Lebanese ex-president Gemayel fails to sell Saddam US exile plan.
A secret Washington-sponsored mediation effort, in progress since
early March, has just about run its course in the diplomatic twilight
zone behind the emergency summit taking place at Praia Da Vitoria in
the Azores Islands of Portugal Sunday, March 16, between US president
George W. Bush and the two European prime ministers, Tony Blair of
Britain and of Spain. As they three allies prepared to meet, their
options were further reduced by a joint statement from France Russia
and Germany that they were against submitting Saddam any ultimatum to
disarm. Saddam, however, was not waiting. He set the scene for the
Azores summit by putting his country on a war footing, taking command
of the Iraqi air force and dividing the country into four military
districts with orders to "destroy any foreign aggression".
younger son Qusay was put in command of the key Baghdad district.
That move was the Iraqi ruler's reply to a secret US mediator's final
effort to persuade him to remove himself in order to stave off war.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources reveal this last mediator as
former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel. Denials apart, he was in
Baghdad Saturday, March 15, for the third visit of his mission, which
was to sell Washington's final offer to the Iraqi rule to quit Iraq
with his family – including his sons Uday and Qusay – and
country's top political and military leadership, and go into exile in
an Arab country.
The offer included safe conduct guarantees for Saddam and his
entourage along with a US pledge not to freeze his secret bank
The Iraqi ruler's response to Gemayel – as to all of a long line
would-be mediators – was a refusal to consider any exile or refuge
that divested him of ruling authority.
Gemayel's personal relationship with Saddam dates to back to the
1970s and early 1980s, when he was chief of the Lebanese Christian
Phalange militia in Beirut. In those days, he was often in Baghdad to
collect Saddam's largesse to the tune of millions of dollars for his
Christian fighters. They have remained friends.
On his penultimate trip to Baghdad on March 7-10, our intelligence
sources discovered Gemayel took with him a special guest – an
American colonel. This officer, another old Baghdad hand, was
received by Saddam for an afternoon tete a tete on March 8. In the
Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the colonel paid a number of secret
visits to Baghdad and was there again just before the first Gulf War
DEBKAfile's Iraqi underground sources reveal that, on the same day,
failed attempt was made on the life of Saddam's elder son Uday at the
al-Jadariye Boating Club on the Tigris River. There with a party, he
is thought to have escaped with injuries from this second known
assassination attempt, while three of his bodyguards were killed.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that the American
crossed into Iraq - either from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Gemayel and
senior Iraqi intelligence officials stood by to fly with him by plane
and then helicopter to a secret meeting place near Baghdad.
A senior intelligence source, who was briefed on the conversation
between Saddam and the US officer, reports that the Lebanese ex-
president and an interpreter – a short man who spoke only whenever
Saddam whispered something in his ear – were also present.
After Saddam warmly shook his hand, the American said: "It's been
long time since I last saw you, but you seem to be in great shape.
You are a great soldier and I looking forward to facing you on the
"When do you intend to attack and try to kill me?" Saddam
"Basically, after the March 19 deadline passes," came the
"You managed to get me to destroy my missiles," the Iraqi
said, pausing for effect. "Is the 19th the date of the attack or
the day when you want me to leave Iraq? After all, that's what you
The US colonel answered: "According to our orders, that's the date
when we are supposed to head out and get you. And we've already been
told, `Don't come back with him left in place.'"
Saddam was not pleased. "You are the sons of Satan. Go to hell.
not afraid of you."
"We may not even wait until the 19th now," the colonel shot
"Well then," Saddam said. "What's the offer and where
do you want me
"Egypt, Sudan, Syria – there's a long list of offers. Even
A defiant Saddam answered in English: "I will die before I
Tempers flared as the colonel told the Iraqi leader: "If you don't
leave, we will target you."
A fuming Saddam began talking gibberish, before finally calming down
and whispering something to the interpreter, who said: "The president
believes he is going to send you back to your leaders in a box as a
The American officer was unfazed.
"In that case, the war would start today," he replied. "We
you are every day."
"I have no fear of death," Saddam said.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources, the conversation then turned
to the underground bunkers where Saddam and his family planned to
seek shelter from US bombs.
"How long do you think you can hold out there? Maybe four to six
weeks, tops," the colonel said.
"Don't worry, when I have to get out, I will," Saddam said.
"We all know that if you leave your shelter after the war begins,
people on the street and Iraqi troops will tear you to shreds,"
Saddam replied with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Time was up, and Gemayel and the colonel flew back to the Iraqi
border. At the frontier, Gemayel bade the officer farewell and
returned to Saddam's palace in Baghdad.
According to our information, the US colonel arrived in Kuwait early
on Wednesday, March 12, and made his report immediately to
Washington. From Baghdad, Gemayel made his way to Amman and sent his
own equally pessimistic report to Washington.