For the first time in a year, the Ba’athists have lost a card from the American deck of fugitives. This time, the Iraqis themselves have captured the six of diamonds, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti — otherwise known as Saddam Hussein’s half brother:
Security forces in Iraq have captured Saddam Hussein’s half-brother, one of the country’s most wanted men and the first top-level Baathist to be caught in a year, the government announced Sunday.
Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, an intelligence chief and one-time adviser to the former president, was number 36 on the U.S. military’s list of the 55 most-wanted people in Iraq — the six of diamonds.
A statement from Iraq’s government did not say when or where he was seized or whether U.S. or Iraqi forces had captured him. Details were expected at a news conference later Sunday.
Last year, Iraqi officials said Ibrahim, who was born to the same mother as Saddam, was one of two former Baath Party officials directing the insurgency from Syria.
As I noted yesterday, after the 1982 assassination attempt by Dawa on Saddam, he increasingly turned to blood relations for his lieutenants. Ibrahim was one of the beneficiaries, a leader in the IIS and presumably behind some of its brutal methods of terrorizing Iraqis who dared challenge or even criticize Saddam. His actions would certainly provide an interesting case for the Iraqi Special Tribunal, and they’ve surely already gathered evidence and testimony to start.
As a member of the fugitive deck, his capture carried a reward of one million dollars. The Iraqis gave no indication of how Ibrahim fell into their hands — but the Syrian connection should raise eyebrows. Bashar Assad has come under tremendous pressure to evacuate all of its forces from Lebanon and probably faces UN Security Council action in April if its withdrawal isn’t complete by then. It’s no secret that the US and France considers Syria to be complicit in the assassination of Rafik Hariri and have allied together to push Syria out of Lebanon, and with 150,000 troops on Assad’s eastern border, that alliance looks deadly.
With Assad looking for an edge to blunt the latest diplomatic firestorm and protect himself from a people-power uprising of his own, he may have decided that hosting the so-called insurgency and its brother Ba’athists have become far too much trouble than it’s worth. While the terrorists looked like they could destabilize Iraq, supporting them looked like a good bet for Assad. Now that the Iraqi elections have been so successful and the momentum on both sides of Syria has swung so far towards democratization and freedom, Assad may have opted for cutting all ties with the terrorists in Iraq as a way of mollifying the US.
The Iraqis will have more data on Ibrahim’s arrest later today. I suspect that we’ll hear he got picked up somewhere close to the Syrian border based on tips and intelligence reports. If so, that will be code for “He and his cohorts got too hot for Assad to handle.”