Skip to comments.Saddam's Closest Aides May Be Trying To Flee To Belarus
Posted on 06/23/2003 3:49:27 PM PDT by blam
Saddam's closest aides may be trying to flee to Belarus
By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
24 June 2003
Senior officials of the former Iraqi regime may be trying to flee to Belarus, according to evidence discovered when Saddam Hussein's chief aide was captured last week.
Passports from the former Soviet republic were found with Abed Hamid Mahmoud, the Iraqi leader's closest confidant, when he was detained by American troops near Tikrit a week ago, said Hoshyar Zebari, a senior Kurdish official privy to intelligence on the hunt for Saddam Hussein.
"Abed Hamid had just returned from Syria where he had obtained the passports, probably without the knowledge of the Syrian government," Mr Zebari told The Independent. This is the first sign that members of Saddam's inner circle are planning to flee outside the Arab world.
Belarus has poor relations with the US but it is unlikely that it would risk hosting Saddam or his sons Uday or Qusay. But it shares long borders with Ukraine and Russia, where Iraqi officials on the run might find it easy to disappear if they had enough money.
US experts were still examining bodies yesterday from a small convoy destroyed near the Syrian border last Wednesday in an attack in which several Syrian border guards were injured. Two Pentagon officials were quoted as saying there was no reason to suppose that Saddam was among the dead.
Iraqis familiar with the stringent security measures taken by Saddam say that any information about his movements based on intercepted telephone conversations should be treated with suspicion. They say he was always aware that his location could be identified by the US if a satellite telephone was used by him or his chief lieutenants. Up to the fall of Baghdad on 9 April, any Iraqi found with an unregistered satellite phone was executed.
It is still unclear how much information Abed Hamid Mahmoud gave his interrogators when he was captured on 16 June - two days before the attack on the convoy. Mr Zebari said his capture was kept secret for three days. His wife and children were released yesterday.
Although easily defeated in the war, Saddam's presence continues to haunt Iraq, with many Iraqis claiming to have seen him or met somebody who had seen him. One former member of the opposition said despairingly: "My doctor, an intelligent, highly educated man, told me that he had seen Saddam's face on the moon!"
The Coalition Provisional Authority - the occupation administration - believes that news of his death or capture would quell fears, or in a few cases hopes, among Iraqis that he might return. It is not clear if this would end sporadic guerrilla attacks, but the CPA is worried that the continuing lack of jobs, electricity and personal security might fuel support for armed resistance.
A sign of US concern came yesterday when Paul Bremer, head of the US occupation, sent Walter Slocombe, his senior adviser for security and defence, to declare that members of the 350,000-strong Iraqi army, disbanded last month, would go on being paid close to their original salaries. The announcement was in sharp contrast with the CPA's previous lack of concern about what happened to soldiers and their families. A new, US-trained Iraqi army is to be set up, numbering 12,000 men within a year and 40,000 within two years.