Posted: 12/25/2003 5:03:44 PM EDT
The blonde who snared Saddam (http://thesundaymail.com.au report)
SADDAM Hussein was captured through the demands of the one woman he still trusted. She is Samira Shahbander, the second of his four wives.
On December 11 she contacted Saddam from an Internet cafe in Ba'albeck, near Beirut.
Samira and Saddam's only surviving son, Ali, have lived under assumed names in Lebanon since leaving Baghdad months before the war started.
Samira, whose curly blonde hair came from the same French hair product company that provided Saddam with his hair dye, was the married woman who first became Saddam's mistress and then his wife.
In March, with the Coalition forces closing in on Baghdad, Saddam arranged for her and Ali to flee to Lebanon. She took about $A7 million in cash and a trunk of gold bars from the vaults of the Central Bank of Iraq.
She told friends she was going first to France and then Moscow, because Russian President Vladimir Putin had secretly promised Saddam he would give her sanctuary.
Instead, she went to a pre-arranged hideout – a villa – in the Beirut suburbs. That's where the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad found her.
Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, sent a team of surveillance specialists to bug Samira's every move.
They discovered that the Lebanese Government had given her and Ali Lebanese passports and new identities.
Samira was given the name of "Hadija".
But Ali, who has the same deep-set eyes as his father, insisted he would keep the family name of Hussein.
The Israeli team noted that Samira had transferred most of her money out of Lebanon to a Credit Suisse bank account in Geneva.
In the past, the bank had been a repository for some of Saddam's own fortune.
A month ago, Samira cashed in her gold bars for US dollars with a Beirut money dealer.
Then she started to call Saddam.
Supported by Israeli Air Force surveillance planes, Mossad tracked the calls close to the Syrian border.
"The calls were affectionate. It was clear there was a close relationship still between them," said a high-ranking Mossad source in Tel Aviv after Saddam had been captured.
That one of the most reviled tyrants in the world – a man who had personally supervised the terrible torture of thousands, including women and children – could speak of love, both fascinated and repelled the Mossad team.
But behind the endearments, the listeners heard through their electronic equipment that Samira wanted more money.
Time and again, in further calls – each made to a different number the Mossad team pinpointed as in an area in the desolate sands of the Wadi al-Myrah inside the Syrian border with Iraq – Samira repeated her request for money.
Samira, the daughter of a wealthy aristocratic Baghdad family, had never lost her taste for the good life.
During their marriage, Saddam had showered her with gifts, including two palaces.
At the start of their courtship, Samira was married to an Iraqi air force pilot.
Saddam simply kidnapped him and said he would be set free only if he agreed to divorce Samira.
The husband agreed.
In return, he was made head of Iraqi Airways – and given a choice from one of Saddam's cast-off mistresses. Samira became Saddam's favourite wife – though he took two more wives and scores of mistresses.
The marriage was cemented by the birth of Ali.
The child's arrival deepened the hatred of Saddam's older sons, Uday and Qusay, towards Samira.
On the day Uday and Qusay died, the Mossad eavesdroppers heard Samira laugh for the first time.
The Israelis knew that across the border in Iraq, a secret US special forces intelligence unit was roaming up and down the border looking for Saddam.
Other Israeli agents inside the Syrian side of the border had heard radio chatter between the unit – known as US Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force 121 – as they set about trying to track down Saddam.
The force was made up from Delta Force, the US Rangers, Britain's SAS and Special Boat Service, and the Australian SAS.
"For political reasons, we had not been formally invited to join the party," said a source close to Meir Dagan.
Mossad – not for the first time – decided to keep to itself the information it was gleaning from the surveillance of Samira. But on Thursday, December 11, that changed.
The Mossad team picked up a conversation between Samira and the man they were now certain was Saddam. He told her he would meet her close to the Syrian border. Details of the meeting were enough to have the Israelis finally alert Washington.
In the meantime, US forces had received their own tip-off and Samira and Ali heard the news of Saddam's capture on the radio. She burst into tears. Ali's reaction is not known.
In Tel Aviv, Mossad analysts, like those of all the major intelligence services, were poring over the video footage that showed the likeness of Saddam the world had never seen before.
And the Mossad analysts, as part of their work, began to ask intriguing questions:
• WHO were the two unidentified men armed with AK-47 rifles who stood guard over the hole? Were they there to protect Saddam – or kill him if he tried to escape?
• WHY did Saddam not use his pistol to commit suicide – and become the martyr he had long boasted he would be?
• WAS it cowardice that stopped him – or was he expecting to make a deal? To not only reveal the truth about weapons of mass destruction, but also about his deal with Russia and China, whose secret support had encouraged him to continue to confront the US.
• THE hole he hid in had only one opening. It was blocked. He could not have escaped. So was it in effect a prison? Was he being held there as part of a trade-off?
• WHAT was the $US750,000 (about $A1 million) found on him for?
• WAS that intended for Samira? Or was it a payment for someone who would help him escape?
• WHY did he have no communications equipment? Not even a mobile phone was on him.
• DID all this point to the remnants of his own followers had come to regard him as a spent force – and that they were ready to trade him in for their own freedom?
"It may well emerge that Saddam, as such, was not actually in hiding, but was being held down there against his will," an Israeli analyst suggested.
That may explain why he was so "talkative and co-operative" when his captors dug him out – bringing to an end his 35-year reign of terror in such a dramatic manner.
•Gordon Thomas is the author of Gideon's Spies: Mossad's Secret Warriors.
Armed hostages. What a concept.
I have a hard time believing that Saddam was making phone calls while he was on the run.
I'm going to need to hear it from more than Gordon Thomas before I believe it.