WASHINGTON – Saddam Hussein's first wife is believed to have left Iraq, and some uncorroborated reports put her and some other Iraqi leaders in Syria, American officials said Monday.
But some officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the intelligence on those leaders going to Syria falls well short of confirmed information, and in some cases is viewed as rumor.
Some reports put Saddam's first wife, Sajida Khairallah Telfah, in Syria, but other reports put her in other countries that officials declined to specify. It is unclear when she left Iraq.
Only one top Iraqi official, nuclear scientist Jaffar al-Jaffer, is known to have fled for Syria, a senior U.S. official said Monday. But al-Jaffer left and turned himself into authorities in another, undisclosed Middle East country, U.S. officials said.
Bush administration officials have publicly alleged that Syria is taking in members of Saddam's regime.
As early as April 2, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld spoke of unconfirmed reports that members of the Iraqi president's family, including his first wife, had fled.
The officials said Monday that information on the wife's departure, but not her destination, has firmed up since then.
The whereabouts and status of other members of Saddam's immediate family likewise are not known. Nor do officials have definitive word on Saddam or his elder sons, Odai and Qusai, both senior leaders in Saddam's administration.
Other members of Saddam's family may have information on their whereabouts, including Saddam's second wife, three daughters and another son, officials said. All kept low profiles during Saddam's rule, and none held senior positions.
Saddam's first wife was mother to Odai, Qusai and three daughters: Raghad, Saddam's favorite; Rana; and Hala. Some of the children have children of their own. Saddam remains married to both wives. In Islam, a man may have as many as four wives.
In 1995, Raghad's and Rana's husbands defected from Iraq to Jordan. The brothers were debriefed by Western intelligence officials and reportedly disclosed secrets of Iraq's military and weapons programs.
They failed to gain the trust of Iraqi exiles, however, and returned to Baghdad with their families six months later on Saddam's promise neither they nor their families would be harmed. They were shot down shortly after they arrived, and Saddam placed Sajida under house arrest because she demanded that he punish the killers. Opponents said they were instigated by Odai.
Saddam's second wife, Samira Shahbandar, was mother to Saddam's other son, Ali Saddam Hussein. Saddam married Shahbandar, a daughter of a prominent Iraqi family, in the late 1980s, and their son is not believed to be old enough to have any responsibilities.
Saddam's half brother, Watban Ibrahim Hasan, an adviser to the Iraqi president, was captured near Mosul in recent days, apparently preparing to flee to Syria, U.S. officials said.