DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources portray Saddam’s younger half-brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, as the only man the ousted ruler trusts with his exact whereabouts – simply because he is his only direct contact with the outside world and conduit for his instructions.
A security source with inside knowledge of the hunt for Saddam told DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “Saddam is like a bat. He can’t move about by day. At night, he flits from one hiding place to the next, totally dependent on a complicated “radar” and intelligence guidance system. That system is provided by Barzan. Apart from him, the fugitive has nothing but his natural instincts to keep him ahead of his hunters.”
At times, Barzan accompanies his elder half-brother on these nocturnal flights; sometimes they separate, meeting up days later. Even apart, they are in close touch, relying for information on a network of couriers spread out across Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf emirates. A similar courier army apparently functions in Europe and in East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Barzan runs the army of couriers and no one but he and Saddam know who they are or their itineraries.
Saddam’s late sons, Uday and Qusay were in on these secrets. US forces are coming round to believe that Barzan, who never let the volatile elder son set foot in the regime’s financial and economic empire, may have been one of the signers of their death warrants, forcing them out of hiding to seek shelter with their affluent kinsman in Mosul, Marwan Zaidan – perfectly aware they were being sent to their deaths. Barzan, who was often at odds with Uday, saw that as the noose tightened around the group, Uday was becoming desperate to lay his hands on funds to break out of the trap and could no longer be trusted to guard the secrets of the elaborate communications net sustaining his father in hiding. A breach of the courier system would have brought down the entire support structure Barzan had designed to protect the fugitive ruler.
The removal of the sons leaves the half-brother in full control of the father’s fate.
Saddam betrayed by nearest and dearest
Betrayal by his closest cronies and kinsmen has dogged the deposed ruler from the outset of the American military operation in Iraq. In early April, Baghdad Special Republican Guards division commander General Maher Sufiyan al Tikriti, who was very close to the president, opened the gates of Baghdad to American forces allowing them to take the capital without a fight.
Last week, Saddam’s daughters Raghad and Rana arrived in Amman from Oman. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, they were granted asylum in Jordan after telling American intelligence officers everything they knew about their father, his habits and his likely hideouts. In return for consenting to be interviewed over Jordanian television, US commanders in charge of the hunt for Saddam persuaded King Abdullah to allow the daughters with their nine children to make their home in Amman.
Raghad, asked by the interviewer how the Iraqi army came to fold so easily to the Americans, especially in Baghdad, replied with a tight smile: “People closest to my father, whom he trusted, betrayed him.”
Both the sisters’ husbands were killed on Saddam’s orders. After defecting to Jordan in 1995 and trying unavailingly to pass secrets of Iraq’s illegal arms industry to the Americans, they were lured back to Baghdad by a false promise of forgiveness. Ironically, the Americans never took advantage of the two defectors’ knowledge and shied away from reaching terms with them.
Retribution by the al Tikriti clan is never long in coming.
Thursday morning, August 7, barely a week after Saddam’s daughters landed in Amman, Jordan was punished for its part of the deal. Barzan loosed a car-bomb-rocket-propelled grenade squad against the Jordanian embassy in West Baghdad, killing at least 12 people in a typically well-laid, precisely-timed operation.
A minivan packed with explosives was parked outside the embassy the night before. In the morning, when the Jordanian consul and embassy staff were on their way to work along a road running past the embassy, four men fired rocket-propelled grenades at the minivan and embassy building. The vehicle exploded and a wing of the embassy caught fire. A mob thereupon burst into the ravaged building, tore up carpets and pictures of King Abdullah and his father Hussein, and burned them in front of television cameras.
Those scenes were beamed around the Middle East and Persian Gulf showing Arab audiences the treatment awaiting America’s Arab allies. This footage contributed little to American standing in Iraq or the Hashemite crown’s popularity in Jordan. The episode is also symptomatic of the intensity of the contest to capture Saddam Hussein.
No way for Saddam to perform bin Laden vanishing act
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military analysts note an important feature that distinguishes the pursuit of Saddam from the search for Osama bin Laden. American pursuers are still groping in the dark for the leader of al Qaeda, while the deposed Iraqi ruler’s approximate hiding place is public knowledge and the contestants exchange blows in full sight of the world media.
As one informed source said to DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “The Iron Triangle is not Tora Bora. There is no way Saddam can steal away without the US forces surrounding the area noticing.”
The most striking aspect of the US hunt for Saddam is the systematic way it is being conducted. In lightening raids, night after night, American troops home in on men whose names came up in interrogations of previous detainees or in seized documents. The Iron Triangle north of Baghdad has been divided up into small squares which are being relentlessly turned over, one by one. A fine sieve has been thrown over the targeted area through which no one with any connection, however remote, with Saddam Hussein can escape and no clue however small overlooked. The officers leading the search feel safe in declaring they are closing in on Number One on their deck of cards and believing that Saddam’s capture may be no more than weeks away.
At the same time, the hunt is an open book to Barzan al Tikriti, like everyone else, forearming him sufficiently to anticipate the hunters. Saddam, from his hideout depends on his master-planner half-brother to keep track of what is going on, which makes Barzan the master key to his discovery. Barzan’s capture would substantially enhance the chances of taking the ex-president. By the same token, Saddam has a better chance of eluding the chase if his half-brother remains at large and free to operate.
Therefore, the obvious question is: Has the CIA contacted Barzan al Tikriti? The answer: Possibly, though not directly.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports from various sources that Barzan has scattered dozens of “representatives” around the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, West Europe and the Far East. Some claim to speak in his name, others say they have seen him recently, or present themselves as close family relatives. Time will tell if any of them are on the level or acting according to a dictated script, whether they are genuine emissaries or part of an elaborate smoke screen.
Recently, some close members of his family, found to have made their way to an unspecified Middle East country, offered odd scraps of insider information unknown to US intelligence about the Sunni Arabs and even certain Iraqi Kurds. Most of the information stood up to cross-checks in Iraq and is believed to have emanated from Saddam’s half-brother.
Picking up the slender thread, US forces hunting Saddam have cautiously dropped in the path of these “representatives” selective and cautious messages meant for Barzan’s eyes. So far, they have drawn no response.