Best friend led assassins to Saddam's son

Ambush throws sinister light on bloody politics of Iraq's elite, writes Patrick Cockburn

The gunmen who badly wounded Uday, the son of Saddam Hussein, in an ambush last month had learned through Uday's best friend that he had organised a party in a wealthy suburb of Baghdad. As he drove to the house where the party was taking place, they riddled his white Mercedes with bullets.

The mechanics of the assassination attempt, the most serious in Iraq since Saddam Hussein took power, were spelled out in the Arab daily al-Hayat yesterday. It confirms, as exclusively revealed by The Independent on Thursday, that Ra'ad al-Hazaa, the nephew of a general who was executed by the Iraqi leader in 1990, provided the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Uday.

In a telephone interview, one of those involved in the plot said that Ra'ad al-Hazaa, a former officer in the palace guard, knew Uday's closest friend and drinking companion, Lu'ay Kharallah Tulfah.

Ra'ad learned through him that on 12 December Uday was intending to hold what he called "a girls' party" in Mansur, a wealthy district in Baghdad. A group called al-Nadha, formed by students in Baghdad in 1991, had four men on call who made up the ambush team. Uday had two cars, both white Mercedes, with him which were filled with bodyguards.

However, the guards were caught by surprise by the attack and were unable to respond. The would-be assassins escaped in a Toyota and a pick-up.

Al-Nadha claims that the party fled into Iraq's western desert where they took refuge with an Arab tribe. Ra'ad al-Hazaa joined them there. They then fled to Jordan and then on to the United Arab Emirates. From there they reached Europe.

The group flatly denies that the gunmen entered Iran, which would be the most obvious refuge for anybody fleeing from Baghdad.

This account of the flight is unconvincing, however, and it may be an attempt to shield the Iranians, from whom Iraq is demanding the return of the men who tried to kill Uday.

Although Iran had no prior knowledge of the assassination, it is embarrassed about giving sanctuary to attempted assassins. To travel west into Jordan through the desert is an arduous journey. It is also extremely difficult for Iraqis to get visas to travel to Europe.

The politics of Saddam Hussein's inner family have become increasingly bloodthirsty in recent years.

Ra'ad al-Hazaa was seeking revenge for his uncle who was executed in 1990 for criticising the regime. Lu'ay, the boon companion of Uday, also played a role in a ferocious family row in 1995, when he quarrelled with Watban, one of Uday's uncles, at a party in Baghdad. The row ended with Uday shooting his uncle in the leg.

Frightened that he would be Uday's next target, General Hussein Kamel, President Saddam's son-in-law, fled to Jordan. On his return to Baghdad in 1996 he was immediately murdered by Uday.

The ambush of Uday is significant because it is the first time that members of the inner circle of the regime have conspired with groups dedicated to its overthrow, to kill top leaders. This a dangerous development for President Saddam, who has successfully survived seven years of sanctions after being humiliatingly defeated in the Gulf War. The random violence of Uday has clearly opened up rifts within the country's political elite.

Cairo (AP) - The Iraqi government has arrested almost 600 people since the assassination attempt last month against Saddam Hussein's son, a leading Iraqi dissident said yesterday.

More than 20 high-ranking officers and officials were among those detained in the capital, Baghdad, and other cities in central Iraq, a traditional stronghold of President Saddam, said Wafiq al-Samarra'i, a former chief of Iraqi army intelligence who now lives in Damascus, Syria. But Mr Samarra'i discounted the impact of the arrests on the Iraqi opposition, much of which is based abroad.

"The people and the army do not want Saddam. The events prove it and more operations will take place," he said.

Since Uday Hussein was wounded on 12 December, Iraqi television has interviewed him on several occasions from his hospital bed, each time with his legs and much of his torso covered. Mr Samarra'i said in an interview that Uday may be paralysed, because the footage has never shown him moving his back or legs.

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