- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

A senior Ba'ath Party official and close associate of Saddam Hussein, identified by the U.S. military in Iraq as one of its "most-wanted" Iraqi leaders, was captured yesterday by Iraqi Kurds and handed over to U.S. coalition forces near the northern city of Mosul.
Samir Abd al-Aziz al-Najim, pictured on the four of clubs in the 55-card deck the U.S. military handed out to American forces to help identify wanted Iraqi officials, was a member of the Ba'ath Party's regional command, the party's top decision-making body, and served as party chairman for east Baghdad.
He was listed as No. 24 of the 55 most-wanted Iraqi officials. Saddam and his two sons, Qusai and Uday, are at the top of the list.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi official who had been involved in the country's suspected nerve-gas program has surrendered to U.S. forces and was being interrogated, officials said yesterday.
Imad Husayn Abdallah al-Ani, who was not on the U.S. military's list of 55 most-wanted Iraqi officials, recently turned himself in to U.S. forces in Iraq but is denying that the country was developing weapons of mass destruction, a U.S. official said.
He was involved in Iraq's suspected program to produce the VX nerve agent about a decade ago, but it was not clear what his most recent involvement was, the official said.
Asked how big a fish he was, the official replied: "He is not a minnow, and he is not a whale."
To date, four of most-wanted officials have either been captured or surrendered.
Al-Najim, a Sunni Arab from Baghdad and a veteran Ba'ath Party member who took part with Saddam in the attempt to kill Prime Minister Abdel Karim Qassem in 1959, was being questioned by the U.S. military on a variety of topics, including the ousted Iraqi dictator's whereabouts.
"He was a Ba'ath Party official, a regional command chairman for the Baghdad district and is believed to have first-hand knowledge of the Ba'ath Party central structure," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy director of operations for the U.S. Central Command, told reporters in Qatar. "He is now in coalition control.
"We think we have someone here all those people on that list of 55 have information on the inner workings of the regime that relates to weapons of mass destruction, that relates to terrorism," Gen. Brooks said. "The coalition is pursuing other regime leaders."
Al-Najim also is believed to have been the deputy secretary-general of the Iraqi Military Bureau, which was considered the highest office in the military organization of the now ousted-Iraqi regime and one of the most important units in the state structure because it dealt with security, military and partisan matters.
The military bureau, according to U.S. intelligence officials, was responsible for all of the internal party organizations led by Saddam.
As one of Saddam's closest and most loyal associates for more than 40 years, U.S. officials believe al-Najim may be one of an exclusive handful of people who knows whether the dictator is dead or where he might be hiding, and whether he escaped into Syria or some other country.
U.S. officials believe al-Najim was highly regarded by the Iraqi dictator and had recently been named to head military operations in northern Iraq.
Al-Najim, who was Saddam's chief of staff for several years after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, served as Iraq's oil minister until last month. He was replaced without explanation by Lt. Gen. Amer Mohammed Rashid, who had retired from his post in January.
Al-Najim was sentenced to death for his role in the plot to kill Mr. Qassem but was pardoned. Saddam had escaped to Syria and later to Egypt to avoid prosecution.
In 1969, when the Ba'ath Party came to power in Iraq, al-Najim assumed key responsibilities within the regime, including overseeing the party's intelligence operations. He also served as Iraq's ambassador to Egypt, Turkey, Spain, Moscow and the Arab League and was a top insider among the coterie around Saddam.
He was recalled from abroad in the late 1980s and assigned to the president's office.
Earlier this week, U.S. military forces conducted a separate raid aimed at capturing al-Najim, encircling a house in Baghdad with military vehicles and 100 infantrymen, acting on a tip from an informant, although he got away.
His capture yesterday was the second in as many days of a top Iraqi official.
On Thursday, U.S. military officials announced that Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, a half-brother of Saddam and a former head of Iraqi intelligence, had been caught as teams of coalition forces focused on finding chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Hasan, the second relative of Saddam to be captured, was snatched during a nighttime raid and is believed to have extensive knowledge of the regime's inner workings, Gen. Brooks said. Another half-brother, Watban Ibrahim Hasan, and Saddam's top scientific adviser, Gen. Amir al-Saadi, are the other most-wanted to have been apprehended.
U.S. intelligence officials said Hasan, who was No. 52 in the list of 55 most-wanted, headed the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service, from 1979 to 1983, when Iraq executed regime opponents at home and assassinated them abroad. They said Hasan, Iraq's U.N. representative in Geneva, was an intelligence official known for ruthlessness and brutality in purging the Iraqi military of anyone seen as disloyal.
One U.S. official said there were reports that Hasan enjoyed dinner and drank beer while watching the torture of dissidents.
While in Geneva, he was heavily involved in intelligence activities and illicit procurement of arms through front companies, the official said.


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