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Saddam fled Baghdad three days ago, says former aide

Saddam, along with his two sons, has left for his home town of Tikrit, says his former chief of protocol.

india Updated: Apr 06, 2003 23:35 IST

As American forces tightened their grip on Baghdad, senior US officials, according to reports here, said that intelligence on Saddam Hussain's whereabouts had "dried up".

But they also say that in all probability he is alive and possibly hiding in a network of tunnels believed to stretch over a 50 mile area in and around Baghdad.

A former chief of protocol of Saddam Hussain, Haitham Rashid Wihaib, however claims that the Iraqi President fled from the capital three day ago, that is around April 2.

He also says no central command is left now for providing direction to the forces. This is also the view of military analysts HT talked with.

"I spent nearly 20 years working for Saddam, latterly seeing him daily while running his private office and daily appointment diary," Wihaib claims in a write-up in a daily.

"I also got to know his doubles. And the Saddam Hssain we saw shaking hands of his subjects in that extraordinary walkabout on Friday, was definitely a doopelganger."

He says that the stunt, of walking on the streets, was ordered by Saddam's son Qusay to convince the Allies that his father was still in Baghdad and a last ditch attempt to show the Iraqi people their "leader was brave and prepared to fight from the capital".

Wihaib alleges that Saddam in reality is not brave. "He is mad and desperate and is readying himself for exile."

The former potocol cief claims to know that once Saddam learnt Americans were closing on Baghdad, "he fled to his home town of Tikrit." This could be the reason for the two divisions of Republican Guards being stationed there, as told to HT by Col Christopher Langton of the Institue of Internationl Strategic Studies, a few day ago.

Wihaib claims that Saddam left in a series of anonymous taxis and battered pick up trucks in a convoy which would have looked like any other group of fleeing Iraqis.

Last year Saddam' aides allegedly rented 500 houses in Tikrit. He used to move from property to property, hardly spending more than a few hours at each place.

Wihaib says, "Saddam has taken his two murderous son and a handful of key advisors still loyal to him. In Baghdad each local commander has been told to act as he sees fit."

The prediction by Wihaib is that "probably by next weekend he will either be dead or captured or will have fled his ravaged country." He has already moved his vast wealth to Geneva and other sympathetic West Asian countries.

He also confirms the earlier reports that Saddam's first wife, Sajida and their three daughters and grandchildren are already staying with the Iraqi amabassador in Syria. His lastest wife Iman, 27, Wihaib, says has been sent to Jordan last week.

But, warns Wihaib that Saddam would be captured only in a surprise attack. He has instructed his bodyguards to shoot him if the ememy ia about to capture him.

First Published: Apr 06, 2003 18:08 IST