Two men now stand between Saddam Hussein and the US forces hot on his trail: His half brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, who has eluded capture after several false attempts, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, who continues to stonewall in the face of American ultimatums, pressure, cajoling, threats and polite requests for help.
US intelligence believes Barzan and Assad are in cahoots – although only up to a point. Both are also maneuvering for the high ground at each other’s expense.
The hunt centering on the Sunni Muslim Arab triangle north of Baghdad is led by Major General Ray Odiemo. His 4th Infantry Division field headquarters is located in the marble hall of one of the wanted dictator’s most palatial palaces overlooking the Tigris River in Tikrit. This former hub of Saddam loyalist country is peopled today with a bustling assortment of US officers, aides, intelligence experts, advisers, interpreters and helpful locals.
A senior intelligence source close to the search operation told DEBKA-Net-Weekly:
“For American counterintelligence, the pursuit of Saddam Hussein is one of the most challenging and drama-filled mind games it has faced since the Cold War ended two decades back. The stakes are enormous. The winner will not only have won the battle for Iraq but also come out on top of a uniquely high-powered intelligence contest aiming to deal Saddam his coup de grace.”
CEO Barzan to Chairman Saddam
Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, high up on the US wanted list of Saddam’s former insiders, is more influential than formerly realized. Among the half a dozen regime high-ups still sought, such as Izzat Ibrahim, Taha Yasin Ramadan, Ali Majid Tikriti – “Chemical Ali” – Barzan is the vital key to hunting his half-brother to ground and is most likely hiding with him, managing the deposed ruler’s escape tactics and possibly the guerrilla war against the Americans, much in the way he filled a quiet behind-the-scenes role in the toppled regime.
Saddam and Barzan, the younger by about ten years, have certainly had their ups and downs. However, the tasks entrusted to the latter bespeak relations of high trust. In the 1980s, Barzan was head of Iraqi intelligence. In the early 1990s, he moved to Geneva where he bought a lakeshore mansion out of which he operated as czar of Iraq’s complicated economy and managed his half-brother’s personal finances. There, he began setting up the intricate sanctions-busting devices that successfully circumvented the UN restrictions holding down sales of oil.
In Switzerland, Barzan was free to develop contacts with trading partners who preferred not to be seen in the pariah capital of Baghdad. Much of Iraq’s government machinery operated out of the Swiss city. Westerners who would not, or could not, travel to Baghdad to transact political or financial business, found it convenient to deal with “private citizen” Barzan or his sons at their Geneva base.
Aside from the US and UK, almost every Western power joined the rush to bid for illegal Iraqi oil and sell prohibited goods, including weapons, to Saddam Hussein, thereby making nonsense of UN sanctions. Barzani is personally acquainted with all these offenders against UN resolutions banning trade with Iraq. He may even be using his knowledge at present to go on buying hidden services to the overthrown regime.
As long as Saddam was in power, Barzan held to the strategy of diverting every incoming dollar to fortifying the regime, not public welfare. Ordinary Iraqis were constantly told that international sanctions were depriving them of basic foods and medicines. The Ba’ath regime in Baghdad may have appeared isolated, but it was doing a roaring business out of Saddam’s mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva. The half-brother had hit on ways of filling Saddam’s depleted coffers with under-the-counter revenues.
He perfected the system after returning to Baghdad in the late 1990s. He turned his back on Geneva when America’s long arm began breaching the hitherto solid bastions of Swiss banking to get illegal assets frozen.
Every job change he made gave rise to rumors that Barzan and Saddam had fallen out and that the ruler no longer trusted his half-brother. His move to Geneva was termed enforced exile; when he devised stratagems for beating UN sanctions, he was said to be lining his own pockets and fallen into the president’s bad graces.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources believe the display of antagonism and distrust between the half-brothers was a charade. The two were, and still are, very close. They were next-door neighbors in palaces they built at Salman Pak, a large Iraqi intelligence complex 25 miles southeast of Baghdad that served at different times as Iraq’s secret bio-weapons center and training camp for foreign terrorists. Away from curious eyes in Baghdad, the two would put their heads together in private – usually at weekends – to thrash out crucial decisions on military, intelligence and economic affairs.
The two worked together well because they were mutually complementary: Saddam, gifted with brutal cunning, a dominant presence and an instinct for survival; Barzan, skilled in the arts of governance, a master-planner and the only family member with icy nerves. Saddam built up ties with Arab leaders and received foreign visitors with flamboyant panache. Barzan was the backroom wire-puller who built up the discreet connections for converting Saddam’s overwhelming presence into lucrative political and financial transactions.
The younger half-brother acted as a kind of chief executive officer to Saddam’s company president.