Barzan Ibrahim Al-Tikriti

Saddam Hussein's half-brother, intelligence chief and intimate ally from the first days of Baath rule


Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, politician and diplomat: born Al-Awja, Iraq 1950; Head of Intelligence 1968-83; Special Adviser to the President 1983-88; Ambassador to the UN 1988-98; married Ahlam Kharaillah (died 1998; three sons, two daughters); died Baghdad 15 January 2007.

When Saddam Hussein was plotting his way in the 1970s to take over the Baath party that ruled Iraq, his younger half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was in charge of the intelligence service.

Barzan supported his half-brother's underground activities without the knowledge of the government. Saddam, as Deputy Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, was busy establishing a network of secret organisations accountable to no one but himself. The core was groups, styled decades earlier on the model of Mafia gangs, that terrorised the political and business worlds of Baghdad. They raised money by extortion, blackmail and protection, kept in a fund set up by Barzan in the mid-1960s.

Two decades later, as Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations Geneva headquarters - where he was sent by Saddam following a dispute - Barzan used the fund, estimated at several billion dollars, to set up investments and finance the secret buying of advanced weapons.

Saddam was taking Joseph Stalin as his model. As head of intelligence Barzan suggested he procure books on Nazi Germany. Impressed himself by the Nazi political/bureaucratic experiment, he believed that Saddam might be interested in the subject, not for any reason to do with racism or anti-Semitism (the Baath had no need for tutors or models in this respect), but as an example of the successful organisation of an entire society by the state for the achievement of national goals.

The aim of fusing the state and Baath party into one - which was complete by the late 1980s - was Barzan's brainchild. In a printed manual he instructed "the special apparatus" that their duty was to convince, by all means, Baath party members and the public in general that opposition to the party and its leadership didn't exist.

According to historians and former CIA staff, Barzan, who was barely 18, joined his brothers Sabawi, Watban and their elder half-brother Saddam and cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (the future "Chemical Ali") at the gates of the presidential palace in Baghdad in the early hours of 17 July 1968. They used military passes provided by a member of Iraqi military intelligence who was on the CIA payroll.

Their clansman Brig-Gen Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr had joined other officers from different political affiliations for a coup headed by the military intelligence chief Abdul Razzaq al-Nayef to oust President Abdul Rahman Aref. Saddam and his Baathist gang hijacked the coup, giving Bakr stronger bargaining chips. Barzan's cool calculation stopped Saddam from killing Nayef then because the latter wanted to negotiate better deals with American oil companies. He was assassinated 10 years later by Barzan's men in London.

In the early days of Baath rule Saddam and his gang were despised by the middle-class leadership of the party. But President Bakr, who knew nothing of the secret organisation or funds in Geneva, put Barzan in charge of "the office of public relations" - a front for the intelligence service.

Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti was born in 1950 at Al-Awja village near Tikrit to Ibrahim Hasan and Subha Tulfah. Saddam, aged 13, whose father had died before he was born, had already fled the village three years earlier to escape beating and brutal treatment by his illiterate and violent stepfather. But his mother kept the brothers Sabawi, Barzan and Watban close to Saddam, who lived with his uncle, her brother Khairallah Tulfa, a racist nationalist who was jailed by the British for joining a Nazi party that backed a coup attempt during the Second World War.

He implanted ideas of national socialism in the heads of his nephews and married two of his daughters to them, Sajida to Saddam and Ahlam to Barzan. Ahlam died of cancer in 1998 in Geneva.

Barzan was closer to Saddam than were the other two half-brothers. But their relationship had ups and downs. Barzan was wary of the "yes men" who told Saddam everything he wanted to hear but the truth, which he knew as head of the intelligence.

He had a complex personality, charming in civilised conversation, showing a knowledge of culture and art as he dined with international diplomats and financiers, but he could also could be violent, tough and vengeful. He even exchanged fire with his nephew, Saddam's son Uday, who married his daughter Saja: she left her marital home, returning to Barzan, because of Uday's violence.

In 1979 he instructed his elder brother Sabawi Ibrahim - his deputy in the intelligence service - to establish a network of European front companies to import unconventional weapons and hire hit-teams to assassinate opponents or former officials who knew too much.

After the fight with Uday, he fell out with Saddam in 1988 because he objected to the marriage of Saddam's daughter Rana to Hussein Kamel Hassan. Although Saddam banished him to Geneva, Barzan remained in charge of bank accounts. He was vindicated when Hussein Kamel defected with his brother and Saddam's two daughters to Jordan in 1995, exposing the weapons of mass destruction programme. When later he returned to Iraq he was killed by Uday and his cousin "Chemical Ali".

Called back by Saddam in 1998, Barzan delayed his return for nine months, fuelling rumours of defection, which he denied. In late 1999 a family council managed to reconcile Barzan with Uday.

In March 2003, Saddam placed Barzan under house arrest in the Radwaniya presidential palace when he contested Saddam's wish for his younger son, Qusay, to succeed him should he be killed. When US troops entered Baghdad, Barzan fled to his farm in Ramadi 60 miles north-west of the capital. He made the mistake of telephoning his family in Switzerland to tell them he was "safe and sound". The Americans traced his call, but, by the time they dropped six "bunker buster" bombs on the farm, Barzan had fled.

Only a week later, however, with the help of information from Iraqi citizens, the Americans said, Barzan was arrested in Baghdad. Uday and Qusay were killed in a bomb attack on Mosul in July and in December Saddam was captured near Tikrit.

Barzan went on trial in October 2005 alongside his half-brother, charged with crimes against humanity in the killing of Shias from Dujail in 1982 after an assassination attempt on Saddam; after the failed attack on Saddam's motorcade Barzan was said to have roamed Dujail with a sniper rifle, firing indiscriminately. In November 2006 he was found guilty. With Saddam, he was sentenced to hang.

Adel Darwish

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