U.S. drops top Iraqi general from most-wanted list

Thursday, April 24, 2003

The United States has left out the commander of President Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard from a list of most wanted Iraqis.

Gen. Maher Sufian does not appear on the U.S. list of 55 most wanted Iraqis. Sufian was commander of the six Republican Guard units responsible for the defense of Baghdad.

The absence of Sufian from the U.S. list has sparked claims that the Republican Guard commander struck a deal with the U.S.-led coalition. Arab diplomatic sources said Sufian is believed to have ordered his units to lay down their weapons and return home. In exchange, Sufian was flown from the Al Rashid camp east of Baghdad by a U.S. AH-64A Apache helicopter to a unknown safe house.

U.S. officials have denied any deal with Sufian, Middle East Newsline reported. But they acknowledge that the Pentagon held secret negotiations with certain senior Iraqi military commanders for surrender.

Three prominent Iraqi ministers also do not appear on the list of 55. They are Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Sahaf, Health Minister Umid Mubarak and Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. U.S. officials said the three ministers were not regarded as key members of the Saddam regime.

"I'm not aware of any deals that have been struck with any commanders for transport on helicopters or anything close to that, so I don't have any report that's like that," Brig Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy chief of operations at Central Command, said. "When we do deal with leaders that are out there, either local leaders, tribal leaders, religious leaders, or in some cases military leaders, former military leaders, it's a discussion that talks about how to end hostilities and how to begin the future of Iraq."

The Pentagon has offered cash rewards of up to $200,000 for information on the whereabouts of Saddam and other members on the list of 55. The highest reward can be authorized only by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks can authorize rewards of up to $50,000.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials reported the capture of three leading aides of Saddam. The most senior aide was identified as Muzahim Sa'b Hassan Al Tikriti, head of the Iraqi air defense command and No. 10 on the list.

Saddam's head of military intelligence, Gen. Zuhayr Talib Abd Sattar Naqib, No. 21 on the list, was also arrested.

Former Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Salih, No. 48 on the list, was also captured. In all, the United States is holding 11 out of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis.

A captured Iraqi who is not on the most-wanted list is Salim Jumaylia, identified as a former head of the Iraqi intelligence unit that supervised operations in the United States. Officials said Jumaylia could name spies sent by Saddam to the United States.

"There is a rewards program that's out there for information that would lead to the capturing or even clarifying the condition of those leaders and others," Brooks said. "People that have knowledge of the weapons of mass destruction program may be rewarded if they provide information about that program."

Coalition officials said Saddam is now believed to be alive and hiding somewhere in Iraq. The assessment was voiced by British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon during a tour of southern Iraq on Wednesday.

"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."

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