Baghdad insider joins Saddam coup plotters: A former ally of the President is part of a coalition to overthrow his regime, writes Hugh Pope in Salahuddin

MASHAM El-JABOURI is in a class of his own among delegates to the Iraqi National Congress, uniquely qualified to talk about how the strengthening Iraqi opposition might oust Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi President.

'We helped him murder thousands of people. So we certainly have more responsibility than the others,' said the President's one- time office assistant and family friend from Takrit. 'We are his bodyguards, his secret police. If we can't get rid of him, nobody can.'

Mr Jabouri says he organised three coup attempts against President Saddam: one in January 1990, after which 29 people were executed; one in October 1990, after which 18 people were executed; and the last and most complex last July, after which 420 people were jailed.

The latest plotters had not been executed yet, he said, probably because most were from his own powerful Jabouri clan that is inextricably entwined with the security apparatus that keeps President Saddam in power.

'If he kills them, it will be the first time the fight goes into his own family, it will be the beginning of the end,' Mr Jabouri said. 'But all of our coup attempts have failed, so we have decided to join these people. We now call ourselves the Democratic Coalition for the Rescue of Iraq.'

The appearance of the silk- suited and gold-Rolexed security man caused a stir when he introduced himself to the earnest discussion table of the exiles who make up most of the conference's democratic caucus. They have spent decades in Europe and North America and are putting a priority on human rights, while Mr Jabouri, 35, left Iraq less than three years ago and exudes a restless aura of danger, intelligence and power.

'I felt anger brimming up inside me. I had to control myself,' said an exile from Washington DC, eyeing Mr Jabouri and his group of followers. 'They still even swagger like Baathists.'

Fearing that he cannot be separate from the regime that created him, many avoid him in the hotel lobbies of Salahuddin. But his free participation at the congress in Iraqi Kurdistan shows how broad the Iraqi opposition has become.

Mr Jabouri repeatedly hammers home a message that the only way of ousting the President is by a coup, but that it can only happen if the Iraqi National Congress issues a blanket amnesty for those involved in the regime.

Strangely, many delegates agree an amnesty is important. The Sunni Arabs, the main base of President Saddam's power, will not betray him, they say, unless they are confident of not being massacred by a new government.

'If we get into revenge killings, there will be a bloodbath. The responsibility is only that of Saddam Hussein and his close family, like Ali Hassan al-Majid,' Mr Jabouri said. Mr Majid is currently the Defence Minister and has gained notoriety for ordering the use of chemical weapons and the Anfal killings of at least 180,000 Kurds.

The attitude of the West remains important. The Amman- based Mr Jabouri is cagey about his relationship with the Americans, whose principal stated objective for the past two years has been to oust the Iraqi leader by an internal uprising.

'The Americans were not serious in their support for us. It was American interests that kept Saddam in office after the Gulf war. They wanted security deals and weapons sales to Gulf countries, to get the Middle East peace talks going and stabilise the situation in Kurdistan,' he said. 'Saddam is now stronger, from a military and security point of view.'

But, he added, there was now a greater fragility. The conflict with the Jabouri tribe had brought tension right into the heart of the regime. President Saddam was an unstable, crazed killer, he added.

'Uday (President Saddam's son) and I used to go for pistol practice each morning at the presidency, sometimes with the President. The targets were always life- like human dummies,' he said.

President Saddam killed real or imagined opponents personally, he added. One famed general of the Iran-Iraq war was stabbed through the heart. These killings and many others were all recorded on video. Such meticulous documentation was discovered by the Kurds when they captured security police stations in northern Iraq last year.

'When we get to Baghdad, there will be evidence for everything,' Mr Jabouri said.

'Right now, my old colleagues may be cursing me in front of Saddam. But they all wish they were in my place.'

(Map omitted)