Published on Friday, January 9, 2004 by the lnter Press Service
The Story Behind Saddam's Arrest
by Ritt Goldstein
STOCKHOLM - U.S. accounts have portrayed Saddam's capture as a triumph of their high-tech innovation and old-fashioned ingenuity, but reports in the Middle East and off-the-record interviews reveal a version of events decidedly different from those already known.
Since the announcement of Saddam Hussein's capture by the United States Dec. 14, conflicting accounts of events have been heralded as truth, first by the United States, then by the Kurds. But as often, the truth seems to lie somewhere in between, and contains some unheralded facts.
Foremost among those unsung facts is the capture by the U.S. 4th Army of a member of the al Muslit family -- trusted relatives and lieutenants of Saddam -- by U.S. forces in July. This spawned a fateful chain of events leading to the former dictator's reported betrayal and drugging in a plan reportedly inspired by the United States and pursued by his betrayer.
But while Kurds from the Iraq-based Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were said to be acting as go-betweens with U.S. authorities, they pursued a triumph of their own and essentially snatched control of Saddam from the hands of his captors. This they did with suspected Iranian related support.
The critical arrest in July was that of Adnan Abdullah Abid al Muslit, widely known to be one of Saddam Hussein's closest bodyguards and collaborators.
Just a week prior to the July arrest, the respected German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung (SD) had reported that U.S. forces believed Saddam was traveling with a group of three men. The surname al Muslit first surfaced then.
SD mentioned Khalil Ibrahim Omar al Muslit as the name of Saddam's driver. It said his brothers were the other two bodyguards with Saddam. And so the capture of Adnan Abdullah Abid al Muslit became an apparent key to future events.
Those events were first reported Dec. 18. The Jordanian newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yawm said that Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al Muslit -- one of Saddam's bodyguards -- had drugged the former dictator and given information to U.S. forces leading to Saddam's capture.
The significance of the report went virtually unnoticed. But the fact of "pressure" on captives and their families has been widely reported.
The Al-Arab article said Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al Muslit contacted the U.S. forces through a relative. The drugging plan was described as a U.S. inspired outgrowth of this. Kurdish sources have been reported as acknowledging that Saddam's own people were key to their having him.
Several recent reports have suggested that the Kurds caught Saddam, but questions remained over just how they managed to "get him".
A Kurdish presence had been reported in Tikrit area where Saddam was arrested. A member of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) was quoted in The Guardian newspaper of Britain as confirming that presence.
This Kurdish presence materialized about two to three weeks before Saddam's capture, about the time he was reportedly drugged by al Muslit. Muslit seems to have captured Saddam some time after mid-November, intelligence sources indicate.
Kurdish sources named the leader of this Kurdish group of about 50 as Kosrat Rassul, head of the PUK intelligence unit that was instrumental in the operation. Rassul is also deputy to Jalal Talabani, member of the IGC, and PUK head.
News of Saddam's arrest was first released by the Iranian News Agency (IRNA). Several accounts agree that the information was given to them by Talabani.
Separately, an independent footnote to the Iranian media coverage was provided in the reported remarks of an Iraqi resistance leader, illustrating another thread running through the story.
Asked to comment on Saddam's capture, the resistance leader Jabbar al Kubaysi was quoted as saying: "Without the help of Iranian intelligence the arrest would not have been possible." Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi denied the Islamic Republic's involvement. But for many, questions remain.
Rassul is reported to have developed contacts with some of the key leaders in Tikrit area, placing himself in a position to negotiate with them. A drugged Saddam was the object.
Notably, it was Rassul who had arrested former Iraqi vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan. The PUK was also reported to have been instrumental in locating Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay.
The Sunday Express published in London Dec. 21 reported that Kurdish forces had held Saddam for an indefinite period.
Quoting an unnamed senior British intelligence officer, the Sunday Express report says Saddam -- on whose head the United States had placed a 25 million dollar bounty -- was then held captive by the PUK, which bargained with the United States before arranging to hand over the drugged dictator.
The Express article said that Saddam was not captured "as a result of any American or British intelligence."
But earlier, almost simultaneous with U.S. news of Saddam's taking Dec. 14, a report by a group said to have close links to Israeli intelligence surfaced.
This group, DEBKAfile, has a considerable reputation for occasionally revealing accurate facts. But DEBKA's information has also sometimes proven inaccurate, giving rise to conjecture that their reporting occasionally mixes in "facts" the Israeli intelligence community wishes to publicize.
Within a few hours of the announcement of the capture, DEBKA put out a report that Saddam had been held for two weeks or more. The scenario it painted went on to reconcile several of the capture accounts, particularly the connection between Kurds and the captors.
DEBKA said Saddam's own people initiated action against him some time after mid-November. It said Kurds from the PUK were acting as negotiators with them on behalf of the United States, with the reward being an issue for Saddam's captors. Credit for the Kurds followed.
At the same time another group, conceivably an Iranian affiliated group, could have sought intelligence on Saddam's location and provided support, according to diplomatic and intelligence sources. It is also believed that this option provided a way to "short-cut" the negotiating process, allowing Saddam to be taken directly.
Iranian interest in bringing Saddam to justice is widely acknowledged, and Talabani's PUK was known to possess good links with Iran and its intelligence apparatus.
Copyright © 2004 IPS-Inter Press Service