Saddam Hussein’s Shark Pool, Described by his former Bodyguard

Han Blix, chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, has not turned up any Iraqi scientists or civilians to interview outside the country’s borders. In his latest report to the United Nations Security Council, Blix reported his inspectors had found no “smoking gun” to prove Iraq’s possession of prohibited weapons and demanded more US intelligence data to help him in his search.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly, however, did locate a highly knowledgeable defector from Saddam Hussein’s immediate circle – one, moreover, willing to talk. His name – or more precisely one of his many aliases – is Jassem Abdullah. He managed to escape from Baghdad four months ago.

Jassem, it turns out, served on Saddam’s bodyguard detail, one of an elite trusted group of no more than five to six security men sworn to defend the Iraqi leader with their lives.

We met him in Amman this week, looking pale and with black rings under his eyes. Jassem runs in fear of his life. Yet, through intermediaries, the escaped bodyguard agreed to talk to DEBKA-Net-Weekly in a hotel suite rented for him in one the Jordanian capital’s most luxurious hotels. Jassem chose the hotel for the interview because it has become a sort of demilitarized zone. Saddam’s sister had just checked in. She had come to Amman for medical treatment accompanied by an entourage and bodyguards, while another wing of the hotel houses US Marine officers.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts who went over the transcript of the interview portrayed Jassem as a typical Middle East VIP bodyguard, essentially a simple man who, for the most part, told the truth. Content that our experts found to be inaccurate has been expunged.

This is the gist of his comments:

The Iraqi Republican Guard is a myth. Saddam’s real protectors are a force called the Special Guard. His bodyguard in chief is called Hamdi Hamouda, who is the only man in Iraq who knows everything. The floors of Saddam’s main palace, the Sixth Force Palace in Tikrit, and the paths of its outer courts are made of glass. Underneath, sharks and tropical fish swim in a giant artificial lake, giving visitors the illusion of moving over the surface of a heaving ocean teeming with marine life. Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction are concealed in two places: a tunnel complex under the main streets of Baghdad and the sand dunes in Ouja, near Tikrit. At Ouja, they are stocked in mobile bunkers. They can be buried deeper under the sand at the flick of a remote control. Jassem said he had been told the bunkers in the sand were built by American engineers but he did not know if this was true.


Following are excerpts from the interview:


How did you become Saddam’s bodyguard?

I belonged to the special forces and was a sentry at the gate to Saddam’s palace. Late one night, Saddam arrived in a 10-car convoy. I checked all the vehicles and Saddam stepped out of one and asked me why I inspected them all and not just his. I told him I wasn’t sure in which car he was traveling and that it was in his honor that I checked all the vehicles. He replied: “From now on, you will be inside with me and be my chief bodyguard.” He also doubled my salary.


What did your job entail?

I was on probation for 15 months, secretly watched by hidden cameras. They also collected as much information about me as possible, even what I like to eat and drink and the kind of exercises I do. They talked to everyone around me. Finally, they brought me a document to sign and said that if I divulged any information to an outsider, I would be killed. That is what the paper said.


Did you serve in the Republican Guard?

The Republican Guard is just propaganda. The Special Guard is the name of the force closest to Saddam. They have different vehicles. The cars used by the Republican Guard are not the same as the ones assigned to the Special Guard. Some of the vehicles seen in Baghdad flying so-called Republican Guard flags really belong to the Special Guard. The Special Guard is concerned only with Saddam Hussein’s person. The Republican Guard was important during the war with Iran, but not now. The Special Guard is called that because ‘special’ is what it is. It gets the best food and equipment and serves only Saddam. It has the best intelligence. I was inside the innermost circle, where Saddam eats and sleeps. I was among the four or five bodyguards closest to him. I did not smoke, and was in good physical condition. That is why I was picked to be in that group.


How were you chosen?

