The BBC aired a story on March 28, an "expose"
revealing the identity of Saddam Hussein's betrayer,
with the piece being picked up by the majority of major
English-language dailies soon after. The identity of the
so-called "Fat Man" was revealed. But while the network
named Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit as the tipster,
the news of this had already broken by January. And what
the BBC didn't mention was that a chain of events,
beginning last July, signaled the start of the
Notably, a new chairman of
the BBC was named just subsequent to the broadcast's
airing, the network having been previously besieged by
the Hutton inquiry for the nature of its Iraq, pre-war
coverage. An anti-Tony Blair administration bias was
effectively suggested, and questionable reporting was
"found". But with the March 28 broadcast, it appears
that the BBC has indeed taken the inquiry's conclusions
to heart, providing a story-line that war hawks should
According to a BBC report prior to the
Saddam broadcast, their forthcoming program was slated
to "reveal that he [Mohammed al-Muslit] was quickly
broken by interrogators after being captured in Baghdad,
and led American troops to his boss [Saddam] just hours
after being arrested in December". But others tell a
different story, and in December and January, Kurdish
sources were confirmed as playing a key role in
It is against this background
of controversy that the BBC supported the US's disputed
arrest portrayal. But only the name of al-Muslit
provides substantive links among the differing versions
of events, and both the nature and timing of the story
raise questions in themselves.
The day of
Saddam's capture, December 14, Kurdish Media reported
that a "special intelligence unit led by Mr Kosrat
Rassul" had found Saddam. It was Jalal Talabani, leader
of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who first
broke news of the capture, not coalition spokespeople.
The Iranian news service IRNA is acknowledged as
first reporting further on the event, with Talabani
being interviewed by them in a town on the Iraq/Iran
border. Talabani and Iran have good relations and a
history of cooperation.
On December 15, The
Guardian reported that a member of Iraq's Governing
Council, Dr Mahmoud Othman, supported the Kurdish
claims, contradicting US accounts. And there were other
independent observers which did similarly.
September 11 hearings in Washington, the Madrid blasts,
the Iraqi setbacks, and the conveniently concurrent
explosion of interest in Africa's oil and al-Qaeda, have
all served to certainly put the "terror war" on trial.
It is indeed fortunate for the war's supporters that the
BBC chose to provide a testimonial to it at this time;
though, a focus on the name of al-Muslit does have its
Facts do confirm that central to
Saddam's life and capture were his trusted relatives and
lieutenants of the al-Muslit family. They served as his
bodyguards, drivers, cooks and confidants. But while
numerous questions surround just how Saddam actually
came into US custody, some particularly illuminating
facts are known. Key among them is a July 29 capture by
the US 4th Army, that of Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Muslit,
widely reported as "one of Saddam Hussein's closest
bodyguards and collaborators".
The beginning of
Saddam's end had begun.
Just days prior to Adnan
al-Muslit's apprehension, a respected German daily, the
Suddeutsche Zeitung (SD), had reported that US forces
believed Saddam was travelling with a group of three
men. Khalil Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit was named as Saddam's
driver, his two brothers said to be the other's
accompanying the dictator.
All of the al-Muslits
were described as being Saddam's "closest bodyguards", a
phrase the BBC itself used to describe Mohammed Ibrahim
Omar al-Muslit. But as a family shielding the dictator,
events fatefully and increasingly impacted the group.
The next link in the chain of events came but
days later, arriving with the August 3 arrest of another
of the al-Muslit clan.
According to an August 7
Associated Press (AP) story in the Washington Times,
Iraqi police made the arrest, handing their prisoner
over to US forces. A US 4th Army spokesman,
Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Russell, said that the person
in custody could not be identified beyond being Adnan
The AP report added that
the newly captured al-Muslit was wanted for "organizing
guerilla attacks against American soldiers". But
concurrently, a broad dragnet for all of those
potentially close to Saddam was widely reported as
leading to substantive arrests, both of suspects and
their family members.
Reports of the extensive
interrogations surfaced in both the US and world media.
Amnesty International raised questions regarding alleged
US torture of detainees, with Reuters reporting
circumstances that "would amount to torture as defined
by UN standards", according to Amnesty US's deputy
executive director. CBS News headlined, "US Accused of
Torture in Iraq".
Notably, the BBC report in
question specifically cited a US denial that Mohammed
al-Muslit "had been tortured", but numerous accounts of
"pressures" on suspects and their families remain.
Moreover, it is known that Adnan al-Muslit suffered a
head wound during the course of his arrest, and US
officials have acknowledged the withholding of medical
care as a mechanism which has been employed among some
of those detained in the "war on terror".
"pressures" on the al-Muslit family were substantive.
And so when on December 18 the newspaper al-Arab
al-Yawm reported that Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit
had drugged the former dictator, subsequently providing
details to US forces for Saddam's capture, few realized
the potential significance. Apparently that included the
According to the al-Arab article, al-Muslit
initially contacted the US forces through a relative,
the drugging plan described as a US-inspired outgrowth
of this. While questions of which relative and at what
point remained, the al-Arab story cited as its source an
undisclosed figure "close to the occupation forces".
