Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has obtained safe haven in Belarus, several intelligence agencies believe.
Western intelligence sources said several intelligence agencies in the Middle East and Europe base this assessment on new information about a March 29 flight from Baghdad to Minsk. They said the flight of a chartered cargo plane could have transported Saddam, his sons and much of his family to Belarus.
“There’s no proof that Saddam was on the plane but we have proof that a plane left on that day from Baghdad airport and arrived in Minsk,” a senior intelligence source said. “If you can think of anybody else who could obtain permission to fly out of Baghdad in the middle of a war, then please tell me.”
U.S. officials and Iraqi opposition sources said Saddam and his sons appear to have escaped two assassination attempts during the war. But they did not confirm the registration of a cargo flight from Baghdad to Minsk on March 29, Middle East Newsline reported.
The sources said the cargo aircraft took off from an unspecified Baghdad-area airport and entered Iranian air space on the flight toward Minsk. They said Iran did not attempt to interfere with the Iraqi flight.
About two weeks later, a registration of the cargo flight was found by the U.S. military in wake of the capture of the airport and the rest of the Baghdad area. Baghdad International Airport was captured on April 4.
U.S. officials said Saddam had been exploring the prospect of fleeing to Belarus over the last year. They said the Iraqi ruler was in close contact with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and that Minsk became a major military supplier to Baghdad.
Within hours after the departure of the cargo flight to Minsk on March 29, the Saddam regime was awash with rumors that the president had escaped. Intelligence sources said the rumors spread rapidly throughout the military command and among field officers.
“There was a significant decline in Iraqi combat strength starting from around March 31,” an intelligence source said. “In interviews with coalition interrogators, Iraqi commanders have attributed the decline in combat to the feeling that Saddam had fled.”
In Washington, Sen. Bob Graham, former chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said on Thursday that a senior Saddam aide had been captured in Syria over the previous 24 hours. Graham did not identify the aide, but said he held one of the most sensitive positions in the regime.
The aide was believed to be Izzat Eddin Ibrahim Al Douri, vice chairman of the Revolutionary Council and the man who spent the longest amount of time with Saddam in power.
On Wednesday, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said Saddam was believed to be alive and hiding somewhere in Iraq. “In the end we don’t know, but it is still our best judgment that he is [in Iraq],” Hoon said.
“As each day goes by, as we continue to search those places he may be hiding, we have to keep an open mind, but it is still my best judgment.”
On Thursday, U.S. officials reported that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, regarded as the Western face of the Saddam regime, surrendered to U.S. military authorities. They said Aziz, who last month had vowed to die rather than be detained, held negotiations with the United States on the terms of his surrender.
Whilst the above article is interesting and informative it omits to make one critical conclusion. Coalition forces had complete mastery over Iraqi airspace: that being the case they must have allowed Hussein’s flight out of Iraq. See: Iran Media Leaks Secret Deal Behind Demise of Baghdad