Media flays the `thieving Judas'

Iraqi newspapers ended their silence over last week's defections of two of Saddam Hussein's daughters and their high-ranking military-officer husbands at the weekend, focusing on Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamel Hassan al-Majid.

In Amman on Saturday, General Hussein Kamel, who led the defectors into Jordan, said he had initiated contacts to topple the Baghdad regime and urged military men and officials to ``be prepared for the coming change'' in Iraq.

Saudi and Syrian publications saw the flight of the Iraqi leader's relatives, along with a group of army officers, as the beginning of the end of the Saddam dictatorship.

General Hussein Kamel, the former industry minister and architect of President Saddam's advanced-weapons programmes, was denounced in Iraq's state newspapers as a traitor. They also published the text of the Iraqi leader's speech on Friday, in which he compared his son-in-law's "treason" to that of Judas, and accused him of stealing millions of dollars through bogus companies.

"The coward Hussein Kamel ... has descended to the bottom of treachery," said al-Qadissiya. Al-Jumhouriya, however, was glad to see him go. His presence in Iraq would have "formed a dangerous mine which could have gone off at an inappropriate time''. Shebab television, owned by President Saddam's son Uday, broadcast interviews with viewers, many of whom said General Hussein Kamel deserved to die.

While Syria and Saudi Arabia saw the defections as a sign that President Saddam's grip was weakening, both expect more suffering for the Iraqi people before the regime collapses as a desperate dictator struggles to hold on to power. "What happened in Iraq is a fire in the regime's bedroom,'' said Ameed Khouli, head of the official Syrian newspaper, al-Thawra. ``It is a prelude to total collapse."

The Saudi al-Madina newspaper said: "The Iraqi regime, which has depended on a one-man show, is now living the last agonising moments of death.'' The flight of the Iraqis, it said, "reveals wide and serious gaps in the police state created by the tyrant."