Family vows to topple Saddam

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IN HIS first appearance since he defected on Tuesday, one ofSaddam Hussein's sons-in-law said yesterday he had initiated contacts to topple the regime in Baghdad. "We will seriously and continuously work towards changing the existing system in Iraq" through political and military means, Major-General Hussein Kamel Hassan al-Majid said in Amman.

Hussein Kamel defected to Jordan on Tuesday with his brother, Colonel Saddam Kamel Hassan al-Majid, and their wives, Raghad and Rana - the two eldest daughters of the Iraqi President. They fled with their children, a cousin, and a group of army officers.

Hussein Kamel called on "all officers in the Iraqi army, in the Republican Guards, in the special Republican Guard units, and all government officials to be prepared for the coming change, which will turn Iraq into something modern." Military officers, he said, "know what this call means".

"We will eradicate all the problems with any Arab country, with all other nations," Hussein Kamel added. "We will establish new and developed relations with the world and get rid of what is shameful and what caused the backwardness of the society."

He said his appeals for reforming the country had gone unheeded by Saddam, and thus he believed it was no longer possible to remain in Iraq. "It is well known that Iraq's policy now is in complete isolation and it is also well known that Iraq's situation is very bad," he said.

Under Saddam's leadership, he added, "we are not really interested in solving our own problems as much as we are interested in heightening or intensifying our problems with other countries."

King Hussein of Jordan granted refuge to the Iraqis and rebuffed - in a 10-minute meeting on Thursday - Saddam's son, Uday, who had been sent by his father to plead with Jordan to return the group to Iraq. Hussein Kamel said he and his brother, who stood beside him during his Amman press conference, told Saddam's daughters of their defection plans 10 days before they left Iraq, and that the women went along willingly.

The brothers represent a potential information coup for the West: Hussein Kamel was his country's industry minister and is considered to be the main architect of Iraq's secret weapons programmes. His brother headed the special security forces.

Jordan said yesterday it did not fear military retaliation for granting refuge to the group. President Bill Clinton has pledged that the United States will defend Jordan against any Iraqi military threats - something Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, called "hallucinations" - and has ordered the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt to sail to the eastern Mediterranean. US officials said F-14 Tomcat fighter-bombers would fly over Jordan in a show of support.