Out of Baghdad: U.S. says Saddam's top ministers are gone

Report: Information minister extorted $200,00 from foreign journalists

Saturday, April 12, 2003

The United States has determined that all of Saddam Hussein's ministers have fled Baghdad.

U.S. intelligence sources said many of the ministers went to Sadam's hometown of Tikrit. Others went to Mosul, hoping to enter Syria and seek asylum.

The last Cabinet member to have left Baghdad, the sources said, was Information Minister Mohammed Sahaf. He was said to have fled to Tikrit on Tuesday in the aftermath of the bombing of a suspected bunker used by Saddam. The London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily said Sahaf extorted $200,000 from foreign journalists before he fled Baghdad.

Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmad Chalabi said Saddam has escaped to northern Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. Chalabi, who provided the first authoritative information on Saddam's training of Al Qaida members, said Uday is still in Baghdad and that Qusay is believed to be in the Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

U.S. intelligence officials are still uncertain over whether Saddam survived Monday's air attack of an underground regime facility in Baghdad.

The officials said that even if Saddam survived, the attack appeared to convince Saddam's closest aides that the regime was finished and that flight was the only option.

One report relayed by coalition intelligence agents was that Saddam and his sons were hustled into a car when the first two of four U.S. bombs struck a building adjacent to the Baghdad target. U.S. officials said the report asserted that coalition agents sprayed automatic fire toward Saddam's car but do not know whether he was hit.

Officials said Saddam is believed to be seeking asylum from his Russian allies. But they dismissed rumors that he has been sheltered in the Russian embassy in Baghdad.

"With respect to Saddam and Uday and Qusay and Mr. [Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq] Aziz, we don't know where they are," Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart, director of operations at U.S. Central Command, said. "But we'll continue our pursuit of any intelligence that might indicate where they are.

I don't know that they're alive and I don't know that they're dead."

Officials said U.S. special operations forces have established roadblocks along roads to Syria and are searching vehicles for Saddam's aides. They said traffic between Iraq and Syria is being monitored from the air.

"The Syrians are behaving badly," U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. "They need to be reminded of that and if they continue then we need to think about what our policy is with respect to a country that harbors terrorists, or harbors war criminals, or was in recent times shipping things to Iraq."

Officials said coalition aircraft tried to kill Saddam's half brother and adviser, Barzan Ibrahim Hassan Tikriti. Six bombs were dropped on a building where Tikriti was residing in the the town of A-Ramadi, about 100 kilometers west of Baghdad. It was not clear whether Tikriti was killed.

At the same time, special operations forces continued to attack regime strongholds in the western city of Al Qaim. Al Qaim is near the Syrian border and is said to contain a large chemical weapons facility. The area was also a launching pad for Iraqi extended-range Scud missile attacks toward Israel in the 1991 Gulf war.

"In the west, special operations continued against regime forces in the town of Al Qaim," Renuart said. "And this is an area that is strategically located on the route that joins Syria and Iraq, and it also is an area that is potentially for use by the launch -- for the launching of ballistic missiles."

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