Skip to comments.As a Fugitive, Hussein Stayed Close to Home (Long, but good)
Posted on 12/20/2003 9:26:54 AM PST by saquin
AD DWAR, Iraq, Dec. 20 Before his capture in a coffinlike underground bunker outside this bleak town, Saddam Hussein spent months moving furtively among 20 or 30 nondescript safe houses in the Sunni Muslim heartland, where a tightknit network of family and clan sheltered him and brought him news from across American-dominated Iraq, American military officials say.
With that, he used a word-of-mouth system of couriers to carry his instructions back to a cluster of Baathist cells that helped him guide the anticoalition insurgency, the Americans say.
The 66-year-old Mr. Hussein traveled on foot, by small boat along the Tigris River and along back roads in an ever-changing mix of cars, taxis and pickup trucks, often at night, rarely with more than two or three loyal followers to avoid notice.
Accustomed to mosaic-domed palaces, he let his hair and beard grow, survived on chocolate bars and jars of honey and canned fruit, and shed the Italian-tailored suits and field marshal's uniforms he favored in Baghdad for traditional Iraqi dress, a dishdasha robe and a checkered kaffiyeh, or headdress.
In a strange twist, he came back, in the end, to a place he wove into his political legend: the site on the Tigris where, in October 1959, as a 22-year-old fleeing Baghdad and his part in the failed assassination of Iraq's military ruler, Abdul Karim Kassem, he claimed to have swum the broad, muddy river to escape pursuing troops.
The scruffy concrete farmhouse where he was seized last Saturday, along with a battered taxi of a kind found on every Iraqi street, lies a few hundred yards from the riverbank where Mr. Hussein came each year to mark the anniversary with a choreographed swim.
Before they were killed by American forces in a shootout in the northern city of Mosul on July 22, American intelligence officers say, Mr. Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay, merciless enforcers of his terror in the years of power, met their father periodically at the safe houses, plotting stratagems before separating to avoid standing out.
Their deaths further isolated Mr. Hussein from the top officials of his government, many of whom, from an American most-wanted list of 55 men, were being progressively hunted down. In the process, some offered tantalizing clues as to where Mr. Hussein might be tracked down.
Lt. Col. Todd Megill, intelligence officer for the Fourth Infantry Division at Tikrit, which carried out the raid that seized Mr. Hussein outside the nearby town of Ad Dwar on Dec. 13, said meetings among the three would have been an operational necessity, as well as a family comfort.
"They probably met on a regular basis just because they were the only other people they could talk to," he said. Mosul, where Uday and Qusay died, at ages 39 and 37, is 150 miles north of Tikrit.
Much of Mr. Hussein's life as a fugitive remains a mystery. But before his capture and since, American intelligence officers and ground commanders in Iraq have pieced together a sketch of his life eluding American troops. It is based on interviews with family members, interrogations of captured Baath Party officials and other Hussein loyalists, satellite telephone intercepts, seized documents, a knowledge of Mr. Hussein's past habits and some assumptions by military officials about what it must have taken to avoid the penetrating manhunt.
A Sudden Collapse
The officers said they believed that Mr. Hussein fled north within days of the fall of Baghdad, the cocksure defiance of his last days in power shattered by the speed of the American takeover and of his government's implosion.
A tyrant who built a totalitarian state on a web of betrayals, he broke one last vow, to stand and fight beside his followers, that he made as he stood atop a battered Volkswagen Passat outside the Abu Hanifa mosque, one of the Sunni Muslims' most sacred shrines in Iraq, at noon on April 9, the day of the city's fall. As he spoke, the closest American tanks were less than a mile away.
Until the raid that captured him, Mr. Hussein's desperate forays about Baghdad in the days just before and after the city fell were the last public sightings of him. Piecing together accounts given by one of Mr. Hussein's bodyguards, and witness accounts from others, American intelligence documents paint a picture of the dictator, with Qusay, his younger son, careering about the city in an armored Mercedes, then jumping into a Nissan sedan, trying frantically to get Iraqi soldiers not to join the mass defections that began as American tanks headed for the city center.
