Saddam’s First Wife Moves to Little Baghdad, Sanaa

A new colony is quietly establishing itself in the Yemen capital of Sanaa as, one by one, Saddam Hussein’s close family and senior loyalists settle into a new life as political exiles.
“Little Baghdad” was discovered by debkafile‘s exclusive Persian Gulf sources, who note that almost every incoming flight from Damascus, Amman or Beirut – or even Baghdad – drops one or two members of the old regime at the Saudi airports of Jeddah and Riyadh, where they change over to Saudi or Yemeni planes bound for Sanaa. Sometimes, an entire clan of 15 to 20 members deposits three generations in Sanaa. Up until mid-December last year, Saddam’s fleeing supporters entered the southern Arabian republic in a trickle and were lodged in the few luxury hotels the Yemeni capital boasts. But in January, as their numbers jumped to hundreds, the Yemeni authorities began housing them all together in the Wadi Asrah suburb on the eastern edge of the town.
Like Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra, Beirut and Dubai, the Yemeni capital can now boast its own “Little Baghdad,” inhabited by some 600 Iraq expatriate officials.
Leading lights of the new Baath community, according to debkafile sources, are Saddam’s first wife Sajida Kheirallah Telfah, mother of the late Uday and Qusay and three daughters and her two brothers. Their late father was Saddam’s uncle and mentor. Their closest neighbors are the two sisters of Ali Hassan al Madjid, otherwise known as “Chemical Ali,” for poisoning thousands of Kurds to death in Halabja. Ali Majid, the deposed ruler’s closest adviser, has vanished since the American invasion of Iraq. Contrary to various reports, he escaped unharmed from the US-British bombardment of his palace near Basra in the first part of the Iraq war. In August, rumors of his capture circulated but were never confirmed. It is generally believed that he is the only key functionary of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction programs to make good his escape. His whereabouts are a mystery to this day.
Other denizens of the Yemeni Saddamstan are 40 former Iraqi ambassadors and 120 senior Baath administration officials. Some former regime VIPs would have been allowed to stay in Baghdad unscathed, but preferred not to live under American occupation. One is the widow of the 90-year old widow of Ahmed Hassan Al Bakr, who was president of Iraq in the 1960s.
Yemeni president Abdallah Salah is happy to make the refugees of the Saddam regime at home for three reasons:
1. He was always on friendly terms with the Saddam regime’s heads. Chemical Ali and vice president Izzat Ibrahim al Douri were frequent visitors to the presidential palace in Sanaa. In December 2002, weeks before the war, Salah, always on the lookout for profitable deals, put together a plan for a North Korean freighter carrying illegal Scud missiles for Iraq to secretly unload its cargo in a Yemeni port and have it transported overland to Iraq. The plan did not come off. A Spanish vessel acting on information relayed by US spy satellites intercepted the North Korean ship in the Indian Ocean before it reached Yemeni shores. It was boarded by US special forces and the missiles impounded.
2. Salah believes that providing ex-Saddam regime insiders with sanctuary adds to his credibility in his secret dealings with al Qaeda and lends him an image boost in the Arab world. At the same time, he claims to the Americans that this posture helps him maintain contacts with Osama bin Laden’s people for the purpose of gathering intelligence.
3. Salah’s overriding and constant motivation is the profit factor. Iraq’s evicted regime leaders arrive in Sanaa with bags of money, some smuggled out of Iraq, some salted away in secret Arab, Persian Gulf and European bank accounts. debkafile‘s intelligence sources report that in the last two months, the Iraq expatriates of Sanaa’s Little Baghdad have deposited an estimated $350 m in Yemeni banks. There is most certainly more to come. The Yemeni president has high expectations that the vast sums of Iraqi cash reposing in Syrian banks will follow the affluent Iraqi refugees and end up in Yemeni banks.
The Washington Times reveals a Syrian army intelligence letter confirming earlier debkafile reports of at least $3 bn worth of Iraqi funds held in Syria. The letter says $1.3 bn in cash is held in an official “presidency” account in the Syrian Central Bank, together with gold bullion and platinum, as well as $700m in Lebanon’s Medina Bank.
Wary of upsetting the Americans, our sources report that Salah has set up a special advisory committee in his presidency office with the task of regulating and keeping tabs on the flow of Iraqi ex-officials to his capital. Candidates must file applications with the committee, with particulars of their companions and the sums of money they are bringing with them. These applications are relayed to the US authorities. If approved, the Iraqis are given the status of political exiles.
The Americans prefer to have all Saddam Hussein’s stalwart concentrated in one place in Sanaa where they can be kept under surveillance, rather than letting them wander loose around the Middle East.

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