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Daughters of Hussein, Other Top Iraqis Defect

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two of dictator Saddam Hussein’s daughters and the former head of his regime’s clandestine arms industry are among more than a dozen top Iraqis who have defected, giving a rare glimpse of high-level tumult in Baghdad and prompting President Clinton to promise Thursday that America will defend Jordan if Iraq attempts to retaliate against it for granting the group asylum.

“It should be clear that the United States considers Jordan our ally and entitled to our protection if their security is threatened as a result of this incident,” Clinton said at a news conference a few hours after Jordan’s foreign minister announced the defections.

The President said King Hussein’s decision to give the defectors haven in Jordan, which shares a long border with Iraq, was “clearly an act of real courage.”

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Although Clinton did not draw the comparison, the monarch did not show similar courage during the 1991 Persian Gulf War when he cooperated with Iraq, apparently because he feared Iraq’s military might.

Jubilant Administration officials said the defections from the inner circle of the Iraqi dictator show how unstable the regime has become. Perhaps more important, they said, the defectors are “in a position to know everything” about the Baghdad government’s military and political secrets.

A senior official declined to say flatly that American interrogators will question them but added: “We are communicating closely with the Jordanians.”

The Iraqi dictator was so shaken by the defections that he sent his eldest son, Uday, to Amman to demand that the Iraqis be returned.

Jordan flatly turned him down.

Karim Kabariti, the Jordanian foreign minister, announced Thursday that Saddam Hussein’s daughters, Raghad and Rana, had sought asylum Tuesday in Jordan, along with their husbands and other aides.

Raghad’s husband, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Majid, was widely regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iraq. A cousin of Saddam Hussein, he was in charge of industrial production, including the arms industry. A U.S. official said he was the former chief of Baghdad’s clandestine nuclear program.

Lt. Col. Saddam Kamel Majid, Rana’s husband, is the general’s brother and a senior officer in the Iraqi dictator’s personal bodyguard unit.

The Iraqi government announced Wednesday that Hussein Kamel Majid, who defected Tuesday, had been fired as industry minister. No reason was given for his dismissal.

“Two daughters of President Saddam Hussein and their husbands, Hussein and Saddam Kamel, met with King Hussein on Tuesday and made a personal plea for asylum, which was granted to them immediately,” news agency reports from Amman quoted Kabariti as saying.

He said a “large” number of officers--estimated at 15--also were granted asylum.

Clinton said that he discussed the matter with King Hussein shortly after the Iraqis arrived in Amman. But U.S. officials said the monarch did not seek American advice before granting the group asylum. His decision seems to have shattered the often brittle relationship between the Hashemite kingdom and its bigger, stronger neighbor.

“I think what these defections demonstrate is just how difficult things are within Iraq now and how out of touch Saddam Hussein has become with reality,” Clinton said.

Administration officials said there have been military movements in Iraq in the past few days but that the activity began before the defections and probably is not linked to them. Still, an official said, “When you are dealing with this man and this regime, you have to be prepared for the worst.”

A senior official said Clinton has ordered the Pentagon to prepare contingency plans for the defense of Jordan. The Navy announced that it has 20 warships, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, already in Middle Eastern waters.

“I think you saw when Kuwait was threatened a few months ago, we were quite well-organized, and we’ve thought through . . . our various scenarios there and how we might move,” Clinton said.

He referred to U.S. military deployments last year after Iraq moved troops toward the Kuwaiti border. “I don’t want to raise a red flag. I’m just saying we know that Saddam Hussein has been unpredictable in the past. We know this must be a very unsettling development.”

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In Israel, security analysts said they regard the defections as extremely important because they are the first breach in what was considered to be Saddam Hussein’s real power--his capacity to control the entire country through a small circle of people whom he used interchangeably in various ministries.

Hussein Kamel Majid, credited with building Iraq’s arsenal before the invasion of Kuwait, was one of the top Iraqi officials working with Rolf Ekeus, the U.N. representative overseeing the destruction of Baghdad’s weapons of mass destruction.

He was regarded as more cooperative than other Iraqi leaders with the U.N. operation.

The defection of the brothers follows the July dismissal of Ali Hassan Majid as defense minister, indicating to some analysts that the Majid clan is losing power. The clan, which is related to Saddam Hussein on his father’s side and has long served as a foundation of his regime, may have been unseated in a power struggle with the Iraqi dictator’s sons and half-brothers.

That would mean that Saddam Hussein’s sons, hard-liners who oppose diplomatic efforts to get the United Nations to lift the crippling trade sanctions, may be gaining influence--and that Iraq will isolate itself even further, Kamel Abu Jaber, a political analyst and Jordan’s former foreign minister, told Reuters news service.

Jordanian officials refused to say where the defectors were staying. But there was unusually tight security around one of the royal guest palaces in Amman; officials denied the defectors were there.

Jordan shelters nearly 30,000 Iraqi refugees. Iraqi intelligence agents are known to operate in Jordan, and Saddam Hussein’s security services have been blamed for killing earlier defectors.

Times staff writer Mary Curtius in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Profile: Hussein Kamel Hassan

Who: Iraqi Minister of Industry and Minerals, who defected to Jordan Thursday. Widely considered the most powerful man, next to Saddam Hussein, in Iraq’s hierarchy.

Family: Son-in-law of Hussein; married Hussein’s daughter Raghda in early 1980s. Majid’s brother Saddam Kamel Majid married another Hussein daughter, Rana.

Education: Elementary-school level.

Background: Was police warrant officer at time of 1968 coup that brought Hussein to power. Ran successful military operation against Iran in 1983. Built up Iraq’s feared military machine in the 1980s, including the elite Republican Guard, and oversaw reconstruction after the 1991 Gulf War.

Spin: Majid has been negotiating with U.N. officials over dismantling the Iraqi military under terms of Gulf War cease-fire; is seen as more cooperative than other Iraqi officials. At the same time his official duties have been expanding, there have been signs of a burgeoning power struggle with Saddam’s son Uday.

Next Step: The future of Iraq’s relations with the U.N. is uncertain because Uday is known to be less cooperative than his brother-in-law. Meanwhile, Hussein has named Adnan Abdul-Majid Jassim to replace Majid at the Industry Ministry. Lt. Gen. Amir Mohammad Rashid was named to replace him at the Military Industrialization Commission.


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