According to an intelligence de-briefing of the bodyguard that was made available to The New York Times this summer, Mr. Hussein finally confronted reality at the gates of his Republican Palace on the late afternoon of April 7, the day American tanks entered the city. At the heart of his power, he found all but 2 of 25 guards at the gate had fled. He ordered defectors arrested, and he summoned army trucks to distribute weapons to anybody read to fight. Few did.
His personal security entourage dwindled, from 30 cars with three to five men in each, to 3 cars with half a dozen men.
Two days later, after appearing at the Abu Khanifa mosque in the Adhamiya district, a Baath Party stronghold, he and Qusay ran into heavy American gunfire as they tried to cross a Tigris bridge back to the district of Khadamiya. Gangs of Saddam Fedayeen, a private militia controlled by his son Uday, were patrolling the streets there. Turning back, they went to ground in Adhamiya, which was raided that night by American missile-firing helicopters and ground troops.
Not long after, Mr. Hussein and his two sons disappeared, heading north out of Baghdad to their tribal homeland.
A Sheltering Network
In Salahuddin Province, a sprawling region of more than three million people that includes Mr. Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, he went into hiding. There, he fell in among family and tribal members who associated with him before his rise to power and profited handsomely after it.
Mostly people of village origin, picked from a web of five key tribal families with close blood links to Mr. Hussein, these men were far from the Western-educated rocket scientists and nuclear physicists whom Mr. Hussein had used in his ambitions to make Iraq the Arab superpower.
But their value lay in their village contacts, their intimate knowledge of the area around Tikrit and their cunning. They had to outwit an enemy with spy satellites that can intercept telephone conversations, imaging technology that can detect men moving along backroads or riverbanks at night and computer databases that listed identities, biographies and habits of thousands of the toppled dictator's followers.
"These are people who held senior positions in the security services, the Special Republican Guard, the Special Security Organization and the military," Colonel Megill said of the men who supported Mr. Hussein during his fugitive months. "These are guys who have been with him for years, who have done his dirty deeds and who are just as dirty as he is."
The crucial man for Mr. Hussein was a 300-pound, middle-aged veteran of the Special Security Organization, one of the most feared organizations in Mr. Hussein's terror apparatus. It was this man's capture in Baghdad, a week ago on Friday night, that provided the breakthrough that trapped Mr. Hussein. He was caught after a dozen failed raids by American troops in the preceding nine days in Tikrit, Samarra and Baiji, Sunni Muslim towns in the Upper Tigris River Valley.
The American command has not publicly identified the informant, citing the risk to continuing military operations. But Maj. Stan Murphy, intelligence officer for the Fourth Infantry Division's First Brigade, the unit responsible for the night raid that brought in Mr. Hussein, described him as one of five top lieutenants, from the five tribal families who carried out essential tasks for Mr. Hussein. The informant, said in intelligence to be an inveterate womanizer, acted as a chief of staff and appears to have been the only follower who knew of Mr. Hussein's whereabouts at any one time.
As for Mr. Hussein, the American officers said that while he reverted to "a fugitive's life," something he knew well from his experience as he fled across Iraq to sanctuary in Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser's Egypt in 1959, his moves on the run were mostly improvised, not part of a slickly crafted master plan.
"I think he had a plan and actualized it, but I also think it was very haphazard," Colonel Megill said.
Understanding the Insurgency
American investigators are examining Mr. Hussein's movements and contacts during the eight months of the manhunt, hoping to learn much that will help them unwind the insurgency that has taken the lives of more than 200 American soldiers since President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1.
The Americans say they need to know the extent to which the ambushes of soldiers, roadside explosions and suicide bombings have been aimed at Mr. Hussein's restoration, and how closely the former dictator was directing the attacks. Part of the answer, the American officers said, lies in the documents seized along with Mr. Hussein at the Ad Dwar farmhouse, which have, they said, provided evidence that he had at least a guiding and inspiring role, if not an operational one, in directing the attacks.