A year and a half after I was moved from the gate to the inner quarters, they were still investigating me. Even when I went on holiday, they continued to follow me and ask me questions. They even questioned my family. During that period, I was inside the palace but not actually close to Saddam. I enlisted on April 5, 1995. I remember the date because it was my birthday. After I enlisted, I was stationed at the Palace of Conferences – Qesser Al-Mu’tamarat – in Baghdad and then moved to the main palace, Qesser al-Quwwa Sitta’shar – the Sixth Force Palace, in Tikrit, the most important one. There, I was given jobs in intelligence-gathering and inspecting cars. The only people allowed to anywhere near this palace were Saddam’s nearest and dearest. Those who entered were people like his son Qusay and his permanent companions, like Hamdi Hamouda, his chief bodyguard who never moves from his side. All the rest spoke to Saddam from a distance over a special telephone line, and never got to see him in person. People had codes, such as one, two, three, and photographs were posted of the people allowed inside and the ones who could only reach Saddam by telephone. The palace is outside Tikrit and it has an underground entrance. The floor and the paths of the entranceway are made of glass and you can see sharks and all sorts of fish. It is like an ocean. It cost billions.


How tight is security around the Iraqi leader? What is to prevent people from harming him?

The palace has four entrances. People with the highest security ratings come in through one entrance. There are small cameras everywhere – secret cameras that no one can see. It is a very complex and sophisticated system comprised of electronic doors and special cars. For instance, if someone attacks from one gate, Saddam can leave by another. He has a car waiting at each escape route. No one knows if he is in one palace or another. He is accompanied only by his chief bodyguard. On several occasions, attempts were made on his life and he managed to escape with his bodyguard.

It is not simple. Cars wait for him in several places. He tells one driver to wait for him at one gate, but he leaves by another. He instructs another driver to wait for him at another gate, and never shows up. Even after he has left in one car, he will drive in one direction and then he’ll switch vehicles. There have been times when he has switched cars after moving only 10 meters, even when he was accompanied only by members of his closest circle. There is no way to assassinate him. Behind one secret door lie four more secret doors. He’ll say he’s leaving through door number two, but he really exits through door number four. Then he’ll come back in through door number six and leave again through door number one. He uses 15 to 20 different cars to leave the palace.

When a camera malfunctions, other layers of camera are activated. The first layer is outside; the second inside and the third is at ground zero, Saddam’s location. He built the system after Uday was hit by 60 bullets in an assassination attempt but lived. Saddam panicked and began to build the system. The innermost ring of cameras has special remote control equipment and only Saddam’s closest guards use it.

There was a time when he went hunting. Preparations took two hours. I saw him hiding weapons about his person. One pistol went up his sleeve. There were also remote control devices inside his clothes and close to his skin.


Did you ever have an opportunity to speak with him?

I spoke to him only once in three years. I had a personal interview with him that took three quarters of an hour. I asked for the meeting. He asked for my file. He examined it and saw that I was a good soldier – I’m sure of that. I shook his hand, and there was a space of about a meter between us. He asked me where I lived in Baghdad and about my family. I wanted my family to have a home, because they did not have an apartment. He signed a paper and within three days I received an apartment. He told me: “You are young – how did you achieve such a position?” I reminded him of our first encounter. He was a generous man. Everyone in the Special Guard received an apartment after a year’s service. But my family’s situation was pressing. I had an apartment, but the problem was my family. He also asked about my own apartment and what brought me to the Special Guard.


Did he joke?

He was always serious and punctual. When he told jokes, it was a sign that he was angry – and then it was best to keep your distance.


What jokes did he tell?

If he was watching television and someone approached him and said, “I saw you in Basra yesterday while you were swimming,” Saddam would reply: “How was I? Frightening? Were people scared of me?” He wanted to get a message across by telling the joke. He wanted to say through his jokes that he was a no-nonsense president and he liked people to think of him in that way.


Do you have the document that Saddam signed?

It’s in Baghdad. I can bring it in a week along with pictures that show how close I was to him. Those are pictures I got from him. I’ll give them to you. Because of my position, I could go anywhere in Iraq and no one would ask any questions. I used cars marked with his seal. I could get into any palace; few people could. I was very proud that my president treated me that way.


Why did you leave?

