Wife's trip to Jordan adds new twist to Saddam family saga

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The Independent Online

The saga of the world's deadliest dysfunctional family took a new twist yesterday with reports that Saddam Hussein's first wife, Sajida Khayrallah Tulfah, was in Jordan to see her two daughters and sons-in-law, who defected from Iraq last week. Sajida is Saddam's cousin and the mother of five, including Saddam's powerful sons Uday and Qusay, who have come to the fore after reports of a power struggle in Saddam's ruling elite.

Rumours of her unexpected arrival in Jordan have been floating around the tiny desert kingdom for two days, but it was not clear why she supposedly went there in the first place.

Was Sajida in Jordan hoping to convince her loved ones to return to Iraq and the fold? Or was the purpose of her trip was a motherly mission of mercy to show solidarity?

It has been no secret for years that Sajida has been less than enchanted with Saddam since he took a second wife in the Eighties, and possibly a third more recently.

Saddam is also suspected of having engineered the 1989 helicopter crash which killed her brother, Adnan Kheirallah, a defence minister tipped to succeed Saddam. But perhaps the most important question of all was did Sajida really visit Jordan at all.

Some Jordanian officials in Amman said she had arrived on Tuesday, while others pooh-poohed the reports as unsubstantiated rumours. The Iraqi embassy denied her presence.

What is certain is that since the defection of Raghad and Rana, and their husbands, Major-General Hussein Kamel Hassan al-Majid and Lieutenant-Colonel Saddam Kamel Hassan al-Majid, big-wigs with vital information on the country's military and weapons programmes, the government has been trying to get them back. Their defections wefre a big blow to the Iraqi leader and a sure sign that Saddam was losing his grip on the family rivalries, which he used for years as a tool to keep himself in power and Iraq under his thumb.

Baghdad has been trying hard to lure Raghad and Rana back. Earlier this week, the Women's Association of Iraq, a government-controlled body, said the two women were drugged and tricked into leaving, and urged them to return.

A similar tactic was used by Saddam's son and heir apparent, Uday. He visited Amman last Thursday - the day Jordan granted the defectors sanctuary - to try to take his sisters back. Jordan's monarch, King Hussein, snubbed the request.

The King granted asylum to the two generals, their wives, their children and bodyguards after they defected last Tuesday.

Since their flight, the defectors have been staying at one of King's guest palaces near Amman under heavy army protection.