Hussein daughters seen as victims of his regime

THE BALTIMORE SUN

AMMAN, Jordan - About a month after American soldiers overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Jamal Kamel, living near Baghdad University, got a call on his satellite phone from two relatives he never expected to hear from again.

On the phone were his sisters-in-law, Raghad and Rana, who were also Hussein's eldest daughters. They were hiding, they were scared and they wanted to get out of the country.

Hussein loyalists were after them because their husbands had defected to Jordan in 1995 before being lured back to Iraq and executed. Other Iraqis might have targeted the sisters because they were members of Hussein's family. And the sisters feared U.S. troops would arrest them.

"Iraq is very unstable," Kamel said in a short interview in Amman yesterday, a day after he helped the women reach Jordan, where they and their nine children have been granted asylum. "People there don't know the difference between the oppressed and the oppressors."

Once close to their father, the sisters lived the past seven years under virtual house arrest in Baghdad. Their husbands, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel, returned to Iraq from Jordan in 1996 and were killed. Raghad and Rana, who had accompanied their husbands to Jordan and returned with them to Iraq, were spared, and have become viewed as victims of their father's murderous regime.

"They had no place to go and didn't know what to do," Kamel said in a private home yesterday afternoon.

Raghad and Rana appeared last night on the Arabic television station al-Arabiya dressed in black gowns and white head scarves to mourn the deaths of their brothers, Odai and Qusai, in a gun battle with American soldiers July 22.

Appearing composed and speaking from one of King Abdullah's palaces in Amman, Raghad blamed her father's aides for the regime's defeat. "These people didn't betray Saddam," she said in an excerpt broadcast last night. "They betrayed their country."

She did not criticize her father in the portion aired, though he had ordered her husband's execution, a death she mourned by wearing black for several years. Asked in a separate interview with CNN about her relationship with her father and brothers Odai and Qusai, Raghad said in English, "Excuse me, I will not answer that. It is so difficult to answer that."

"We left the loved ones, my mother, my sister, even my sister-in-law, Qusai's wife," Rana said on CNN. "They're all close to us. ... It was not very easy to make that decision and split and separate each of us."

The sisters said they loved their father. "He was a very good father," said Raghad. "Loving. Has a big heart. Loved his daughters, sons, grandchildren. He was very good father."

Kamel, in his interview with The Sun, described a much different relationship between the sisters and Hussein, saying Raghad and Rana "had a difficult relationship with their father. They were shaken that he had their husbands shot. They never thought that their father could be that harsh."

Asked what message she would like to convey to Hussein, Rana answered: "It's very hard for me to express by words how I feel for him and the love I have for him. Every moment I think about him and I hope. And I hope that God will protect him and keep him safe."

The daughters' arrival did not attract much attention here. Residents seemed more interested in the results of the national university entrance exams, published yesterday.

"Jordan is considered a refuge," said Karim Khoury, a 33-year-old grocery store clerk. "This is good for our country. For America, I guess this is big news. They are the enemy."

Iraq and Jordan maintained close ties until the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Since the fall of Hussein, a large number of well-to-do Iraqis have arrived here.

Robert Hawa, a customer at the Anwaan barber shop, said it mattered little that Hussein's daughters were in Jordan. "So what?" he said, waiting his turn for a haircut. "Do you see them out and about? What does it matter? They didn't do anything. They weren't bad people."

The few people who offered criticism were Iraqis, who complained that many of their countryman with ties to Hussein were arriving in Jordan with ill-gotten gains.

"I heard that the two daughters came out with nothing," said Tamarra Daghastani, 57, who left Iraq in the 1970s. "If that is the case, then let them live in peace and quiet. I have nothing to say about it. But I worry that people are coming out with money that rightfully belongs to the Iraqi people."

Kamel, who is in his late 30s, said he worked for several months to get Raghad and Rana out of Iraq, negotiating with American and Jordanian officials, thanks to contacts through reporters of the al-Arabiya television network.

Before the war, the daughters lived in Baghdad's Mansour neighborhood but were under virtual house arrest, he said.

Kamel said that he had been arrested in Iraq when his brothers fled to Jordan, and was released when they returned. Kamel said he was then stripped of his job, money and home.

He said he had little contact with his sisters-in-law in the past seven years, and he would not reveal where in Iraq they were when they telephoned him. He said neither he nor Raghad and Rana know Hussein's whereabouts.

In the television interviews yesterday, Raghad described an emotional farewell with Hussein before Baghdad fell. He sent a car to pick up his daughters and took them to a final meeting with their mother and other relatives. They then separated; it was the last time the daughters saw their brothers, mother and father.

Raghad, Rana and their children stayed with a friend and left Iraq several days after Odai and Qusai were killed.

Kamel said he arranged safe passage for them with the American military through Syria and then to Jordan. Jordanian officials said they came from Abu Dhabi and arrived in Amman on Thursday.

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