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Iraqi's Surrender May Set Example

Hussein's defense chief was given assurances by a U.S. general before turning himself in.

September 20, 2003|Mark Fineman | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The surrender Friday of Saddam Hussein's long-serving defense minister after weeks of negotiations could encourage other fugitives from the former regime to turn themselves in and might provide important intelligence on Hussein's whereabouts.

A dozen years after he negotiated Iraq's surrender to Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Sultan Hashim Ahmad Jabburi Tai turned himself in to another U.S. Army general in the northern city of Mosul.

Jabburi Tai gave himself up after being told he would not face charges related to war crimes, an Iraqi mediator said.

The burly general -- who had loyally served Hussein for decades and had delivered bellicose war rhetoric during the regime's final days -- was ranked 27th on the U.S. military's 55-most-wanted list. He was promised that he would be questioned and then removed from the most-wanted list, said Dawood Bagistani, a human rights official in Mosul. Bagistani helped negotiate the hand-over.

Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus of the 101st Airborne Division, who accepted Jabburi Tai's surrender, had offered the former minister a "simple yet honorable alternative to a life on the run from coalition forces," a statement from the division said. Division officials did not spell out the terms of that new life.

Lt. Col. D.J. Reyes, the 101st's senior intelligence officer, said Petraeus' promise, first made in an Aug. 28 letter to Jabburi Tai, would be met. "As per the agreement between the two generals, [Jabburi Tai] has been sent to Baghdad for further questioning. He will be [treated] decently and humanely," Reyes added.

Officials with the U.S.-led administration in Baghdad had little to add, although spokesman Dan Senor told reporters that the surrender "is important for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is continuing to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that the worst days are over and the best is yet to come."

Bagistani's account of what appears to be the coalition's first conditional surrender of a major regime figure, which was widely reported in Iraq, may encourage other Hussein loyalists to follow suit. The surrender also has the potential to help blunt the armed resistance that has killed scores of American soldiers since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1. The insurgency is believed to include former Iraqi military officers, most of whom held Jabburi Tai in high regard.

At the very least, it should allow Hussein hunters a chance to question one of the former Iraqi leader's most trusted aides.

Jabburi Tai, who was appointed defense minister in 1995, was with Hussein in early April when the Iraqi leader was filmed in a Baghdad street with a dancing throng of supporters just hours before the Americans took the capital. In late March, as U.S. troops closed in on the city, Jabburi Tai baited them on state television: "The enemy must come inside Baghdad, and that will be its grave."

His surrender came as U.S. forces in Hussein's ancestral home of Al Auja, near Tikrit north of Baghdad, were ending a fierce, nightlong gun battle. Military officials said they detained about 40 Iraqi suspects in the attack, which killed three soldiers from the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division -- believed to be the highest U.S. death toll in a single attack since late July. Two soldiers were wounded in the clash.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb exploded late Friday on one of the main highways through downtown Baghdad, sending up a fireball and rocking buildings for dozens of blocks around. No one was injured and no vehicles were damaged.

There were reports Friday night of another attack on U.S. forces north of Ramadi, in the so-called Sunni Triangle in central Iraq that has been the principal battlefield for the insurgents. Residents near the town of Saddamiat al Tharthar said they saw a helicopter evacuating American casualties after a mine exploded beneath a convoy.

Those reports could not be confirmed by the U.S.-led coalition's military spokesman's office, which has been without telephone service for two days and is off limits after Baghdad's 11 p.m. curfew.

In northern Iraq, U.S. soldiers fired on a car carrying the Italian official heading U.S. efforts to recover Iraq's looted antiquities, Associated Press reported. Pietro Cordone, the top Italian diplomat in Iraq, was not hurt in the Thursday incident, but his Iraqi translator was killed.

Jabburi Tai's surrender drew condemnation -- and Hussein won praise -- from residents of the town of Fallouja, 35 miles west of Baghdad. The town has been a center of the insurgence against the occupation of Iraq, and three U.S. soldiers were wounded nearby Thursday in an assault on a U.S. military convoy.

"Saddam would never surrender himself as Sultan Hashim did," said a 30-year-old muezzin who gives the call to Friday prayers at a Fallouja mosque and identified himself as Abu Obeida. The surrender "does not mean anything for us. The most important thing for us is to look forward to our future and the future of Iraq and what we're going to do about the occupation."

Tarik Jasem, a 19-year-old student, said Jabburi Tai "has lost his glory and plunged himself into the swamp of vice and degradation. If he had died, that would have been much better for him."

Times staff writer David Holley in Baghdad and special correspondent Suhail Afan in Fallouja contributed to this report.

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