Saddam trusts me and knows I tell the truth, says Heath

SIR EDWARD Heath has one explanation for his success persuading President Saddam Hussein to release three Britons from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. 'He trusts me. He knows I tell him the truth,' Sir Edward said yesterday.

'He realises I told him the truth about the war three years ago, that the Americans and British would go to war against him if he didn't get out of Kuwait. He's always trusted me since. He made it known that if I wanted to go to and discuss the prisoners, I was welcome at any time.

'I must make it absolutely clear that I made no 'appeal' to Saddam. We had two and a half hours together and he said 'I know what you want, and I will make arrangements accordingly'. '

However, after his return yesterday Sir Edward said that Britain and the West should act without delay to provide Iraq with urgently-needed medical supplies.

Sir Edward and Saddam have something else in common from the past: a shared dislike of Margaret Thatcher. 'We don't discuss that,' Sir Edward insisted. But other veteran negotiators with Baghdad say it is powerful enough: 'Absolutely, that has an enormous importance,' said one envoy experienced in dealing with the Iraqis. 'The dislike of Thatcher and by extension, of Bush.'

Saddam has not forgotten that in 1990 it was Margaraet Thatcher who egged on the then US President to go to war with the words, 'George, this is no time to go wobbly.'

The Iraqi president accepted that he would have to deal with a former British prime minister where he had originally demanded royalty.

The story of the release of Saddam's Western hostages goes back to September, with the pardoning of three Swedish engineers who like Paul Ride, Michael Wainwright and Simon Dunn had been given long sentences for 'illegal entry'.

For months, Saddam had been told by every Western envoy who dealt with him that his effort to rehabilitate himself internationally and get UN sanctions eased was seriously damaged by his continued holding ordinary citizens. But for some time, Saddam ignored appeals from the Swedish Prime Minister to let the Swedes go.

It was only when an emissary of King Carl Gustav arrived in Baghdad with a personal appeal from the Swedish monarch that progress was finally made.

'Saddam is hopelessly impressed by royalty,' said one Western envoy. 'He is an outcast in this world. He feels the sovereignty of Iraq and the dignity of the Iraqi people is being destroyed by the sanctions. And here he had the chance to get the King of Sweden pleading with him.'

The problem then was that Saddam set his sights on an appeal from Queen Elizabeth or one of her family, as the price for letting the Britons go. This became apparent when Sir David Hannay, Britain's ambassador to the UN, met Tariq Aziz, Iraq's deputy prime minister.

When he returned to London, Sir David made it clear to the Queen that he 'was available should she wish to see him'. Palace sources say the meeting did not take place, but Sir David was 'doing the professional thing as a diplomat' in offering to brief the Queen.

The Royal Family does not do such things as intervening on behalf of prisoners abroad. The relatives, reminded of Sir Edward's success in delivering the British hostages from Iraq in 1990, had therefore approached him to act on their behalf.

He began communicating by telephone with the Iraqis. The process was slowed when the Prince of Wales gave a speech in October attacking Saddam's treatment of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq. Yet that, if nothing else, made it clear to Saddam he could hope for no royal appeal.

A Frenchman and a German remain in Abu Ghraib jail, two of some 30 nationalities still held by Saddam.

If Saddam sticks to his word, it would be remarkable work indeed by Sir Edward. In the case of the Frenchman, the Iraqi dictator had previously made it known to Paris that he would settle for nothing less than a letter from President Mitterrand.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL)

£30 - 40k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / ...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Operations Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is the single governing and regul...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935