There was a rule that anyone who gave false information would be punished. People I knew were indeed punished. They were Mukhabarat. My whole family was in the security services. One relative was in military intelligence, but they took me to be interrogated and beat me severely nonetheless – although my whole family served in the security services. And I was put in jail. I was beaten with a metal club. They accused me of passing information and told me that because I signed a document, I had to be executed. They showed me the paper I signed. I told them I had not passed any information. Someone betrayed me. They were very violent.


Does Saddam have doubles?

I’ve never heard of it, nor have I met any. No one in Iraq resembles Saddam. He has his own special look. There are people who wear Saddam masks – those who make speeches about the Palestinian problem. That’s not normal. Do you really believe that Saddam would stand on his feet from eight in the morning until eight at night and fire shots in the air during a pro-Palestinian demonstration? It’s clear that’s not Saddam.

They took my house away from me. Forty-four days after my service ended, they threw me out of the house. I was left with nothing. A friend of mine advised me to leave the country. He told me there was nothing more for me here. “They will kill you,” he said. Friends provided me with a passport and a new name.

Saddam meant everything to me. I loved him and would have protected him at any cost. Now things have completely changed. I hate him. I want to kill him. I want to return to the palaces in Baghdad and Tikrit because I know all the entrances. I don’t care.

I am still confused. I am very ashamed. One night, between two and three in the morning, I heard something move. I am left-handed and I fired my Kalashnikov. It was a deer near one of Saddam’s bedrooms. Afterwards, they activated four camera systems in four palaces. Can you imagine? There is a four-way backup, with each palace backing up the next. They found the deer had not been killed, and they told me, “You failed. What if the deer had been an assassin? You must die.” All of the computer systems showed shots were fired in the first security layer, and I was in the inner one. They couldn’t understand it. But according to the cameras, they found the wounded deer in the first layer, and they didn’t trust me. It was as if I had left my post. As a result, they interrogated me again and searched my house. But it worked out in the end, and Saddam sent me an autographed rifle.


When did you come to Amman?

Three months ago.


Are you working?

I am strung out, in a panic. They can kill me, even here. I do not know what’s happening with my family. I cannot hold down a job; I have to be on the move constantly.


You said you want to help the Americans? Have you met with them?

That’s what was on my mind from the moment I arrived in Amman. But I am scared of their Mukhabarat. I know everything: where the weapons are; and I know where he’s brought the weapons he seized in Kuwait. I know where the depots are, in the north, south and center.


Where are the weapons of mass destruction?

In the desert. It is a vast expanse, and they have cameras…the minute someone approaches, such as UN personnel, they move to another place. Tikrit is closest to the site. Weapons are also located in Baghdad.

There’s a place called Ouja, near Tikrit. It’s a peninsula of sand dunes. I saw with my own eyes bunkers that move from place to place inside the dunes, underground. It is simply unbelievable. It is done by remote control.

Twenty-five people went there in 1994. We were told they were Americans, but the truth is we really didn’t know who they were. They were there for four years, until 1998. In early 1991, they worked there and build weapons of mass destruction. But I don’t know what’s exactly there now. No one saw them. They came by car, with maps. It was strange, because we thought sanctions were in place, but they came and built the complex. Immediately afterwards, they brought the bombs and weapons systems. They built a ceiling and put chemical and biological weapons inside. The Russians followed, and there were Chinese inside. The Russians tested the strength of the structure. They fired at it and set off explosions. But nothing happened to the Chinese inside. They did not die. I saw the Chinese leave the complex one by one and in one piece.

There’s another site in Baghdad; someone very close to Saddam told me. He was drunk at the time. I brought my father along – we were invited to a function – and he told me that there is nothing inside the palaces; they do not contain weapons of mass destruction. There is a more important place, he said – Baghdad, not the palaces. Saddam built an entire area under the city’s main streets, and that’s where the weapons are. If they show me satellite photos, I can tell them what their first and second priorities should be. I know there’s a third site, at Hawala, in Tikrit. I can steer them toward possible hiding places. They move from place to place. They should look in the Hawala area in Tikrit. If they show me pictures, I’ll show them where to go.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email