Published April 18, 2003
CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – The "Four of Clubs" was pulled from the deck of cards Friday as coalition forces continued to round up members of Saddam Hussein's toppled regime.
U.S. troops Thursday night nabbed a senior official of the Iraqi president's Baath Party — Samir Abd al-Aziz al-Najim, the "Four of Clubs" on the 55-card deck of playing cards U.S. military officials handed out to American forces to help in identifying wanted Iraqi officials.
Meanwhile, Fox News has learned that U.S. officials believe several of the "top 55 Iraqi regime leaders" are now in northwestern Iraq, in small towns west of Mosul, and are trying to get into Syria.
Al-Najim, who chaired the Baath Party Regional Command for eastern Baghdad, helped Saddam plot assassination attempts and served as an Iraqi ambassador, was handed over to U.S. troops by Iraqi Kurds near the northern city of Mosul, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said during a daily Central Command briefing.
"The man who was captured is in fact one of the 55 top wanted. ... He is now in coalition control," Brooks said.
Brooks said there were some indications Al-Najim may have been directing military operations in northern Iraq.
The catch marks the second significant Iraqi regime official bagged by coalition forces within the past few days.
U.S. forces on Thursday grabbed Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, a half-brother of Saddam and a former head of Iraqi intelligence. Barzan is wanted for various war and humanitarian crimes, including rape, torture and using brutality in repressing a Shiite uprising after the 1991 Gulf War.
Another one of Saddam's half brothers, Watban Ibrahim Hasan, was nabbed Sunday, while the third — Sab'awi Ibrahim Hasan — reportedly has made it to Syria.
Al-Najim was Saddam's chief of staff for several years after the first Gulf War. He was replaced without explanation as acting oil minister earlier this month by Lt. Gen. Amer Mohammed Rashid, who retired from the job in January.
Al-Najim is a Sunni Arab from Baghdad and a veteran Baath party member who took part, with Saddam, in the attempt to kill Prime Minister Abdel Karim Qassem in 1959.
After the assassination attempt, Saddam escaped to Syria and later Egypt, but al-Najim was condemned to death for his role in the plot. Qassem later pardoned him and his accomplices.
Al-Najim served as Iraq's ambassador to Egypt, Turkey, Spain and Russia and was near the top of the Iraqi hierarchy. Coalition officials hope he may have good knowledge of Iraq's weapons programs.
"We think we have someone here — all those people on that list of 55 have information on the inner workings of the regime — that relates to weapons of mass destruction, that relates to terrorism," Brooks told reporters.
U.S. forces conducted a raid earlier this week on a house while looking for al-Najim, but found no one in the building after breaking down the door. They were acting on a tip from an informant who said al-Najim was inside. A neighbor suggested he had fled.
This week's captures are just part of the huge nationwide search U.S. forces were conducting as they hunt down Saddam and his leadership group.
Northwestern Iraq, where regime officials were believed to be hiding, has an "extremely porous" border with Syria. More U.S. troops were said to be moving to the area to interdict anyone trying to cross the frontier.
There were also reports indicating that the "Queen of Clubs" in the deck, Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan Al-Tikriti, Secretary of the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard, was in Syria, Fox News has learned.
Sultan is Saddam's cousin and was an "unfailingly loyal" close adviser to the former president. He was also close to Saddam's son, Qusay, and was married to Saddam's daughter, Hayla.
Sultan — like Saddam's half brothers — was responsible for putting down uprisings after the first Gulf War, and according to U.S. officials, brutally suppressed a coup attempt from leaders in the Republican Guard.
There is still no concrete information about Saddam's whereabouts or if he was killed in coalition airstrikes targeting him.
The last attack involved four 2,000-pound bunker-buster bombs dropped on the upscale Mansour neighborhood on a tip that Saddam, his sons and other top officials had gathered in a safe house there.
Brooks said the military had made "initial surveys" of the district bomb site and the huge crater left by the bombs, but did not yet know if Saddam or other top Iraqi leaders were killed in the attack.
"We don't have any remains that are identified at this point," he said.
Fox News' Bret Baier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.