Hussein's intelligence officials go from hunters to the hunted

Fearful, 6 midlevel agents surrender, barter in Mosul

War In Iraq

April 15, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSUL, Iraq - Last week, Lt. Gen. Tahaseen Rafan was an Iraqi domestic intelligence official running a network of spies in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Today he is frightened, alone and in hiding, one of thousands of members of Saddam Hussein's security apparatus who have abruptly gone from predator to prey.

Early yesterday afternoon, Rafan and five midlevel Iraqi military and intelligence officials arrived at the makeshift U.S. military base here to negotiate their surrender and ask for protection. None of the men are on the list of 55 senior Iraqi officials wanted on war crimes charges, but the group hinted that its surrender was being closely watched by more senior officials now in hiding.

"Military intelligence and Mukhabarat," Rafan said, referring to the country's military and secret police services. "All of them will come if they know I am here and I am protected."

The seriousness of the men's offer was difficult to gauge. All across Iraq, former Baath Party officials, opposition figures and tribal leaders are exaggerating their influence and jockeying for power in post-war Iraq. But American and Kurdish officials appear to be taking Rafan and his colleagues seriously. And their offer is tempting because it is being made in Mosul, a stronghold of Sunni Arab nationalism and the hometown of scores of senior Baath Party officials.

Izzat Ibrahim Al Dhouri, vice chairman of Hussein's Revolutionary Command Council and the overall military commander in northern Iraq, and Sultan Hashim Ahmad, Iraq's defense minister, are both natives of this city and are rumored to be hiding here. Both men are on the U.S. list of Iraqi officials wanted on war crimes charges.

The delicate negotiations began yesterday in a barren former Iraqi Airlines office at Mosul's airport, which has been turned into an American special operations forces base. The six Iraqi officials sat in a close circle with Lt. Col. Robert Waltemeyer, the American commander.

"The most sensitive thing after every conflict is this point," Waltemeyer said, as the officials listened intently. "Our intent is not for reprisals or to settle any scores."

The colonel quickly made his priorities clear: information about weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and senior officials. All the officials denied knowledge of unconventional weapons or terrorism. "That was the responsibility of the commanders of special military intelligence," Rafan said later.

The Americans also were eager to learn more about the Iraqi army's Fifth Corps, a unit of tens of thousands of soldiers that simply melted away after Iraqi forces withdrew from the front lines in the north. Rafan said the soldiers had returned to their home cities.

The American colonel ended the meeting by saying he would give the Iraqis "some time to think," and he made a clear pitch to other officials in hiding.

"One of the things I can promise is that if they come forward there will be a process for justice," Waltemeyer said.

Subsequent interviews with Rafan and another Iraqi intelligence official who attended the meeting offered a window into the workings of Saddam's police state.

The second intelligence official, Nashwan Fateh Ismail, was head of security at the University of Mosul. In other words, he spied on students and professors.

He said his job was to track all political activity on a campus of 5,000 students and block any references to non-Baath political parties. Under Hussein, all other political parties were banned.

"I knew maybe every fact about their lives," Ismail said, referring to certain people he spied on. "But I never submitted them."

Asked if he felt that someone was watching his own work, he said yes and added, "I don't want to talk about that."

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