Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the internationial nuclear agency, have not turned up any Iraqi scientists or civilians to interview outside the country’s borders. After two days of negotiations with Iraq officials in Baghdad, they came out with a 10-point accord that guarantees very little help for their 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 toDEBKA-Net-Weeklyin 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‘sintelligence 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.
Second and last part of interview appears in debkafile Tuesday evening.