Colonel Megill says he is convinced that Mr. Hussein's role was crucial. "I don't think he goes out there and plans operations," the colonel said, "I think he gives more general guidance to his subordinates like `Focus on this or focus on that. In this area, recruit. In that area, make trouble.' "
Major Murphy, the First Brigade officer, said much the same. "He would give very general guidance like, `Hey, I'd like to see more attacks,' " he said.
Mr. Hussein, described by American officers as nervous and cooperative at the time of his capture, is said to have reverted in detention to truculence and mockery of his interrogators, making insistent denials of any wrongdoing, and defending pogroms during a 1991 uprising in which tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims were shot and dumped in mass graves.
But the documents have provided a breakthrough in the American understanding of the cell structure underpinning the insurgency, one American official said.
The leaders of three guerrilla cells identified in the documents have already been detained, this official said, and four others named in the papers, and a man believed to have acted as a courier, were being tracked down.
The guerrilla leaders' capture, the official said, has revealed the names of many others believed to be fighting against the Americans. These men, too, are now on an American wanted list of more than 9,000 people. One guerrilla leader was found this week preparing passports for himself and his family, suggesting that he was about to flee Iraq, the Americans also said.
A Basic Distrust
If blood ties were basic to Mr. Hussein's survival, so too was his basic distrust of all around him, born in his days as a conspirator.
This led him, American officers said, to organize his life on the run around a web of underground cells, none aware of the others, using a model he studied in his library of books about Bolshevik underground in Russia and the man he took as his model, Stalin. Those whose safe houses he used probably had no idea where he had come from or what his next step was, the Americans said.
Written communications by Mr. Hussein were rare, as were telephone calls. But American intelligence penetrated Mr. Hussein's inner entourage before the war, finding one of his security aides who used a Thuraya satellite telephone, of the kind that American commanders favored.
According to accounts circulating in Baghdad, Mr. Hussein personally executed the security man after the second of two pinpoint bombing strikes that nearly killed him, on March 20 and April 7, and after that the use of satellite telephones by his entourage virtually stopped. This, too, prompted a reversion to village habits.
"Traditional Arab society operates by word of mouth," Colonel Megill said.
In the end, the American officers said, a group of 20 to 25 people made up Mr. Hussein's innermost circle. They represented the brutish tribal band that were the bedrock of his security in Baghdad, men with secure positions on his extended family tree: moneymen doling out some of the millions of dollars Mr. Hussein carried with him from looted banks and secret palace vaults when he fled Baghdad, logistics men who plotted his movements and went before him to prepare the way and a retinue of cooks, drivers and bodyguards.
All shared a bond of blood and trust, dating back to Mr. Hussein's rise to power four decades ago, the American officers said. An assassin once himself, the former dictator understood how to construct the inner rings of his security from people of village origins, tied tightly to him, aware of the torture-chamber fate that awaited those inclined to betray him, and with few ambitions but to retain the dictator's favor and their privileged lives.
Mr. Hussein tried to keep his hideaways and movements secret by giving lavish cash gifts to those who harbored him, often after only a knock on the door in the middle of the night and a plea to help an anonymous family member in need. Most of the safe houses appear to have been owned by men favored by Mr. Hussein with gifts of land and jobs, often bestowed years before.
To bind these people and distract them from the lure of the $25 million reward posted by the American military command, Mr. Hussein carried large amounts of cash. He was caught with $750,000 in American $100 bills the United States authorities are now tracing, but American officers believe his options were narrowing down as his cash drained away, along with his access to whatever foreign bank accounts that escaped being frozen, and other assets like jewelry from the extravagant collection of his first wife, Sajida, the mother of Uday and Qusay.
"You can show up unaccounted for and they'll offer you hospitality, but you've got to pay for it," said Colonel Megill. "Family ties get very, very thin after a while if they're not rewarded."
