Trouble in Tikrit Iraq turmoil: Saddam Hussein rules Iraq by family feud.

February 28, 1996

QUITE WHY Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Hassan fled Iraq for Jordan last August remains a mystery. The son-in-law and weapons procurer of the dictator Saddam Hussein had no credibility as a principled opponent of the regime he then sought to overthrow. He would have been nobody except for the favors Saddam Hussein bestowed. But an even greater enigma was his return.

Nobody can have known as well as Kamel Hassan how treacherous and vengeful Saddam Hussein will be. Nobody can have had less faith in the promise of forgiveness. Nobody can have understood better how much he had hurt the regime by betraying some of its secrets of arms procurement and retention to the United Nations while he was in exile in Jordan.

But the defector and his brother, Col. Saddam Kamel, re-defected back to Baghdad and certain doom. Perhaps in the mad court of Saddam Hussein they had learned to believe in their own invulnerability. The announcement that their wives -- Saddam's daughters -- had divorced them was a death certificate.

It is not necessary to believe the official account that the gunmen who wiped out the defectors and their father were from their own al-Majid clan. The heroes' funeral given to two assassins is proof that they were sent on the dictator's orders. That a child and other innocent bystanders were killed in the crossfire shows the thug mentality with which Iraq is ruled.

There is no confirmation of the opposition accounts yesterday that more fighting has gone on in the dictator's home town of Tikrit and elsewhere. Possibly this would be a vendetta to wipe out the al-Majid clan, possibly a feud between the dictator's bloodthirsty son, Uday, and his extended family of potential rivals.

What is clear is that the paranoid gangland of Saddam Hussein is reducing itself in the quest for purity. Similar purges by Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin did not shorten the lives of those regimes. But Saddam Hussein rules from weakness, and has made himself weaker still by reducing his inner circle.

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