- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has obtained safe haven
in Belarus, several intelligence agencies believe.
- Western intelligence sources said several intelligence
agencies in the Middle East and Europe base this assessment on new information
about a March 29 flight from Baghdad to Minsk. They said the flight of
a chartered cargo plane could have transported Saddam, his sons and much
of his family to Belarus.
- "There's no proof that Saddam was on the plane but
we have proof that a plane left on that day from Baghdad airport and arrived
in Minsk," a senior intelligence source said. "If you can think
of anybody else who could obtain permission to fly out of Baghdad in the
middle of a war, then please tell me." Health insurance for the self-employed:
Special offer U.S. officials and Iraqi opposition sources said Saddam and
his sons appear to have escaped two assassination attempts during the war.
But they did not confirm the registration of a cargo flight from Baghdad
to Minsk on March 29, Middle East Newsline reported.
- The sources said the cargo aircraft took off from an
unspecified Baghdad-area airport and entered Iranian air space on the flight
toward Minsk. They said Iran did not attempt to interfere with the Iraqi
- About two weeks later, a registration of the cargo flight
was found by the U.S. military in wake of the capture of the airport and
the rest of the Baghdad area. Baghdad International Airport was captured
on April 4.
- U.S. officials said Saddam had been exploring the prospect
of fleeing to Belarus over the last year. They said the Iraqi ruler was
in close contact with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and that Minsk
became a major military supplier to Baghdad.
- Within hours after the departure of the cargo flight
to Minsk on March 29, the Saddam regime was awash with rumors that the
president had escaped. Intelligence sources said the rumors spread rapidly
throughout the military command and among field officers.
- "There was a significant decline in Iraqi combat
strength starting from around March 31," an intelligence source said.
"In interviews with coalition interrogators, Iraqi commanders have
attributed the decline in combat to the feeling that Saddam had fled."
- In Washington, Sen. Bob Graham, former chairman of the
Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said on Thursday that a senior Saddam
aide had been captured in Syria over the previous 24 hours. Graham did
not identify the aide, but said he held one of the most sensitive positions
in the regime.
- The aide was believed to be Izzat Eddin Ibrahim Al Douri,
vice chairman of the Revolutionary Council and the man who spent the longest
amount of time with Saddam in power.
- On Wednesday, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said
Saddam was believed to be alive and hiding somewhere in Iraq. "In
the end we don't know, but it is still our best judgment that he is [in
Iraq]," Hoon said.
- "As each day goes by, as we continue to search those
places he may be hiding, we have to keep an open mind, but it is still
my best judgment."
- On Thursday, U.S. officials reported that Iraqi Deputy
Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, regarded as the Western face of the Saddam regime,
surrendered to U.S. military authorities. They said Aziz, who last month
had vowed to die rather than be detained, held negotiations with the United
States on the terms of his surrender.