On the Run
There were close calls. Before Saturday's mission, the First Brigade believed it had hard enough information on Mr. Hussein's location 11 times in the past several months to conduct a raid. Until last Saturday, each fell short, by as few as eight hours in one case.
"My guess would be he had probably 20 to 30 of these around the country as he moved around," Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Fourth Division commander, said this week of Mr. Hussein's hide-outs. "I believe he moved every three to four hours on short notice."
Major Murphy, the First Brigade's intelligence officer, agreed that the fallen dictator had moved often but said that he appeared to have remained as long as a week in any one place if it seemed safe.
If so, it would follow a pattern familiar to American intelligence from the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and the 21-day war that overthrew Mr. Hussein this spring, of the Iraqi strongman rarely sleeping in the same place two nights running, abandoning his presidential motorcades and elaborate multilayered rings of security for clattering taxis and a solitary guard or two with pistols tucked into their waistbands and employing a team of doubles.
The safe houses were a mix: modest homes in middle-class suburban neighborhoods, or mundane outbuildings on sprawling properties owned by his henchmen, or disheveled rural farmhouses like where he was finally caught in Ad Dwar. Some had false walls built into them. Others had cramped underground chambers camouflaged at ground level.
Qais Namaq, a former guard at one of Mr. Hussein's palaces in Baghdad, with two younger brothers, took Mr. Hussein in at a farmhouse beside the river at Ad Dwar. They were arrests during the Saturday raid.
A sister of Mr. Namaq told reporters at another family home in Ad Dwar this week that it was the three brothers who dug the hole and poured the concrete for the cramped, coffinlike underground bunker outside the town where Mr. Hussein was found.
The trail to Mr. Namaq's farmhouse opened up in June, when the First Brigade made a perceptional breakthrough, said Col. James B. Hickey, an armored cavalry officer from Chicago. Army intelligence realized that the key to Mr. Hussein's security and, ultimately, to his whereabouts lay in the five tribal families that had provided his bodyguards, said Colonel Hickey, 43.
The infantry division headquarters put up a top-secret color-coded chart showing Mr. Hussein in the center, in a yellow bullseye, with family and tribal links to other people radiating outwards like a wagon wheel, and the names of those killed or captured written in red.
Along with Mr. Hussein, the key man on the chart is the "man with the 42-inch waistband", as Colonel Hickey described him, Mr. Hussein's effective chief of staff. It was his capture in Baghdad a week ago on Friday that led the Americans swiftly to Mr. Hussein.
American officers said they had mounted sweeps through Ad Dwar dozens of times, but one crucial clue eluded them: the link between the town and Mr. Hussein's swim in 1959.
So crucial was this to the townsmen that they had a nickname for the farming area just northwest of the town, Al Aboor, meaning crossing in Arabic. Whenever Mr. Hussein came for the annual commemoration, he handed out land plots and jobs, cementing the loyalties that kept him in power. In 1991, one of the men who got a job in Baghdad, as a palace guard, was Mr. Namaq, the man whose farmhouse provided Mr. Hussein with his last redoubt.
Hillary Clinton also. The left in American secretly admires Saddam.
survived on chocolate bars and jars of honey and canned fruit
High carb diets and leftism somehow go hand in hand. Hitler also ate a high carb diet and had mood swings and violent outbursts.
One guerrilla leader was found this week preparing passports for himself and his family, suggesting that he was about to flee Iraq, the Americans also said.And French visas?
The Wall Street Journal had an wonderful story about the two young Army intelligence analysts who put this chart together, and how they did it. It's great reading. It's posted here:
...goes well with the dishraga hat
"Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me."
...goes well with the dishraga hat
and the favorite muslim personal fragrance, dishwata
It appears those around Saddam didn't then nor still do get the message - Saddam was out for Number UNO.
Sadman's trial should be a good 'un!
You know those Clintons, they couldn't resist a shot at the $25 million reward.
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