Saddam’s Daughters, Officials Flee Iraq, Signaling Crack in Regime
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ In a sign that U.N. sanctions are gnawing away at the Iraqi regime, two of Saddam Hussein’s daughters, two top officials and their military entourage fled to Jordan and were granted asylum.
One of the defectors is the brains behind Iraq’s weapons programs. Another is commander of the special forces protecting the regime. They were accompanied by about 15 Iraqi army officers.
The defections underscored reports that U.N. sanctions, imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, are throwing Saddam’s inner circle into disarray and taking a harsh economic toll on Iraq.
The defectors met with Jordan’s King Hussein on Tuesday and were immediately granted asylum, Jordan’s foreign minister, Abdul-Karim Kabariti, said Thursday.
They included the most senior Iraqi official to defect since the Gulf War: Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamel al-Majid, head of the Military Industrialization Organization, which oversees Iraq’s weapons programs. He is also Saddam’s cousin and husband of Saddam’s eldest daughter, Raghad, who defected with him.
Accompanying them were Saddam’s daughter Rana and her husband, Saddam Kamel al-Majid, who is al-Majid’s brother and serves as commander of the special forces protecting Saddam’s regime.
Saddam’s eldest son, Odai, and a cousin of the al-Majids, former defense minister Maj. Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, went to Amman on Thursday and appealed to King Hussein to return the defectors. Kabariti said the Jordanian response was ``a big no″ and the two left immediately for Baghdad.
Asked if the asylum would cause problems between Jordan and Iraq, he said: ``I hope not. We have nothing to do with their (the defectors’) decision. They opted for shelter and we granted them one.″
There was no sign from Iraq that it planned any action against Jordan.
In Washington, President Clinton said King Hussein showed ``real courage″ in granting the asylum request, and pledged to protect Jordan in case of any Iraqi retaliation. Clinton said he had discussed the situation with King Hussein by telephone soon after the defections.
``We owe it to the people who are our partners in peace in the Middle East to stand behind them,″ Clinton said at a White House news conference Thursday.
The departure of the brothers, coupled with the dismissal last month of Ali Hassan al-Majid as defense minister, indicate that the al-Majid clan is losing power.
The clan, related to Saddam on his father’s side and long a pillar of the regime, appear to have been unseated in a power struggle with Saddam’s sons and half-brothers.
That would mean that Saddam’s sons, hard-liners who oppose diplomatic efforts to get the United Nations to lift the crippling trade sanctions, may be gaining influence _ and that Iraq will isolate itself even further.
But it was not clear whether this could lead to a new confrontation with the United Nations and the United States.
Kamel Abu Jaber, a political analyst and Jordan’s former foreign minister, said the defections were ``an indication of serious trouble at the top in Iraq.
``It seems that the inner circle is deteriorating. It’s obvious that the leadership is cracking.″
Kabariti, the Jordanian foreign minister, gave no details on how the defectors had left Iraq, and officials refused to say where they were staying. There was unusually tight security around one of the royal guest palaces in Amman, but officials denied the defectors were there.
Another official said the Iraqis will leave ``for a brotherly Arab country,″ but declined to say which country, or when they would go.
Jordan shelters nearly 30,000 Iraqi refugees, and the defectors were believed to be under heavy guard. Iraqi intelligence agents are known to operate in Jordan, and Saddam’s security services have been blamed for killing earlier defectors.
The most significant of the defections was that of Hussein Kamel al-Majid, who oversaw Iraq’s military buildup and clandestine weapons programs throughout the 1980s.
His career has waxed and waned amid the convoluted power struggle between the al-Majids and Saddam’s half-brothers.
He was appointed head of the Military Industrialization Organization on June 30, regaining a fiefdom he had held for much of the 1980s. When Saddam changed his Cabinet last month, al-Majid was promoted again, becoming minister of industry and minerals in addition to his other posts.
That indicated he was still close to Saddam, and it was not known what caused him to flee.
The state-controlled Iraqi media did not report the defections, but said Thursday night _ without explanation _ that al-Majid had been dismissed from his posts.
The official Iraqi News Agency said Adnan Abdel-Majid Jassim, head of the presidential office, was named industry minister. Oil Minister Gen. Amer Mohammed Rashid was appointed acting head of the Military Industrialization Organization.
Iraqi opposition sources said the defections followed an attempt to assassinate one of Saddam’s half-brothers, Wathban al-Ibrahimi, at a wedding on Monday.
Baghdad’s Babel daily, owned by Odai Hussein, said Wathban was shot in the leg. Reports of attacks on political leaders are rare in Iraq and Babel’s report may have been part of the struggle between the al-Majids and Saddam’s sons.