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We got him: Kurds say they caught Saddam

Sydney Morning Herald

Washington's claims that brilliant US intelligence work led to the capture of Saddam Hussein are being challenged by reports sourced in Iraq's Kurdish media claiming that its militia set the circumstances in which the US merely had to go to a farm identified by the Kurds to bag the fugitive former president.

The first media account of the December 13 arrest was aired by a Tehran-based news agency.

American forces took Saddam into custody around 8.30pm local time, but sat on the news until 3pm the next day.

However, in the early hours of Sunday, a Kurdish language wire service reported explicitly: "Saddam Hussein was captured by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. A special intelligence unit led by Qusrat Rasul Ali, a high-ranking member of the PUK, found Saddam Hussein in the city of Tikrit, his birthplace.

"Qusrat's team was accompanied by a group of US soldiers. Further details of the capture will emerge during the day; but the global Kurdish party is about to begin!"

The head of the PUK, Jalal Talabani, was in the Iranian capital en route to Europe.

The Western media in Baghdad were electrified by the Iranian agency's revelation, but as reports of the arrest built, they relied almost exclusively on accounts from US military and intelligence organisations, starting with the words of the US-appointed administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer: "Ladies and gentlemen: we got 'im".

US officials said that they had extracted the vital piece of information on Saddam's whereabouts from one of the 20 suspects around 5.30pm on December 13 and had immediately assembled a 600-strong force to surround the farm on which he was captured at al-Dwar, south of Tikrit.

Little attention was paid to a line in Pentagon briefings that some of the Kurdish militia might have been in on what was described as a "joint operation"; or to a statement by Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraq National Congress, which said that Qusrat and his PUK forces had provided vital information and more.

A Scottish newspaper, the Sunday Herald, quoted from an interview aired on the PUK's al-Hurriyah radio station last Wednesday, in which Adil Murad, a member of the PUK's political bureau,

said that the day before Saddam's capture he was tipped off by a PUK general - Thamir al-Sultan - that Saddam would be arrested within the next 72 hours.

An unnamed Western intelligence source in the Middle East was quoted in the British Sunday Express yesterday: "Saddam was not captured as a result of any American or British intelligence. We knew that someone would eventually take their revenge, it was just a matter of time."

There has been no American response to the Kurdish claims.

An intriguing question is why Kurdish forces were allowed to join what the US desperately needed to present as an American intelligence success - unless the Kurds had something vital to contribute to the operation so far south of their usual area of activity.

A report from the PUK's northern stronghold, Suliymaniah, early last week claimed a vital intelligence breakthrough after a telephone conversation between Qusrat and Saddam's second wife, Samirah.
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