DEBKA-Net-Weekly Exclusive Interview – Contd.
January 21, 2003, 9:14 PM (GMT+02:00)
Conference hall at main Tikrit presidential palace
First part of interview appeared on January 20
Fired four months ago from Saddam Hussein’s inner bodyguard detail, Jassem Abdullah – not his real name, but one of several aliases – lives in Amman in fear of his life. He moves from place to place taking his secrets with him. As a member of the elite trusted group of five to six men sworn to defend the Iraqi ruler with their lives, he claims to know where Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are hidden – and points to three sites.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly located and interviewed Jassem through intermediaries in a suite we rented at one of Amman’s most luxurious hotels. He was pale and tense
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence experts who went over the transcript of the interview portrayed Jassem as a typical Middle East VIP bodyguard, essentially a simple man who, for the most part, told the truth. Content that our experts found to be inaccurate has been expunged. In brief, he claimed that Saddam had concealed his prohibited weapons in a tunnel complex under the main streets of Baghdad, the sand dunes in Ouja, near Tikrit – where they are stored in mobile bunkers that can be buried deeper by the flick of a remote control – and in the Hawala district of Tikrit.
In the first part of the interview, Jassem described two of Saddam’s main palaces and his incredibly elaborate personal security.
Did you ever have an opportunity to speak with him?
I spoke to him only once in three years. I had a personal interview with him that took three quarters of an hour. I asked for the meeting. He asked for my file. He examined it and saw that I was a good soldier – I’m sure of that. I shook his hand, and there was a space of about a meter between us. He asked me where I lived in Baghdad and about my family. I wanted my family to have a home, because they did not have an apartment. He signed a paper and within three days I received an apartment. He told me: “You are young – how did you achieve such a position?” I reminded him of our first encounter. He was a generous man. Everyone in the Special Guard received an apartment after a year’s service. But my family’s situation was pressing. I had an apartment, but the problem was my family. He also asked about my own apartment and what brought me to the Special Guard.
Did he joke?
He was always serious and punctual. When he told jokes, it was a sign that he was angry – and then it was best to keep your distance.
What jokes did he tell?
If he was watching television and someone approached him and said, “I saw you in Basra yesterday while you were swimming,” Saddam would reply: “How was I? Frightening? Were people scared of me?” He wanted to get a message across by telling the joke. He wanted to say through his jokes that he was a no-nonsense president and he liked people to think of him in that way.
Do you have the document that Saddam signed?
It’s in Baghdad. I can bring it in a week along with pictures that show how close I was to him. Those are pictures I got from him. I’ll give them to you. Because of my position, I could go anywhere in Iraq and no one would ask any questions. I used cars marked with his seal. I could get into any palace; few people could. I was very proud that my president treated me that way.
Why did you leave?
There was a rule that anyone who gave false information would be punished. People I knew were indeed punished. They were Mukhabarat. My whole family was in the security services. One relative was in military intelligence, but they took me to be interrogated and beat me severely nonetheless – although my whole family served in the security services. And I was put in jail. I was beaten with a metal club. They accused me of passing information and told me that because I signed a document, I had to be executed. They showed me the paper I signed. I told them I had not passed any information. Someone betrayed me. They were very violent.
Does Saddam have doubles?
I’ve never heard of it, nor have I met any. No one in Iraq resembles Saddam. He has his own special look. There are people who wear Saddam masks – those who make speeches about the Palestinian problem. That’s not normal. Do you really believe that Saddam would stand on his feet from eight in the morning until eight at night and fire shots in the air during a pro-Palestinian demonstration? It’s clear that’s not Saddam.
They took my house away from me. Forty-four days after my service ended, they threw me out of the house. I was left with nothing. A friend of mine advised me to leave the country. He told me there was nothing more for me here. “They will kill you,” he said. Friends provided me with a passport and a new name.
Saddam meant everything to me. I loved him and would have protected him at any cost. Now things have completely changed. I hate him. I want to kill him. I want to return to the palaces in Baghdad and Tikrit because I know all the entrances. I don’t care.
I am still confused. I am very ashamed. One night, between two and three in the morning, I heard something move. I am left-handed and I fired my Kalashnikov. It was a deer near one of Saddam’s bedrooms. Afterwards, they activated four camera systems in four palaces. Can you imagine? There is a four-way backup, with each palace backing up the next. They found the deer had not been killed, and they told me, “You failed. What if the deer had been an assassin? You must die.” All of the computer systems showed shots were fired in the first security layer, and I was in the inner one. They couldn’t understand it. But according to the cameras, they found the wounded deer in the first layer, and they didn’t trust me. It was as if I had left my post. As a result, they interrogated me again and searched my house. But it worked out in the end, and Saddam sent me an autographed rifle.
When did you come to Amman?
Three months ago.
Are you working?
I am strung out, in a panic. They can kill me, even here. I do not know what’s happening with my family. I cannot hold down a job; I have to be on the move constantly.
You said you want to help the Americans? Have you met with them?
That’s what was on my mind from the moment I arrived in Amman. But I am scared of their Mukhabarat. I know everything: where the weapons are; and I know where he’s brought the weapons he seized in Kuwait. I know where the depots are, in the north, south and center.
Where are the weapons of mass destruction?
In the desert. It is a vast expanse, and they have cameras…the minute someone approaches, such as UN personnel, they move to another place. Tikrit is closest to the site. Weapons are also located in Baghdad.
There’s a place called Ouja, near Tikrit. It’s a peninsula of sand dunes. I saw with my own eyes bunkers that move from place to place inside the dunes, underground. It is simply unbelievable. It is done by remote control.
Twenty-five people went there in 1994. We were told they were Americans, but the truth is we really didn’t know who they were. They were there for four years, until 1998. In early 1991, they worked there and build weapons of mass destruction. But I don’t know what’s exactly there now. No one saw them. They came by car, with maps. It was strange, because we thought sanctions were in place, but they came and built the complex. Immediately afterwards, they brought the bombs and weapons systems. They built a ceiling and put chemical and biological weapons inside. The Russians followed, and there were Chinese inside. The Russians tested the strength of the structure. They fired at it and set off explosions. But nothing happened to the Chinese inside. They did not die. I saw the Chinese leave the complex one by one and in one piece.
There’s another site in Baghdad; someone very close to Saddam told me. He was drunk at the time. I brought my father along – we were invited to a function – and he told me that there is nothing inside the palaces; they do not contain weapons of mass destruction. There is a more important place, he said – Baghdad, not the palaces. Saddam built an entire area under the city’s main streets, and that’s where the weapons are. If they show me satellite photos, I can tell them what their first and second priorities should be. I know there’s a third site, at Hawala, in Tikrit. I can steer them toward possible hiding places. They move from place to place. They should look in the Hawala area in Tikrit. If they show me pictures, I’ll show them where to go.
End of second part of interview. First part appeared on January 20