Deadly divorce for Iraq traitors
Baghdad's unhappy family: Returning defectors find their trust in Saddam is horribly misplaced
Patrick Cockburn is an Irish journalist who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 for the Financial Times and, presently, The Independent. He was awarded Foreign Commentator of the Year at the 2013 Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards.
Saturday 24 February 1996
Immediately before the apparently bloody death of Saddam Hussein's sons- in-law three days after returning from Jordan to the all-too-welcoming arms of the President, the official Iraqi news agency announced President Saddam's two daughters had divorced their husbands.
During their six months in Jordan Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamel al- Majid, husband of Raghad, and Lieutenant-Colonel Saddam Kamel Hassan al- Majid, husband of Rana, had denounced their father-in-law and his regime.
"[Raghad and Rana] are refusing to stay married to men who betrayed the homeland, the trust and the lofty values of their noble families and kinsfolk,'' the Iraqi news agency said.
In returning to Iraq with his brother, Saddam Kamel, Hussein Kamel must have thought he would be protected by family solidarity. He was the most important member of President Saddam's inner circle ever to flee the country. This hope proved somewhat optimistic.
The official Iraqi account of the divorce petition, which was immediately granted on Thursday, says that Raghad and Rana were duped into defecting with their husbands. "Saddam's daughters asked for an immediate meeting with King Hussein to inform him of this fact face to face and to ask him to facilitate their return to their country, people and family because they had been deceived and misled by the two failed traitors," the news agency said.
The simultaneous divorces were presumably ordered by the Iraqi leader. The flight of his sons-in-law with his daughters to Jordan last August was the most serious blow ever to Iraq's ruling family. Hussein Kamel also revealed to Iraq's enemies damaging information about its secret nuclear, chemical and poison gas programmes. Ominously for the former sons-in-law, the first news of the divorce came on a television station in Baghdad controlled by Uday Hussein, President Saddam's son and a known enemy of Hussein Kamel. It was after a shooting at a party during which Uday, known for his extreme violence, shot his uncle Watban, a former interior minister, in the leg, that Hussein Kamel and his brother fled.
Neither of the defectors was happy in exile. They told their secrets to Western intelligence without getting anything in return. The Iraqi opposition considered they were too close to the regime. King Hussein of Jordan gave them a palace to live in, but their movements and contacts were closely supervised. No other country would receive them. They and their wives lived in lonely isolation.
Hussein Kamel was not an appealing figure. Once head of Iraqi arms production and procurement, he owed his rise to the fact he was a distant cousin of Saddam Hussein and became his son-in-law. He was in charge of the crushing of the Shia Muslim uprising in the cities of Kerbala and Najaf in 1991, in which thousands of people were slaughtered. Saddam Kamel, once deputy head of security in the Iraqi leader's palace, started his career by playing Saddam Hussein, whom he physically resembles, in historical movies.
Did Raghad and Rana betray their husbands? Were the divorces planned before they returned across Iraq's western desert last Tuesday? The terms of the return are believed by Iraqi sources to have been arranged by Iyada al-Sideed, a former governor of President Saddam's home town of Tikrit, who visited Hussein Kamel in Amman two weeks ago. He returned from Baghdad last week-end and persuaded the brothers that it was safe to go home.
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