SADDAM Hussein has been in
secret negotiations with US forces in Iraq for the past nine
days, we can reveal.
The Iraqi dictator is demanding
safe passage to the former Soviet republic of Belarus. In
exchange, he has vowed to provide information on weapons of
mass destruction and disclose bank accounts where he
siphoned off tens of millions of dollars in plundered cash.
President Bush is being kept
abreast of the extraordinary talks by his National Security
advisor Condoleezza Rice. She is co-ordinating negotiations
in Baghdad which are led by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the
commander of American forces in Iraq.
The United States has vowed
never to negotiate with Saddam and want to take him dead or
alive, but the White House hopes the clandestine talks will
allow them to pinpoint the tyrant's exact location.
representative walked into the US HQ at Tikrit - the
dictator's home town - on September 12 and asked to talk to
He then led a group of US troops
to a nearby suburb where one of Saddam's loyal security
chiefs was waiting. The US officers were handed a
hand-written note, purportedly from Saddam himself.
The security boss had a
British-made Racal military radio set which he claimed gave
him direct contact with people in the same room as the
dictator. The radio is notoriously difficult to monitor.
He was immediately taken into
custody, but the US has continued to exchange messages with
Saddam using the radio and other means.
A senior Iraqi told The Sunday
Mirror last night: "A representative of Saddam dressed in
Western-style civilian clothes came to coalition people at
Tikrit at sunset on September 12. He led them to a house
where the security official was waiting.
"The discussions are now going
on under the direct authority of General Sanchez. Naturally
all the major decisions are being made at the level of the
National Security Council, under Condoleezza Rice."
He maintained that Saddam had
decided to seek a deal "because he is desperate, trapped and
finding fewer and fewer people willing to give him shelter."
He added: "He resorts to
arriving with a posse of armed men, and forcing them to give
him hospitality. When he leaves the frightened 'hosts' are
told they'll be killed if they say a word."
It is believed the US
authorities will simply string Saddam along, aiming to track
the go-betweens until they know exactly where to find the
"There's no doubt the net is
closing, and that his supporters' efforts to get the
Americans to pull out of Iraq are not succeeding," said the
"They can cause disruption and
problems, but this does not bring Saddam any nearer to
coming back to power, and he now knows it. The negotiators
will try to keep the line of communication open as long as
possible, but the word from Washington is: 'No deal'."
Saddam left strong hints that he
was willing to talk in his last audio tape on Wednesday. It
had a strongly defiant tone, but contained two significant
indications that he was keen for a deal:
-SADDAM addressed the US
president directly and gave him a possible get-out for a
negotiated surrender. "There might be some who lied to you,
but you believed those lies," he said, hinting that
coalition intelligence was badly wrong.
-HE added: "If you want to
discuss the withdrawal arrangements, some of the officials
in the leadership arrested by your army ... you can contact
them and hold a suitable dialogue."
Although Saddam was still
proposing an unconditional American withdrawal from Iraq,
coalition chiefs took his latest statement as a willingness
Since the fall of Baghdad in
April the dictator has remained on the run.
Saddam-hunters say he moves
disguised as a peasant or labourer in a long white dishdasha
(gown), especially in remote countryside.
Fearing he will be spotted and
betrayed, he seldom stays in one place for more than two
hours. He is often sheltered by tribal leaders whom he
appointed to replace the real leaders during his reign of
"They owe their very existence
and their status and money to him, so they feel a strong
obligation," said one hunter.
"But the feeling of obligation
gets less and less as time passes and the pressure mounts."
He is also believed to have made
brief visits to Baghdad in brazen defiance of the occupying
One senior Iraqi told me: "He
had set up over 1,000 hiding places before the fall, and I
guess he goes from one to the other these days. When he was
in power, even cabinet ministers wouldn't know where
meetings were to be held.
"They were taken to a small bus,
or if they were very senior the security sent a car. He's
been a master of survival."
Saddam hunters have issued
several photofit images of how he might look.
He has apparently run out of
black hair-dye and will almost certainly have white hair.
"He's moving every two hours and
he's not staying set," said Colonel Don Campbell, chief of
staff of the 4th Infantry Division. "He has to."
Saddam has demanded to go to
Belarus, the former Soviet republic which still has a
president and leadership descended from the old guard
Communist Party era.
Before the war the Americans
told Saddam he could leave the country, but he spurned the
Since then President Bush has
rejected any idea of making a deal with the ousted leader
and has put a $25million dead-or-alive bounty on his head.