“US officer” Joins Lebanese ex-President for Last-Ditch Mediation

A secret Washington-sponsored mediation effort, in progress since early March, has just about run its course in the diplomatic twilight zone behind the emergency summit taking place at Praia Da Vitoria in the Azores Islands of Portugal Sunday, March 16, between US president George W. Bush and the two European prime ministers, Tony Blair of Britain and of Spain. As they three allies prepared to meet, their options were further reduced by a joint statement from France Russia and Germany that they were against submitting Saddam any ultimatum to disarm. Saddam, however, was not waiting. He set the scene for the Azores summit by putting his country on a war footing, taking command of the Iraqi air force and dividing the country into four military districts with orders to “destroy any foreign aggression”. His younger son Qusay was put in command of the key Baghdad district.
That move was the Iraqi ruler’s reply to a secret US mediator’s final effort to persuade him to remove himself in order to stave off war.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal this last mediator as former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel. Denials apart, he was in Baghdad Saturday, March 15, for the third visit of his mission, which was to sell Washington’s final offer to the Iraqi rule to quit Iraq with his family – including his sons Uday and Qusay – and the country’s top political and military leadership, and go into exile in an Arab country.
The offer included safe conduct guarantees for Saddam and his entourage along with a US pledge not to freeze his secret bank accounts.
The Iraqi ruler’s response to Gemayel – as to all of a long line of would-be mediators – was a refusal to consider any exile or refuge that divested him of ruling authority.
Gemayel’s personal relationship with Saddam dates to back to the 1970s and early 1980s, when he was chief of the Lebanese Christian Phalange militia in Beirut. In those days, he was often in Baghdad to collect Saddam’s largesse to the tune of millions of dollars for his Christian fighters. They have remained friends.
On his penultimate trip to Baghdad on March 7-10, our intelligence sources discovered Gemayel took with him a special guest – an American colonel. This officer, another old Baghdad hand, was received by Saddam for an afternoon tete a tete on March 8. In the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the colonel paid a number of secret visits to Baghdad and was there again just before the first Gulf War in 1991.
debkafile‘s Iraqi underground sources reveal that, on the same day, a failed attempt was made on the life of Saddam’s elder son Uday at the al-Jadariye Boating Club on the Tigris River. There with a party, he is thought to have escaped with injuries from this second known assassination attempt, while three of his bodyguards were killed.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that the American crossed into Iraq – either from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Gemayel and senior Iraqi intelligence officials stood by to fly with him by plane and then helicopter to a secret meeting place near Baghdad.
A senior intelligence source, who was briefed on the conversation between Saddam and the US officer, reports that the Lebanese ex-president and an interpreter – a short man who spoke only whenever Saddam whispered something in his ear – were also present.
After Saddam warmly shook his hand, the American said: “It’s been a long time since I last saw you, but you seem to be in great shape. You are a great soldier and I looking forward to facing you on the battlefield.”
“When do you intend to attack and try to kill me?” Saddam asked.
“Basically, after the March 19 deadline passes,” came the reply.
“You managed to get me to destroy my missiles,” the Iraqi leader said, pausing for effect. “Is the 19th the date of the attack or just the day when you want me to leave Iraq? After all, that’s what you came for.”
The US colonel answered: “According to our orders, that’s the date when we are supposed to head out and get you. And we’ve already been told, ‘Don’t come back with him left in place.'”
Saddam was not pleased. “You are the sons of Satan. Go to hell. I’m not afraid of you.”
“We may not even wait until the 19th now,” the colonel shot back.
“Well then,” Saddam said. “What’s the offer and where do you want me to go?”
“Egypt, Sudan, Syria – there’s a long list of offers. Even Iran made an offer.”
A defiant Saddam answered in English: “I will die before I surrender.”
Tempers flared as the colonel told the Iraqi leader: “If you don’t leave, we will target you.”
A fuming Saddam began talking gibberish, before finally calming down and whispering something to the interpreter, who said: “The president believes he is going to send you back to your leaders in a box as a message.”
The American officer was unfazed.
“In that case, the war would start today,” he replied. “We know where you are every day.”
“I have no fear of death,” Saddam said.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, the conversation then turned to the underground bunkers where Saddam and his family planned to seek shelter from US bombs.
“How long do you think you can hold out there? Maybe four to six weeks, tops,” the colonel said.
“Don’t worry, when I have to get out, I will,” Saddam said.
“We all know that if you leave your shelter after the war begins, the people on the street and Iraqi troops will tear you to shreds,” the officer said.
Saddam replied with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Time was up, and Gemayel and the colonel flew back to the Iraqi border. At the frontier, Gemayel bade the officer farewell and returned to Saddam’s palace in Baghdad.
According to our information, the US colonel arrived in Kuwait early on Wednesday, March 12, and made his report immediately to Washington. From Baghdad, Gemayel made his way to Amman and sent his own equally pessimistic report to Washington.

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