| A US soldier watches a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Tikrit on Saturday. (AFP)
Tikrit, April 20 (Reuters): The long-exiled Iraqi National Congress said today Saddam Hussein’s only surviving son-in-law had surrendered to them after returning from Syria and would be handed over to the US forces within hours.
“Jamal Mustafa Sultan al-Tikriti is the first close member of the family to be detained,” INC spokesman Zaab Sethna told Reuters by telephone -- saying that Jamal had served as Saddam’s private secretary right up till the end.
“He is currently in the custody of the INC but will shortly be placed into the custody of US forces,” he said.
He said Jamal had fled to Syria but the INC had persuaded him to come back to Baghdad — along with a senior Iraqi intelligence official, Khaled Abdallah — and give himself up.
Syria’s role in any return was unclear, but President George W. Bush said before the news of Jamal that he thought Damascus was responding to US demands that it deny sanctuary to fleeing members of Saddam’s administration.
“There’s some positive signs. They’re getting the message that they should not harbour Baath Party officials, high ranking Iraqi officials,” Bush said.
Jamal is number 40, or the nine of clubs, on the US list of 55 top Iraqi officials wanted dead or alive. He is the sixth off the list to be detained.
“We had been in touch with members of his circle before the war for some time,” Sethna said. “We contacted them again in Syria recently and convinced him the best course of action was to return to Baghdad and surrender to us.”
Jamal returned by road on Sunday. His brother Kamal Mustafa Sultan al-Tikriti, the head of Saddam’s personal presidential guard defenders, was still in Syria, he said.
Kamal ranks high on the US wanted list, in eighth place.
Two of Saddam’s half brothers have already been detained but Sethna, adviser to INC leader Ahmad Chalabi, said they were estranged from Saddam, making Jamal the biggest catch.
He said Jamal also served as deputy to Saddam’s son Qusay in the Special Security Organisation, SSO.
Jamal -- also the deputy minister for tribal affairs -- was married to Saddam’s youngest daughter, Hella. “He was the last remaining son-in-law -- Saddam killed the other two,” Sethna said.
They had defected in the mid-1990s after the Gulf War, but were persuaded to come home -- and were then executed.
On Saturday, Iraq’s new police force handed Saddam’s finance minister Hikmat Ibrahim al-Azzawi over to US forces after capturing him in Baghdad, raising hopes of tracing billions of dollars the ousted president may have stashed away.
A day earlier, the US military said Iraqi Kurds had handed over senior official Samir Abul Aziz al-Najim. The other detained on the list are two of Saddam’s half brothers.
Saddam surrounded himself with trusted members of his family and wider tribe, from the northern town of Tikrit. Nineteen of the 55 people on the US list have the surname al-Tikriti, which means “of Tikrit”.