Saddam is hiding near Baghdad, says exiled spy chief

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The Independent Online

Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, are hiding in an area of farmland and small villages on the Tigris river between Baghdad and the city of Samarra, says a former senior Iraqi intelligence officer.

General Wafiq al-Samarrai, head of Iraqi military intelligence before he went into exile, is assisting American forces in the hunt for Saddam. He said the deposed leader had been able to escape capture because the area was heavily populated and had thick vegetation.

"He is hiding in an area about 60km [37 miles] long and about 20km wide according to my information," General Samarrai told The Independent in an interview at his house in Samarra. He said that Ali Hassan al-Majid, a senior member of Saddam's inner circle notorious for using poison gas against Kurds, was also there but moving separately from the former Iraqi ruler.

America is giving top priority to its search for Saddam, for whom it has offered a reward of $25m (£15m), believing the failure to capture or kill him is encouraging guerrilla attacks.

General Samarrai has always been well informed on the actions of Saddam and his senior lieutenants. In charge of Iraqi military intelligence on Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, he was also head of military intelligence in the 1991 Gulf War. He fled to the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq in late 1994.

Other Iraqi opposition leaders have said they believe that Saddam, who disappeared after the fall of Baghdad on 9 April, is hiding a little further to the east near the town of Baqubah..

The general said Saddam had not chosen to hide near Awja, his home village, or the nearby city of Tikrit, because it was not so heavily populated and was more barren, making concealment more difficult.

General Samarrai's pursuit of the former Iraqi leader has already led to retaliation. Late at night 10 days ago, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired into the side of his house, making a small crater in the cement above a window. "I had information that somebody might try to kill me 48 hours before it happened," he said.

Ali Hassan al-Majid and Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, another long-time close aide of Saddam Hussein, were both reported to have been in Samarra seeking false identity papers just after the end of the war.

The general does not believe that the death or capture of Saddam will end guerrilla attacks against US forces. He said: "Saddam plays a very small role in this. Most of the attacks are by Islamic groups, former military men who are no longer being paid and members of the Baath party."

A second tape purporting to be from the deposed dictator was left outside the office of Al-Hayat-LBC television yesterday. The first was broadcast by the al-Jazeera Arabic-language network on 4 July. "The return to underground operations that we started from the beginning is the best way for Iraqis to achieve independence," the voice on the tape said, adding that he was speaking "from inside glorious Iraq".