Saddam son-in-law, bodyguard, science minister in custody, U.S. and Iraqi opposition group says
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law and one of the toppled Iraqi leader’s bodyguards surrendered to an Iraqi opposition group after returning from Syria, where they had gone into hiding, the group said Sunday.
Separately, the U.S. military said troops captured a top science official from Saddam’s regime. The opposition said the official would be helpful in the hunt for the remains of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.
The son-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti, and the bodyguard returned from neighboring Syria to turn themselves in to the Iraqi National Congress in Baghdad, a congress spokesman in London said. The men could have information on the whereabouts of Saddam, the spokesman said.
Though it was not known if al-Tikriti had come under pressure from Syria to surrender, the news came as President Bush said the Damascus government was beginning to heed American demands for cooperation against Saddam’s inner circle.
“They’re getting the message that they should not harbor Baath Party officials, high ranking Iraqi officials,” Bush said Sunday.
Syrian President Bashar Assad told two visiting U.S. congressmen Sunday that Damascus will not give asylum to war crimes suspects from Iraq and will expel any Iraqi who should cross the border.
The comments by both sides marked an easing of tensions that had escalated between the United States and Syria over reports that members of Saddam’s deposed government had crossed the border. The accusations by Washington led to speculation that Syria could become Bush’s next military target.
Al-Tikriti is married to Saddam’s youngest daughter, Hala, and was deputy head of the Tribal Affairs Office. Dubbed by the U.S. military as the nine of clubs in its deck of most wanted, he ranks No. 40 out of the 55 top Iraqi officials sought by the allies.
He was being questioned Sunday by intelligence officers of the Free Iraqi Forces, the congress’ armed wing, and would be turned over to the U.S. military soon, said Haider Ahmed, spokesman for the congress, a London-based umbrella group of Saddam opponents.
Meanwhile, coalition troops arrested the higher education and scientific research minister, Abd al-Khaliq Abd al-Ghafar, on Saturday, the U.S. Central Command said in Doha, Qatar.
Abd al-Ghafar was designated the four of hearts in the U.S. military’s deck and was number 54 on the coalition wanted list. The spokesman could not say where Abd al-Ghafar was arrested or provide additional details.
Ahmed said Abd al-Ghafar is likely to know about Iraq’s nuclear program. “We know about his background, and he is certainly involved with those banned programs,” he said.
Coalition forces already have in custody Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, believed to have led Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs. Al-Saadi surrendered to the U.S. military on April 12, insisting that the Saddam regime had no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in an interview published Sunday in the Abu Dhabi-based paper Al-Khaleej that Iraqi scientists who handed themselves over to U.S. officials will help find hidden weapons of mass destruction that U.N. inspectors were unable to locate.
With the new captures, seven of the 54 wanted members of Saddam’s inner circle are now in custody, though none of them are from the very top of the list. An eighth figure, Ali “Chemical Ali” Hassan al-Majid — a top adviser to Saddam and the king of spades in the deck — is believed to have been killed in an airstrike.
Other top arrests by coalition forces include Watban and Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, two of Saddam’s three half brothers; Hikmat Mizban Ibrahim al-Azzawi, the finance minister and deputy prime minister; and Samir Abd al-Aziz al-Najim, a senior figure in Saddam’s Baath Party.
After negotiations, Saddam’s son-in-law was “persuaded to come to Baghdad and surrender to our people in Baghdad,” said Ahmed, of the Iraqi National Congress.
He said he believed Jamal al-Tikriti, in his mid-30s, surrendered Sunday. Ahmed was unsure when al-Tikriti and the bodyguard fled to Syria but said it was “certainly not before the war.”
Officials at Central Command said they had heard the reports but could not confirm the surrender. Syrian officials were not available for comment on al-Tikriti’s reported surrender. Congress officials had no information about the whereabouts of Saddam’s daughter.
Ahmed said al-Tikriti was accompanied from Syria by Khalid Hmood, one of Saddam’s top bodyguards, who also was arrested Sunday by the Iraqi National Congress.
Hmood was the head of Iraqi intelligence during the war and ranked a major in Saddam’s personal security detail, according to Ahmed.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they have some information about Saddam’s whereabouts or other officials,” Ahmed said.