Assad carries last Bush ultimatum to Saddam
debkafile‘s intelligence and military sources report that Saturday, December 21 – or Sunday, December 22 – directly after his visit to London, Syrian president Bashar Assad traveled again – this time to a secret rendezvous with Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
He brought with him President George W. Bush’s final ultimatum to the Iraqi ruler, delivered into his hands by British premier Tony Blair.
According to sources familiar with this latest gambit, the Bush ultimatum consists of nine main points:
A. Saddam is given a last chance to voluntarily give up his weapons of mass destruction and avert a military showdown with the United States.
B. He must deliver a full, factual and public account of the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in his possession, together with a solemn undertaking to hand the forbidden arms over to the UN arms inspectors within two weeks, that is by mid-January 2003.
C. In return, the United States promises to suspend military preparations for war on Iraq.
D. The United States also promises not treat the Iraqi president’s statement as a casus belli or a pretext for harming him and his family members, physically, politically, or by means of hostile propaganda.
E. The United States will guarantee Saddam’s orderly retirement from office and the transfer of power to a new regime
F. With the handover of Iraq’s forbidden arsenal to the UN inspectors, the United States will grant Saddam Hussein and his family safe passage to any destination of their choice in an Arab country prepared to receive him and agree to let him to live privately as a political exile.
G. As a token of good faith, the United States postpones until January 1, the dispatch of half the ground, air and naval forces assigned to the war against Iraq – some 50,000 combat troops – to join the strength already posted in the region. It also freezes the call-up of reserves for auxiliary units, such as the National Guard. This call-up would potentially raise the number of Americans under arms to 250,000.
H. The United States does not expect a reply to its ultimatum; nor will it enter into direct or indirect negotiation on its terms. Saddam can take it or leave it.
I. If those terms are not met by New Year’s Day, the United States will order the next batch of fighting men to leave for their war stations in the Persian Gulf. The US campaign on Iraq will be deemed to have been launched.
The Syrian ruler came away from his meeting with Saddam without a reply. However, this week, the Iraqi ruler was unusually forthcoming on the UN inspectors’ requirements. Certain rare concessions appeared to signal his willingness to consider Washington’s terms seriously:
1. One or more of the Iraqi scientists interviewed by UN arms inspectors were allowed to drop hints about a secret Iraqi nuclear project. Later, there was some backtracking, but even those hints would not have been voiced without permission from the highest government level.
2. On Saturday, December 27, Iraq submitted to the inspectors a surprisingly long list – 500 names – of Iraqi scientists employed on missile development and in nuclear, chemical and biological warfare programs. Some sources in Washington read in this detailed list a willingness on the Iraqi ruler’s part to explore ways of accommodating the Washington ultimatum.
3. Construction work has speeded up on the compound that has become known as “Saddam City” in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, five vast mansions are under construction in the northern suburbs of Tripoli. Extensive landscaping work is in progress on what looks like becoming a grand park with swimming pools; half a dozen small buildings are going up for staff. The whole project is enclosed by a high wall. Libyan and Egyptian sources claim that the heavily guarded project is destined for Saddam Hussein, his family and entourage after they leave Baghdad for good.
Furthermore, Gulf sources close to Iraqi military intelligence, are again reporting pressure on Saddam from some Arab quarters to step down and go into exile.
On this subject, two views are reported current in Washington by debkafile‘s sources: One, that Saddam has no intention of bowing to the American ultimatum and is generating an atmosphere of compliance to buy time enough to gain himself a free hand.
The other view is that Saddam interprets Washington’s proposition as a sign of weakness, the first crack in Bush’s resolve to go to war. He is therefore acting to widen those cracks.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s admittedly unverified suggestion that Iraq may have shifted weapons of mass destruction into Syria ties in with these speculations. Sharon, say American sources, took the chance of coming out with unverified information because he is worried by the sudden appearance of the Syrian president in center field. He fears that, in response to the American ultimatum, Saddam might choose to send all his WMD into Syria rather than turning them over to the UN inspectors.
While this process is still up in the air, the Syrian prime minister Mohammed Miro paid an unscheduled visit to Tehran last week, very possibly to test the Iranian government’s response to the transfer of the Iraqi arsenal to Syria under UN supervision. Sharon regards this possibility as a threat to Israel. He certainly does not want to see Assad’s international standing enhanced, reflecting favorable by association on that of the Syrian ruler’s close friend, the Hizballah terrorist group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.