Hussein nephew escapes from Iraqi prison

Times Staff Writer

A nephew of Saddam Hussein serving a life sentence in a northern Iraqi prison escaped Saturday in what authorities believe might have been an inside job.

Ayman Sabawi, the son of Hussein’s half-brother, was captured last year during a raid near Tikrit, Hussein’s hometown. He was convicted of possessing illegal weapons and manufacturing explosives for Sunni insurgents.

Police said Sabawi fled Saturday afternoon in a car that had been waiting outside the prison in Badush, about 45 miles west of the northern city of Mosul. Authorities are investigating whether night-shift guards helped him escape.

Sabawi’s escape came as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made a trip to Iraq in his final days at the Pentagon. Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed that Rumsfeld left Washington on Friday for Iraq, saying, “He wanted to take this opportunity to express his thanks to the troops, and also let them know that he certainly appreciates the sacrifices they make every day.”


Meanwhile, leaders from the western province of Al Anbar, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, met with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in Baghdad to ask for help in rebuilding the local economy, arming police and securing the main highway from the Jordanian border to Baghdad, which runs through their province. They also asked him for a halt to U.S. bombings in the military’s hunt for insurgents.

“Our goal is to bring Anbar to a safe shore, because any security failure or deterioration in Anbar would reflect poorly on all Iraq,” Al Anbar Gov. Mamoun Sami Rasheed said.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed and three injured Saturday while patrolling Ramadi, Al Anbar’s provincial capital, when a roadside bomb exploded near their Humvee, the military said in a statement. A Marine died Thursday in Al Anbar combat, the military said, raising the number of troops killed to 2,913. According to, more than a third of the U.S. and allied foreign troops killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion have died in Al Anbar.

The delegation of provincial leaders asked Khalilzad for an Army brigade to patrol the highway and help recruit police officers, said Haqi Ferhan, who identified himself as a lawyer representing tribal leaders opposed to the insurgents.


Police in the province have already recruited 11,000 officers, Ferhan said, but are struggling to outfit them.

He said Khalilzad promised to review the matter with the Iraqi government and commanders of the U.S.-led foreign military force.

In a statement, Khalilzad welcomed Al Anbar officials’ efforts to stabilize the province.

The Iraq Study Group report released Wednesday in Washington cited Al Anbar as one of four provinces that remain “highly insecure.”


In a report last week to the U.N. Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan cited fighting in Al Anbar as evidence that Iraq’s violence is spiraling out of control.

U.S. forces are attempting to shift responsibility for local security to Iraqi troops. In a series of raids across Al Anbar on Friday and Saturday, U.S. troops followed the lead of Iraqi army divisions, exchanging fire with insurgents, taking into custody 19 suspects and recovering weapon caches in several towns, according to military statements.

The military said some of those detained are suspected in assaults on U.S. soldiers and on Iraqi police, soldiers and civilians, including planting roadside bombs and attacking an elementary school before national elections last year.

Across Iraq on Saturday, at least 16 people were killed.


The Ministry of Interior also reported that 40 bodies were found in Baghdad in a day, 10 of them handcuffed, blindfolded and showing signs of torture.

An Interior Ministry official said that among those killed Saturday was a young man who was shot along with his parents as they fled their burning house in the mostly Shiite Hurriya neighborhood of Baghdad. The official said the Shiite Al Mahdi militia had set the home on fire after distributing fliers to Sunni families in the neighborhood urging them to move out.

The parents survived, the official said.

Police said a car bomb killed four people and injured 40 Saturday morning on a market street in Karbala, home to the country’s second-holiest Shiite shrine. Police blockaded the city center after the bombing, detained several suspects and dismantled remaining explosives, Karbala Gov. Akeel Mahmoud Qazali told state-run Al Iraqiya television.


Another car bomb killed three people in Mosul, local police said.

Late Saturday, a burst of automatic gunfire that could be heard across Baghdad was a rare sign of unity instead of strife: Soccer fans were celebrating Iraq’s 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan in the semifinals of the Asian Games in Qatar.



Times staff writers Aaron Zitner in Washington and Zeena Hamid, Suhail Ahmad, Raheem Salman and Said Rifai in Baghdad and special correspondents in Baghdad, Baqubah, Mosul and Najaf contributed to this report.