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?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)