Saddam's prodigals risk road back to Baghdad

Iraq's most famous defector, Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamel al-Majid, made a mistake immediately after he fled to Jordan last August. As the man who had been in charge of Iraq's arms procurement programme, and the son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, he had unique knowledge of the plans of the Iraqi leadership. He could have bartered their secrets for a comfortable exile.

Instead, he told everything he knew about Iraq's nuclear and chemical weapons in the first days after he reached Amman. Once the US and its allies had questioned him, they had no reason to let him leave Jordan. The general was forced to remain, with his brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Saddam Kamel, and their wives, Raghda and Rana - the daughters of Saddam Hussein - in a palace belonging to King Hussein.

It became obvious within days of the exiles' arrival that they were not their own masters. General Hussein Kamel was in effect controlled by Jordanian security, which prevented him giving interviews. He was rejected by the Iraqi opposition as being part of President Saddam's regime, and the man who had been in overall charge of the bloody repression of the uprising in Kerbala and Najaf, two Shia Muslim cities, in 1991.

The general could have played his hand better. "The problem," said one Iraqi with first-hand knowledge of his recent behaviour, is that "he is a complete jerk". He owed his authority to his relationship with Saddam Hussein; Iraqi propaganda in the 1980s had portrayed him as the founder of the elite Republican Guards, but he was deeply unpopular in the officer corps. And his personal incapacity became more obvious the longer he stayed in Amman. He had hoped to be received in Syria and Saudi Arabia, but both visits were cancelled. It also became clear that King Hussein was keeping his distance.

But what kind of future will General Hussein Kamel face in Iraq? Iraqi officials say he is covered by an amnesty issued last year. The general and his brother fled in August because of threats from Uday, Saddam Hussein's elder son, who shot his uncle Watban in the leg at a drunken party in Baghdad; the regime has said that Uday's power would be curtailed.

General Hussein Kamel is, therefore, probably in no immediate danger, although he was denounced by the Iraqi media immediately after his defection, when a semi-literate note he had sent to Saddam Hussein, obsequious even by Iraqi standards, was published in the Iraqi press.

In fact, the return of Saddam's daughters and their husbands will be a propaganda coup for the regime. When General Hussein Kamel fled, covert parties were held in Baghdad, the revellers hoping that the family around Saddam Hussein was beginning to fragment. Their hopes were in vain.

It could all have been so different. If the general and his brother had refused to reveal their secrets until they were in London or Washington, it would have been difficult to turn them down. Instead, they gave away their only card. They became pariahs in Amman whom nobody - Jordanians, Americans or Iraqi opposition - wanted to know. The road to Baghdad began, once again, to look attractive.

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