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Saddam negotiating with US: Report
September 21, 2003 19:12 IST
Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein has been in secret negotiations with the United States for the past nine days, a leading London tabloid claimed on Sunday.
He is demanding safe exit to the former soviet republic of Belarus, The Sunday Mirror stated in a front-page story.
But another tabloid, The Mail on Sunday, claimed that Saddam had fled Baghdad in a "watermelon barge" only days after US forces marched into the city.
While the world held its breath for his capture or proof of his death, it seems Saddam was very much alive in an underground bunker -- only a few yards from a mosque where the allies had been told he was hiding, the report said.
"Saddam sneaked out of his bunker again, and boarded a high-powered boat disguised as a watermelon barge."
He hid in a secret compartment behind a cargo of fruit while being taken up Tigris River to his hometown Tikrit, which had yet to fall to American forces, the report said.
The Sunday Mirror said in exchange for his safe passage, the dictator has vowed to provide information on weapons of mass destruction and disclose bank accounts where he siphoned off tens of millions of dollars.
US President George W Bush is being kept abreast of the "extraordinary talks" by his National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
She is coordinating negotiations in Baghdad, which are led by Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of American forces in Iraq, The Sunday Mirror said.
The US, it said, has vowed never to negotiate with Saddam and wants to take him dead or alive. The White House hopes the talks will allow them to pinpoint the distator's exact location.
A representative of Saddam, who walked into the US headquarters at Tikrit for talks with senior officers, was quoted by the tabloid as saying that the deposed leader has decided to strike a deal "because he is desperate, trapped and finding fewer and fewer people willing to give him shelter".
"He resorts to arriving with a posse of armed men, and forcing them to give him hospitality. When he leaves the frightened 'hosts' are told they'll be killed if they say a word," he said.
According to the report, the representative, who walked into the headquarters on September 12, led a group of US troops to a nearby suburb where one of Saddam's loyal security chief was waiting. The US officers were handed a handwritten note, purportedly from Saddam himself.
The security boss had a British-made Racal military radio set, which he claimed gave him direct contact with people in the same room as the dictator.
According to the report, he was immediately taken into custody, but the US has continued to exchange messages from Saddam using the radio and other means.
"The discussions are now going on under the direct authority of General Sanchez. Naturally, all the major decisions are being made at the level of the National Security Council, under Condoleezza Rice," the tabloid quoted a senior Iraqi as saying.
It is believed the US authorities will simply string Saddam along, aiming to track the go-betweens until they know exactly where to find him.