al-Tikriti, a former interior minister, had been preparing to cross the mountain road into Syria; he was only 15 miles from the border, on the winding road north-west of Mosul, when he came upon a vehicle checkpoint manned by advancing Kurdish forces.

After the surrender of Lt General Amer al-Saadi, Iraq’s leading chemical and biological weapons adviser (the seven of diamonds), it was another major coup. Al-Saadi said he had no knowledge of Saddam’s whereabouts; it is not known if Al-Tikriti will be more forthcoming.

Watban Al-Tikriti was captured shortly after Mosul came under control of Kurdish fighters and US troops when Iraqi forces dug into positions around the town gave up without a fight.

In the wake of both arrests US General, Tommy Frank, the commander of the coalition effort in Iraq, disclosed that US forces had samples of DNA from Saddam and other Iraqi leaders for potential use in the ongoing effort to determine if he is alive or dead. He said: "DNA will play a huge part in our efforts to track down those within Saddam’s regime. We have the forensic capability to chase that down and we will chase that down. As for Saddam, he’s either dead or he’s running a lot, but he’s not commanding anything right now."

Brigadier General John Kelly of the US Army suggested the ‘deck of cards’ hunt was going well. He said: "Right now all the big guys have left the country - I don’t know what ‘big guy’ means anymore.

"Anyone who wants to surrender will be given time to come out and do so."

Last night allegations also emerged that a number of high-ranking Saddam loyalists - perhaps even the leader himself - may have escaped Iraq at the outset of the war in a civilian convoy to Syria led by fleeing diplomats from the Russian embassy in Baghdad. The group of vehicles, which contained the Russian ambassador, was bombed by the Americans after it was allegedly mistaken for a fleeing Iraqi military convoy. Although officials in Moscow have denied the claims, allied intelligence sources have learned that in addition to Russia, the French, Chinese and Israeli secret services have all launched their own determined efforts to trace Saddam and his cohorts.

David Capitanchik, an expert in the Middle East at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, said the possibility of Russia helping the Iraqi regime was not far-fetched.

He added: "I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true a number of senior Iraqis had escaped in a convoy of Russian diplomats. Since Saddam came to power the Russians have been very close to his regime. It must be remembered that Saddam owes Russia $12 billion for arms deliveries and economic aid and the two are closely tied through this."

According to Professor Capitanchik, the fact that all roads for Saddam’s regime seem to lead to Syria is also no real surprise.

He said: "Like Iraq, Syria is dominated by another branch of the Baath party and, although historically strained, relationships between the two branches have steadily improved since the build up to the second Gulf conflict. I have no doubt that a great number of senior Iraqis are in hiding in Syria and that the authorities in Damascus are giving them serious help. Another important issue is the fact that the Syrians are very dependent on Iraqi oil so again debts may be being settled by offering sanctuary."

Faced with foreign intervention, the coalition has redoubled its own efforts to seek Saddam and those connected with his regime. It is understood that a task force has been assembled in Baghdad, comprising of MI6, CIA, SAS and US Special Force agents who are all cleared to kill an agreed list of targets, including Saddam and his sons Uday and Qusay.

This taskforce has been joined for the first time by communications experts from the Special Collection Service. Its primary role has been to plant sophisticated eavesdropping equipment in target areas. Their role includes intensive electronic surveillance, while voice-analysis experts have identified Saddam's speech patterns to match them with any intercepted communications. Ministry of Defence sources also revealed yesterday that an international operation to track down Saddam Hussein's personal fortune had been launched by US and UK investigators. It is believed that Tony Blair has personally asked his officials to research the former dictator's wealth, understood to be worth anything between £1.3 billion and £13 billion. Substantial funds have already been frozen in the UK pending further investigation and finance chiefs have asked banks to double check the origin of all Iraqi funds under their control.


Sempers,

Roger