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Is Saddam in Yemen?

Saddam's former head of protocol says the ousted Iraqi leader is now in Yemen and will disappear like the Nazis, reports Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2003 20:07 IST

Senior Iraqi officers have scattered across the Middle East after fleeing Baghdad as the assault on the city began, according to some senior Iraqis in London who have kept close links with key figures within the country.

All of them have false passports and could try to later hide in countries like Pakistan or Malaysia or Indonesia, said Ali Haitham Rashid Wihaib, who was Saddam Hussain's former head of protocol.

He added that the Syrian authorities were keeping some of their "embarrassing guests" including generals and ministers hidden because of the US pressure.

He, claimed in a daily, that Saddam Hussain, himself, fled days before US and British troops swept into Iraq. This is why, he said, the collapse of the Iraqi forces was so quick. No senior commanders were left to issue orders.

But about Saddam, Wihaib said, that he was now in Yemen. "It is very easy for him to hide there. The people sympathise with him and will help him. He will try to reach South America and disappear like the Nazis. He has studied many books on those people. All the pictures of him in Baghdad were fakes and taped months earlier."

About the sons, the former head of the protocol said, they are in Russia or one of the former Soviet Republics.

Only Information Minister Mohammad Saeed Al-Sahaf was left behind. He stayed to give the impression that the regime was still very much in Baghdad. It is said those sheltering in Syria include Saddam's Prime Minister Taha Yasin Ramadin and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

"Saddam and his generals never wanted to fight. They knew the morale of the troops, particularly of the Republican Guards was so low that nobody would effectively protect them," Wihaib told the media.

Giving details he said that ministers had left even before the invasion. They reached Syria separately, mostly in vehicles across the desert border, traveling without bodyguards.

Families of the ministers and generals are said to be in a hotel outside Damascus. "The Syrians want to get rid of them (the embarrassing guests) but they will have to wait as there is so much attention."

Has Information Minister Sahaf, famous for spin doctoring committed suicide?

Information Minister Mohammad Said Al-Sahaf, has committed suicide according to two Iranian newspapers. They said Sahaf boasted of victory against the allies on live television in the last days of Saddam regime but hanged himself before the fall of Baghdad. The papers claimed that their reports were based on refugee accounts. Significantly, he was not among the figures on the pack of cards distributed by Americans as the most wanted men and women.

But his memory will remain fresh for a long time. A T-shirt featuring his by-now-familiar face has emerged as an Internet bestseller hours after going on sale. It shows him in his trademark black beret and rimless glasses. The caption says, "We are in control."

Sahaf gained global notoriety during the war as the public face of Saddam's regime. His daily briefings became a "must see" feature because of their tragi-comedy overtones. His most famous quips included "invaders are being slaughtered" and the statement when the US forces were near Baghdad airport that "invaders have no foothold in Iraq".

Mr Ali Haitham Rashid Wihaib, Saddam's former head of protocol, however, maintains, that Sahaf is in Syria where he fled through Tikrit soon after the fall of Baghdad.

First Published: Apr 16, 2003 17:12 IST