Senior Iraq Defector May Not Have Made It – II

All may not be well for Adib Shaaban, senior aide to Saddam’s powerful son Uday and Iraq’s highest-ranking would-be defector. His attempt to flee to the United States, first revealed exclusively in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 97 (February 14), may not have come off.
First a recap: Shaaban — charged with Uday’s most sensitive missions — traveled to Jeddah in early February, saying he needed to put through some gold transactions ahead of the war.
From Jeddah, he flew to Beirut and disappeared.
But he never really went to the Lebanese capital. Instead, he made his way undercover to Damascus Monday and was picked up by an unmarked plane that flew him out of the Middle East.
At least, that’s how Shaaban scripted his plan. But like so many things in the murky world of intelligence, the plan went awry – as is strongly indicated by the fresh information reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
Our sources suggest that upon landing at Damascus on Saturday, February 8, he walked straight into the arms of waiting Syrian military intelligence officers who took him to their isolated headquarters in the capital. He is probably still there under heavy guard, as Syrian leader Bashar Assad fights off conflicting demands from the White House and Saddam Hussein’s presidential office for his handover.
Further discoveries by our intelligence sources of the defector’s secret duties would further enhance his value for Washington and make Saddam more anxious to keep him and the secrets in his head out of his enemies’ hands.
—Shaaban was the senior go-between for Baghdad’s business with Damascus.
— He was privy to the clandestine movements of al Qaeda operatives from Iraq to Lebanon via Syrian sea and air ports.
— His hand was on the contraband route along which smuggled Iraqi oil reached world markets through Syria’s Mediterranean terminals.
Saddam and Assad share a stake in keeping this intelligence bomb out of Western hands les he lay bare the full extent of Syria’s operational support for al Qaeda or the degree to which Assad violated UN sanctions against Iraq. So why did Shaaban take the chance of heading for Damascus?
He may have had no choice in the matter.
In Jeddah, the Saudis may have decided that this potato was too hot for them to hold and hustled him aboard the first flight out, which was bound for Damascus. Alternatively, the defector may have flown directly to Damascus – a kosher destination given his job as go-between – intending to continue from there in secret to Jeddah to knock at the door of a US consulate or make his way to the West under his own steam.
He was last seen on February 15 in Damascus telling reporters that the “Iraqi opposition fabricated the tale” of his disappearance and defection to a western embassy in Beirut “while I was still in Baghdad.” This indicates that he was betrayed to Uday by someone close after he had taken off from Baghdad and was still in the air. He may therefore no longer be alive.
For the time being, Assad is holding this high card close – handing him over neither to America nor Iraq. He is biding his time until he sees how the first round of the US military offensive against Iraq turns out. If Saddam, his sons and army weather the American assault, Shaaban’s value will rocket, an ace in the hands of the Syrian president for sale to the highest bidder, Washington or Baghdad.
For the moment, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources say, the chances of Shaaban making it to the West are nil. Saddam was too quick for him – or else Assad was faster than both.

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