Iraqi defectors return to Saddam

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Amman (AP) - The most senior Iraqi official ever to defect returned home yesterday, ending a six-month exile in which he had vowed to topple Saddam Hussein, his father-in-law.

Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamel al-Majid and his brother, Colonel Saddam Kamel, crossed the desert highway into Iraq with their wives - both daughters of the Iraqi leader. The entourage arrived in Baghdad late yesterday, Iraq's state-run television reported. It said President Saddam had agreed to allow General al-Majid to return after the defector pleaded for a pardon on Saturday. The Iraqi report said the Revolutionary Command Council, headed by President Saddam, approved the return and would "deal with him as an ordinary citizen".

During his time in Jordan, General al-Majid, once Saddam's right-hand man and head of Iraq's clandestine weapons programmes, was shunned by the Iraqi dissidents he had hoped to lead and ignored by Arab and Western governments. Jordanian officials said most of the 30 people who defected with the general returned to Iraq with him.

They included his wife Raghad, eldest of Saddam's three daughters; and Colonel Kamel's wife Rana, Saddam's middle daughter.

The defection in August reportedly resulted from a feud between General al-Majid and President Saddam's eldest son, Oday. At the time, the spectacle of discord within Saddam's inner circle was considered a serious blow to the Iraqi leader.

The defection did not threaten Saddam's rule. But General al-Majid's knowledge of the regime's inner workings forced Baghdad to give UN weapons inspectors data on Iraq's military programmes that had been hidden since the Gulf war.