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Tapes reveal why Iraqi traitor went back to die

Robert Fisk hears the last testament of the man who betrayed Saddam
Amman - The voice on the tape is that of General Hussein Kamel, the doomed son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, just four days before his execution. "I have written a letter to His Excellency Mr President Saddam, asking him to allow me to go back home," he says. "I am waiting for his reply and on the first day of the Eid [al-Fitr feast] I am expecting a positive reply."

He is excited, expectant, constantly expressing his admiration for Iraq and its President, at times bursting into laughter. It is just 12 hours before the Middle East's most notorious defector will depart for the Iraqi border with his brother and their wives, and he promises a final interview to the Jordanian journalist taping the call - an appointment he will never keep.

Shaker Jawhary is the keeper of the last public testament of the Iraqi war criminal who massacred the Shias of Najaf and Kerbala and masterminded Iraq's arms bazaar, the man who drove so recklessly to Amman last August to demand President Saddam's overthrow and who then called so vainly for the Iraqi opposition to unite under his leadership.

It was by chance that the Jordanian journalist came to record Hussein Kamel's emotional, almost schizoid voice over the telephone in a series of conversations prompted by the Iraqi's fear that a newspaper article would damage his chances of receiving Saddam's forgiveness. "I feel sympathy for Mr President Saddam," he says at one point in an earlier phone call. "He was my uncle before he was my father-in-law. We are one family."

The world now knows how hopeless was Hussein Kamel's trust. No sooner had he and his brother crossed the border on Tuesday last week than the Iraqis announced that the wives of both men had divorced their husbands; on Friday, Iraqi radio reported that both had been murdered at their Baghdad home along with their father and another brother, supposedly by tribal relatives. But no hint of the general's likely fate can be heard on Mr Jawhary's tapes, only the fear and anger - expressed often on 18 February, three days before his departure - that words attributed to him in the latest issue of the Jordanian newspaper Al-Bilad might spoil his chances of a return to Baghdad.

"I was missing Baghdad even before I left it," he says miserably. ". . . I would walk there on my head if my legs wouldn't carry me."

It was Al-Bilad's publisher, Nayef al-Tawra, who first asked Shaker Jawhary, author of two political histories of Iraq, to mediate with Hussein Kamel after the defector had called him to condemn the interview which the paper had just carried, screaming at Mr Tawra and making the threat - also taped - that "by God, if I come to your place, I will cut you into a thousand pieces". Mr Jawhary telephoned Saddam's son-in-law at his heavily-guarded villa near Amman airport.

"He was worried and said the paper had fabricated the interview with him," Mr Jawhary said yesterday. "He said . . . he had been quoted as saying that Saddam was suffering from 'a tumour in the neck'. I concluded from his words that the main reason for his concern was the possibility that this would destroy any hope of further contact between him and the Iraqi President."

Mr Jawhary concluded the interview had been assembled from earlier conversations between the general and two Jordanian journalists along with remarks that the defector had made much earlier. Al-Bilad agreed to publish a retraction and Hussein Kamel said he would meet the publisher and apologise for his threat. But the conversations between Jawhary and the Iraqi were to continue through the weekend, providing a chilling portrait of the ruthless Baath party commander.

"The main feature in his personality was this extraordinary mixture of emotion and intelligence," Mr Jawhary says. "His emotions had a very bad effect on his cleverness and he was, in this way, a symbol of the Iraqi character. He said to me on the Saturday that he had not stopped thinking about his life in Baghdad from six that morning until the evening.

"He was trying to correct his relations with President Saddam. I told him . . . his defection had a very serious result because the Iraqi people were very sympathetic to Saddam. His answer surprised me because it was a complete change from what he used to say."

In his taped reply, Hussein Kamel says: "I feel sympathy for Mr President Saddam. I understand why the Iraqi people feel this way. It doesn't worry me a bit. He was my uncle before he was my father-in-law. We are one family."

But the general seemed even more anxious to condemn suggestions that Iraq might be confederated with Jordan under a plan allegedly supported by King Hussein. "He made very negative comments about Jordan," Mr Jawhary said. "He said Iraq doesn't interfere with the domestic affairs of Jordan and he would not allow Jordan to interfere in Iraq's domestic affairs. If Americans or 'any other forces' - I suppose he meant Jordanian - entered Iraq, he said they would 'face death and destruction'.

"I asked him if he had personally made any calls to the Iraqi government or to President Saddam. General Kamel replied: 'My contacts are with Baghdad and they did not stop, even from the first day I entered Jordan. I asked him again if these contacts were with the government or with Saddam and he repeated: 'With Baghdad.' He was laughing."

On Monday evening Mr Jawhary was listening to Israeli radio news when he heard that Hussein Kamel had agreed to return to Iraq. "I went home immediately and called him at 10pm. I asked: 'Is this true or not?' He said: 'It's not true - it's a pure fabrication.' I asked: 'So what is the truth?' He told me he had sent a letter to President Saddam and expected what he called a 'positive reply'. I asked him when he thought he would go back and he said 'About three or four days after the Eid feast'[which began on the Tuesday]. He said: 'Call me on the first or second day and I'll send a car to pick you up'.

"So on the first day of the Eid, I was surprised by the news that he had left Jordan. But he was kept in his palace like a man under house arrest. He could not go outside. No one would talk to him any more. Jordan had lost interest in him. His family wanted to return. It all put him under great pressure."