Diplomatic relation who is playing a waiting game: Michael Sheridan in Geneva looks at the growing influence of Saddam's brother

FROM his well-appointed office at No 28A Chemin du Petit- Saconnex to his mansion hidden by trees across Lake Geneva, His Excellency Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, half-brother to Saddam Hussein and Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, pursues a routine of compelling interest to students of his country's politics.

There is evidence that he is involved in quiet but influential diplomacy towards the Arab states, managing Iraqi finances to elude UN sanctions and reinforcing his own exiled position among the al- Tikritis, Iraq's ruling family.

Is he a mere steward of his half-brother's private wealth, a loyal figure of second rank in the al-Tikriti clan, or a manipulator of the clandestine fortunes of the Iraqi state? Or is this the strategy of a leader-in-waiting who disapproved of the decision to invade Kuwait and is waiting for his moment in the sun?

Mr Tikriti seems to be playing a long and careful game. It is clear, for example, that he remains a conduit for Iraqi diplomatic contacts with other Arab powers. Diplomats also report recent private meetings with officials of the French Foreign Ministry. He receives and entertains a succession of Middle Eastern businessmen in the finest restaurants along the Geneva waterfront. Occasionally he puts in an appearance at the UN.

Not long ago, Mr Tikriti attended a cocktail party to celebrate Oman's national day, something of a treat for total abstainers but rather a trial for one who shares the Iraqi bourgeois predilection for blended whisky. As he circulated amid proffered plates of fresh Omani dates and glasses of chilled fruit juice, the ambassador exchanged pleasantries with envoys of half a dozen Arab countries who might be con- sidered his nation's foes.

Oman itself, a sultanate under the intimate influence of the British Foreign Office, is a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council, whose members profess to regard Iraq and its ruling tribe with loathing. It is the same cordial story, apparently, at the monthly meetings of ambassadors of the Arab League.

Before the invasion, Mr Tikriti and his wife, Ahlam, were on friendly social terms with the then Kuwaiti ambassador, Salem Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah. He is said to have regarded the invasion of the emirate as folly. He has since penned a curious article in the government newspaper al-Jumhuriyah, calling for unity by consent between Iraq and Kuwait - an argument which differed in tone from the Saddam line that the emirate was Iraq's '19th province'.

Mr Tikriti was born in the 1940s to Saddam's mother, Sabha Tulfah, and her second husband, Saddam's step-father Ibrahim Hassan. He rose to become head of the intelligence services - a career drenched in blood, according to the Iraqi opposition. He left Iraq in 1983 after a squabble with Saddam Hussein, and was not accredited as ambassador to the UN until 1989.

Kroll Associates, a private investigations firm employed by the Kuwaiti government, believes that Mr Tikriti is the mastermind of Iraqi investment in equities, bonds and cash. Other analysts suggest that his role is limited by his public profile, and that a network of small companies and businessmen meets many of Baghdad's needs.

(Photograph omitted)