U.S: 'Honorable' Way Out for Fugitive Iraqi Minister

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The commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (search) has promised to treat Saddam Hussein's fugitive defense minister with "utmost dignity and respect" if he surrenders.

The offer, made in a letter dated Aug. 28 by Maj. Gen. David Petraeus (search), was in response to a request by Sultan Hashim Ahmed's family (search) and tribal chiefs that Ahmed's name be removed from America's list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis in return for his surrender.

"I offer you a simple, yet honorable alternative to a life on the run from coalition forces in order to avoid capture, imprisonment and loss of honor and dignity befitting a general officer," Petraeus said in the letter, which was shown to The Associated Press by an Iraqi mediator.

"I officially request your surrender to me. In return, I will accept this from you in person. You have my word that you will be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, and that you will not be physically or mentally mistreated while under my custody. As a sign of good faith, I will personally ensure that my staff will attend to any medical conditions you have," the letter said.

Master Sgt. Kelly Tyler, spokeswoman for the 101st, said she was not aware of the letter, but said the division has written to other wanted Iraqis seeking their surrender. Before the U.S. invasion, there were rumors that Ahmed had fallen out of favor with Saddam and was under house arrest. Spokesmen for Saddam's government denied that.

Dawood Bagistani, a human rights activist in Mosul, is mediating between the Americans and Ahmed's family. Bagistani, a Kurd, also wrote to President Bush (search) this month, asking him to remove Ahmed from the list.

"This man has not done any crime," the letter said. He added that his investigation found no complaints against Ahmed by the Iraqi people.

"If we were not certain of his innocence, we wouldn't have intervened," Bagistani said in an interview. He said Ahmed was liked by all groups -- Kurds, Arabs, Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims (search).

Bagistani said he would go on local TV on Tuesday night to tell Ahmed the Americans had agreed to take his name off the most-wanted list if he surrendered. The offer, Bagistani said, would call for Ahmed to be kept in U.S. custody only long enough for him to be thoroughly questioned. He could then return to normal life without prosecution by the Americans.

There was no confirmation from U.S. officials.

Bagistani said Petraeus' letter to Ahmed was in "so many words, an acceptance of his family's condition for his surrender."

He said his organization and the U.S. Army were still awaiting a response from Ahmed and his family to Petraeus' offer.

"I think it is going to be OK. His family, his brothers want this to end peacefully. But they are afraid that the Americans may renege on their promise. They think the U.S. is like the previous regime or those of other Middle Eastern countries."

The Americans have an idea where Ahmed is hiding, Bagistani said, adding that if Ahmed took too long to respond, they might try to take him by force, possibly resulting in his death or injury.

One of the senior leaders of the al-Tai tribe to which Ahmed belongs said if Ahmed's name was removed from the list, the tribe would invite the Americans to a big party and slaughter 150 sheep in their honor.

In the letter, Petraeus acknowledged Ahmed's reputation.

"I understand that you are the most respected senior military leader currently residing in Mosul. Your reputation as a man of honor and integrity is known throughout the country," he said.

He even struck a note of camaraderie with his fellow army officer.

"Although we find ourselves on different sides of this war, we do share common traits. As military men, we follow the orders of our superiors. We may not necessarily agree with the politics and bureaucracy, but we understand unity of command and supporting our leaders in a common and just cause," Petraeus said.

"However, the collapse of your regime necessitates your thoughtful reconsideration of support. I am concerned that your perceived resistance to the Coalition's efforts to bring back this country's honor is detrimental and will result in further and needless loss of lives," he added.

He warned, however, that the U.S. Army was "resolute" and would "do all that is necessary to ensure that we achieve our objectives."