Neighbors - U.S. strike just missed Saddam's entourage
Monday, April 21, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's entourage hid out in the home of a former family bodyguard for much of the U.S.-led air war, fleeing only when a bunker-busting bomb meant for the Iraqi leader struck a block away, residents told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The accounts heightened the possibility that Saddam survived the April 7 attack.
Neighbors said they believed Saddam had stayed in the house in the well-off western Baghdad block, though none who were interviewed claimed to have seen the Iraqi leader.
However, Saddam's top bodyguard, Ali Nassir, and the ousted leader's cousin Gen. Ali Suleyman Abdullah al-Majid were among those seen coming and going for about 10 days. Nassir and others guarded the house until all inside fled in the hours after the U.S. bombing on the afternoon of April 7.
"They came out in civilian clothes, in groups, and you could see the fear on their faces," said Osama al-Bidery, next-door neighbor to the high-walled compound. "They left their guns, they left their uniforms, and they left like civilians."
The home's owner, a woman who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Baath Party officials barred her from the house during the time they commandeered it and told her to burn a discarded two-star general's uniform she found when she moved back in.
Moved from home to home
Saddam, fearful of assassination attempts, was known to move from private home to private home on a regular basis. Even before the war began, he declined to spend nights in one of his family palaces.
In the last hours of the U.S. entry into Baghdad, the United States unleashed bunker bombs that blew a crater 60 feet deep into a street of the al-Mansour neighborhood. The bombs blew at least three houses and 14 people into barely discernible bits.
U.S. authorities said at the time it would take digging and forensic work to determine whether Saddam had been inside.
The targeted houses had been on a block behind the ornate United Arab Emirates Embassy. Just a block away, on the other side of the embassy was the house where neighbors say Saddam's camp took refuge.
The neighborhood housed intelligence officials and other ranking members of Saddam's regime, al-Bidery and neighbor Falhel al-Zaidi said.
According to residents, Saddam had once given the house in question to one of his favorite bodyguards -- an operative slain by Saddam's eldest son in a notorious case that highlighted Odai Hussein's brutality.
Al-Zaidi and al-Bidery said the current homeowner worked in intelligence for Odai. But she denied working in any way for Saddam's son, saying she ran a tourism business.
An ornate two-story limestone structure with arches looping on top, the house at times had been rented by ambassadors of Libya and Algeria, the woman and other neighbors said.
Threadbare and dim, with frayed carpet, the home includes a dark front room with blue rugs and thick blue curtains. The key piece of furniture in the front room is a desk on a raised podium.
The homeowner said she and her family had fled Baghdad in advance of U.S. bombs. When family members changed their minds and returned, they found the house taken over. Baath Party officials had changed the locks and told the family it could not move back in.
People up and down the block spoke of the top military officials they said had moved into the residence, saying the high-ranking squatters barred neighbors f rom approaching the house.
Residents said they resented the new occupants, fearing they and their frequent use of the trademark white SUVs of Saddam's regime would draw U.S. attack, they said.
"Every five meters (yards) you stepped, there was a truck with guns," al-Zaidi said.
Outside the gates were Saddam's top bodyguards, including Nassir, residents said. Members of Saddam's personal security team are familiar figures to most Iraqis, having appeared frequently in Saddam clips shown on Iraqi TV during his regime.
Additionally, al-Zaidi said he recognized leading military figures from his time as a receptionist at the luxurious Al-Rashid Hotel, a central point for Saddam's regime.
Neighbors cited secondhand reports from others in the two blocks around the house who said they had seen Saddam and son Qusai. The people who supposedly had claimed to see the two were not home Sunday.