There was still substantively more to Saddam's
capture than al-Arab provided.
exists that in the maelstrom following Iraq's fall, a
point came where Mohammed al-Muslit attempted to
negotiate an exit strategy. The Kurds had established
links to some of the families in Tikrit, the area of
Saddam's capture, and it's believed that the Kurds came
to initially act as negotiators for the US. It's also
believed that at some point they bypassed the
al-Muslits, seizing possession of Saddam as a prize of
According to widely published
reports, once the Kurds had Saddam, they subsequently
negotiated his "capture" with Washington, pursuing
political advantage as their reward. And while the
Kurdish role in capturing Saddam was the subject of
numerous articles within a week of his US detention, a
fairly broad range of scenarios was reported, almost as
if the truth were still being obscured.
Intelligence community sources describe the
point at which Mohammed al-Muslit drugged and confined
Saddam as following a mid-November broadcast by the
dictator. If it were not for this broadcast and the
timing of Kurdish involvement, the sources suggest that
the drugging and confinement could potentially be placed
Notably, a photo exists of
US troops in front of Saddam's "rathole" with ripe dates
and drying sausage in the background, both ordinarily
existing only in late summer. This photo has been the
source of considerable conjecture, and is likely to
On December 15, a Washington state
Democratic congressman, Jim McDermott, told a Seattle
radio interviewer: "There's too much by happenstance for
it [Saddam's capture] to be just a coincidental thing."
When McDermott was queried as to whether he believed the
timing was planned to help President George W Bush, the
Congressman replied: "Yeah. Oh, yeah," reported AP.
The Bush administration has been found to have
extensively "stage managed" numerous "spontaneous"
events, with Jessica Lynch's rescue and the pulling down
of Saddam's statue being but two of the notable
McDermott also noted that the US had
"been in contact with people all along who knew
basically where he was". And only the week prior to
Saddam's capture, the Iraqi Governing Council had
coincidentally rushed to quickly enact legislation for a
war crimes court to try former regime members.
While AP reported that Congressman McDermott was
accused of "paranoid conspiracy theories" and "crazy
talk", it appears unfortunate that a combination of
misguided patriotism and shrewd politicking were all
that met his criticism. Numerous questions will continue
to surround the exact circumstances of Saddam's
surfacing; though evidence of a Kurdish role is strong.
In December, this journalist had received
information from an editor for Spain's El Mundo that one
of their correspondents had been surprised to sight a
substantive Kurdish group in Tikrit, doing so several
weeks prior to the capture. Other reports received
indicated no noticeable Kurdish presence in the area
prior to then. Later, printed media reports cited a PUK
intelligence unit of about 50 as instrumental in
A January 9 article by this
journalist, "The story behind Saddam's arrest", outlined
most of the prior facts, naming Mohammed Ibrahim Omar
al-Muslit as the Saddam tipster, doing so only about
four months prior to the BBC's report. The article was
published by Inter Press Service, a global news agency,
other versions of the piece were printed by several
European broadsheets, including Spain's El Mundo.
The "revelation" of a four month old fact
propelling a pro-Iraq war story, making BBC and global
headlines, appears both remarkable and extremely
fortunate for Bush and Blair.
At the time of
Saddam's arrest, others' luck had run out, especially
those included in the bloodletting accompanying the
dictator's downfall. Within 10 days of the reported
capture, news of reprisals began to break.
According to the December 23 Los Angeles Times,
while Mohammed al-Muslit had "vanished", his "brother
and the brother's wife and their four children were
slain in revenge". Further reports detailed revenge on
the family which owned the farm at which Saddam was
The farm was owned by Qais Namek, his
two brothers alleged to have run errands for Saddam, a
Straits Times report identifying the pair as Saddam's
cook and driver. Notably, according to Germany's SD,
those were reportedly the roles the al-Muslit brothers
were said to have previously had.
brothers had been arrested and released in the process
of Saddam's apprehension. Later, both brothers were
reported as found dead near the family's farmhouse, an
apparent reflection on the reasons they weren't held by
While just over a year ago, US Vice
President Dick Cheney said that "from the standpoint of
the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be
greeted as liberators", the events of recent weeks have
again served to highlight otherwise. But the US's
history in supporting Saddam may explain part of this.
According to an April 2003 article by United
Press International (UPI), Saddam was recruited by the
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1959. Citing former
CIA and US State Department figures, as well as US
officials and Middle East expert Adel Darwish, the
report, "Saddam key in early CIA plot", paints a
marriage of convenience between the US and a rising
young "thug - a cutthroat". The report also notes that
the CIA chose the "anti-communist Ba'ath Party as its
instrument", doing so in an effort to ensure Iraq's
political distance from the Soviet Union.
was but another element of the Cold War's legacy.
When the Ba'ath Party came to power in a 1963
coup, the UPI article reports the CIA as providing lists
of "suspected communists" who proceeded to be "summarily
gunned down". The Ba'athists coming to power, coupled
with the communist liquidations, provided what was then
viewed as a "great victory". The UPI report also
portrayed that while the US leaned more to Iraq during
the long and bloody Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, covert
efforts were made to help both "Iraq and Iran in an
attempt to produce a military stalemate".
Ritt Goldstein is an American
investigative political journalist based in Stockholm.
His work has appeared in broadsheets such as Australia's
Sydney Morning Herald, Spain's El Mundo and Denmark's
Politiken, as well as with the Inter Press Service
(IPS), a global news agency.
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