Saddam 'killed missile chief' to thwart UN team
By David Wastell and Julian Coman in Washington
Western intelligence agencies are investigating claims that Saddam Hussein ordered the murder of a senior Iraqi missile engineer to prevent him passing vital information to United Nations weapons inspectors.
Gen Muhammad Sa'id al-Darraj, who was in charge of Iraq's mobile Scud missiles until three months ago, died 24 hours after talks with Saddam's officials, according to Arab newspaper reports. The officials wanted to discuss how the general would conceal his knowledge if he were called for interview by the UN.
The London-based Al-Zaman newspaper said that Gen al-Darraj told "indignant" relatives shortly before he died that he had been slipped a poisoned drink during the meeting at one of Saddam's presidential palaces.
Iraqi opposition groups suspect that the general's loyalty to Saddam was in doubt after he was removed from his post at the end of last year.
British Government officials said yesterday that they were still trying to corroborate the report.
UN inspectors held their initial private interviews with Iraqis involved in Saddam's weapons programme - a biologist and a missile expert - on Friday, their first such talks for three weeks.
Last week Britain's ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, gave a private briefing to other members of the Security Council on Iraq's continuing efforts to conceal its chemical weapons and nerve gas production from the weapons inspectors, The Telegraph has learnt.
Officials say that Sir Jeremy will reveal more to his senior UN colleagues this week, including sensitive intelligence information, in an effort to boost support for the British and American-backed resolution on Iraq.
Donald Rumsfeld, the United States Secretary of Defence, put further pressure on Saddam's regime by linking senior Iraqi officials to a new list of 24 crimes for which detainees in the war on terrorism may be tried by American military tribunals.
Mr Rumsfeld said that war-crimes suspects in Saddam's regime might be brought to Guantanamo Bay, where about 650 al-Qa'eda suspects are currently held, after any military action. According to Pentagon officials, Saddam and other top Ba'ath Party activists could be put on trial for crimes against Kurds in northern Iraq and Shia Muslims in the south.
The war crimes list includes "employing poison or analogous weapons", "using protected persons as shields" and "using protected property as shields". Mr Rumsfeld said that the 19-page list was a codification of existing laws of war to take account of the new landscape of international terrorism.
During an emergency Arab summit in Egypt yesterday the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to call publicly for Saddam and his aides to go into exile, to spare Iraq's people from war.
The UAE said that the Iraqi leadership should be offered "all suitable privileges to leave within two weeks", plus internationally binding guarantees that they would not face prosecution "in any form". The proposal appeared to receive backing from Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al Faisal.
At the same summit, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria called on fellow Arab League nations not to provide America with military facilities to wage war on Iraq.