- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

LONDON, April 18 (UPI) — Now that we have gotten over the initial euphoria of trailing wobbling video cams through hot combat zones from Basra to Baghdad and beyond, it's time to ask some of the more pertinent questions.

For starters, where are Saddam Hussein and his fellow top-echelon Baathists hiding? After all, this is one of the reasons the coalition went into Iraq in the first place. We'll come to the other reason in a moment.

Isn't it strange, though, that the entire Baath hierarchy seems to have fallen into a big black hole? Vanished! And is it possible for them to have disappeared without a trace, as they did, without thinking, "conspiracy?"

If Saddam was killed, as was believed at one point, where is his body? This is downtown Baghdad, not some remote cave in the Tora Bora where the mountains crumbled down on Osama bin Laden's and his al-Qaida fighters.

Forget Saddam for a moment, what about the stable of doubles he is supposed to have kept? No one has yet been able to find any of them, either.

We are not just talking about four or five people who could have easily melted into the Iraqi hinterland, or the 55 who found their images printed on a deck of playing cards, but of some 2,000 or so well known party and army honchos.

Besides Saddam, there is Izat Ibrahim, the vice president of the Revolutionary Command Council, Tareq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, and Saddam's two equally brutal sons, Uday and Qasay, plus a plethora of others. How could they have all simply vanished into the thin air?

Before the war the CIA was able to intercept telephone phone calls between mid-level Iraqi military officers. So much was demonstrated by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations Security Council when the United States set out to convince the world that Iraq was trying to hide its banned weapons.

So, the question may be posed, why has the United States not been able to track a single call between any of the regime's former bosses, now on the run. Certainly these people all have cell phones. Surely they are using them. They must be calling their wives and children, many of whom had already been sent quietly out of Iraq before the collapse of the regime. Where are the intercepts now?

Speaking of cell phones, you may recall that just before the start of hostilities, coalition forces were actively calling top-level Iraqi officers and leaders – on their cell phones – urging them not to fight.

Did some agreement emerge from those calls?

Several Iraqi and Arab analysts in London believe that a deal must have been struck between Saddam's regime and the Americans as a result of those calls.

One Iraqi analyst points to the so-called "battle of Saddam International Airport" as the turning point in the war. This, he and others believe, was when the Iraqi government disappeared. Until that evening, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammad Saeed al-Sahhaf was still telling the world Iraq was winning the war and that the "infidels" would burn in hell. The next morning, al-Sahhaf was gone, as was the rest of the leadership. Moments later, the Marines drove their tanks into the city center with practically no resistance.

Is it possible that a deal was struck, allowing Saddam and his entourage to escape to a third country? If not, why did the elite Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard not fight? Where were the bulk of Saddam's Fedayeens? Where was the million-strong Jerusalem Army Saddam often boasted about? Much like the leadership, they faded into the night.

Of all those wanted by the American only two of Saddam's half-brothers were nabbed, but they are not exactly top drawer material. Abu Abbas, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Front was also grabbed, but even Israel has long stopped considering him a "terrorist." After he accepted the Oslo principles, Abu Abbas was allowed to travel through Israel to Gaza, where he lived for a short while. So where are the "links to terrorism?"

Speaking of terrorism, where are the weapons of mass destruction – the main reason of the coalition's invasion of Iraq? The justification of the war. They, too, remain to be found. The United States on Friday announced they were sending 1,000 weapons inspectors to Iraq to pick up where the United Nations left off.

Speaking of the United Nations, why has the United States turned down their offer to resume their search for these weapons?

Replies to those many questions may remain as hazy as the fuzzy green images that embedded journalists offered us with their night vision cameras during the military phase of the campaign.

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