Denials aside, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel visited Baghdad twice this month on a secret mediation mission.
He handed Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein Washington’s final offer to quit Iraq with his family – including his sons Uday and Qusay – and the country’s top political and military leadership, and go into exile in an Arab country. The offer included safe conduct guarantees for Saddam and his entourage along with a US pledge not to freeze his secret bank accounts.
Gemayel’s personal relationship with Saddam dates to back to the 1970s and early 1980s, when he was chief of the Lebanese Christian Phalange militia in Beirut. In those days, he was a frequent visitor to Baghdad, accepting largesse from Saddam to the tune of millions of dollars to support his Christian fighters. The bond of friendship the two men developed then is still strong today.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, Saddam rolled out the red carpet for his guest this month, hosting Gemayel in his Baghdad and Tikrit palaces and clearing his calendar as if he had all the time in the world to prepare for a US attack.
The last time he visited Baghdad, March 7-10, the Lebanese politician was accompanied by a special guest – an American colonel. This officer was received by Saddam for an afternoon tete a tete on March 8.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources are unsure just how the US officer – who knows Saddam personally – got himself invited to Iraq. They assume Gemayel wangled the invitation during an earlier visit. At the same, Saddam’s acquaintance with the American colonel apparently dates back to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, when he paid a number of secret visits to Baghdad. The American was there again just before the first Gulf War in 1991.
Gemayel tied up the last ends of the American’s Baghdad trip from Amman. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that the colonel crossed into Iraq either from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Gemayel and senior Iraqi intelligence officials were waiting for him and they all flew immediately by plane and then helicopter to a secret meeting place near Baghdad.
A senior intelligence source, who was briefed on the conversation between Saddam and the US officer, reports that the Lebanese ex-president and an interpreter – a short man who spoke only whenever Saddam whispered something in his ear – were also present.
After Saddam warmly shook his hand, the colonel said: “It’s been a long time since I last saw you, but you seem to be in great shape. You are a great soldier and I looking forward to facing you on the battlefield.”
“When do you intend to attack and try to kill me?” Saddam asked.
“Basically, after the March 19 deadline passes,” came the reply.
“You managed to get me to destroy my missiles,” the Iraqi leader said, pausing for effect. “Is the 19th the date of the attack or just the day when you want me to leave Iraq? After all, that’s what you came for.”
The colonel answered: “According to our orders, that’s the date when we are supposed to head out and get you. And we’ve already been told, ‘Don’t come back with him left in place.'”
Saddam was not pleased. “You are the sons of Satan. Go to hell. I’m not afraid of you.”
“We may not even wait until the 19th now,” the colonel shot back.
“Well then,” Saddam said. “What’s the offer and where do you want me to go?”
“Egypt, Sudan, Syria – there’s a long list of offers. Even Iran made an offer.”
A defiant Saddam answered in English: “I will die before I surrender.”
Tempers flared as the colonel told the Iraqi leader: “If you don’t leave, we will target you.”
A fuming Saddam began talking gibberish, before finally calming down and whispering something to the interpreter, who said: “The president believes he is going to send you back to your leaders in a box as a message.”
The American officer was unfazed.
“In that case, the war would start today,” he replied. “We know where you are every day.”
“I have no fear of death,” Saddam said.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, the conversation then turned to the underground bunkers where Saddam and his family planned to seek shelter from US bombs.
“How long do you think you can hold out there? Maybe four to six weeks, tops,” the colonel said.
“Don’t worry, when I have to get out, I will,” Saddam said.
“We all know that if you leave your shelter after the war begins, the people on the street and Iraqi troops will tear you to shreds,” the officer said.
Saddam replied with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Time was up, and Gemayel and the colonel flew back to the Iraqi border. At the frontier, Gemayel bade the officer farewell and returned to Saddam’s palace in Baghdad.
According to our information, the US colonel arrived in Kuwait early on Wednesday, March 12, and made his report immediately to Washington. From Baghdad, Gemayel made his way to Amman and sent his own equally pessimistic report to Washington.