U.S.: Republican Guard suspect fled to Syria
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The former secretary of the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard is one of several senior Iraqi leaders believed to have escaped to Syria, Pentagon officials told CNN Friday.
Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti is No. 8 on the U.S. list of the top 55 most wanted former Iraqi officials. His photograph appears on the queen of clubs in the deck of playing cards distributed to U.S. troops.
The United States considers Kamal Sultan a war crimes suspect. Intelligence officials said he is a cousin of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein because his brother is married to one of Saddam's daughters.
While officials noted there are conflicting reports about Kamal Sultan's whereabouts, they said most of the evidence suggests he is in Syria.
The United States has repeatedly accused Syria this week of harboring former members of the Iraqi leadership -- allegations the Syrian government has denied and which have heightened tensions between the two countries.
Pentagon officials said Syria in recent days appeared to have been exercising more control over 376-mile (605-kilometer) border with Iraq and may have turned away some senior Iraqis seeking refuge.
Syria told the United States it has sealed the border and said it denied entry to Abu Abbas, a Palestinian terrorist who planned the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. Abbas was later arrested in Baghdad.
Syria likewise claimed it turned back one of Saddam's half-brothers, Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, who was subsequently captured by U.S. troops.
Nevertheless, said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, some former Iraqi leaders have slipped across the border.
"We know that Syria is harboring some of the senior regime leadership, at least their families, probably some of the senior members. We know that," Myers told a Pentagon meeting Thursday.
But according to Pentagon sources Syria has indicated it might be willing to eventually turn over some top Iraqi officials to the United States, and suggested such action could be a topic for discussion if Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Damascus in the coming weeks.
So far, the United States has captured only four on its most wanted list, including another of Saddam's half-brothers.
The latest to be taken into custody is Samir abd al Aziz al Najm -- No. 24 -- handed over to U.S. special operations forces by Iraqi Kurds Thursday night.
"He was a Baath Party official, a regional command chairman for the Baghdad district, and is believed to have first-hand knowledge of the Baath Party central structure," U.S. Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters in Qatar.
Pentagon sources said U.S. intelligence believes the majority of the fugitives are still in Iraq -- specifically in northwestern Iraq, not for from the Syrian border -- and still may be trying to escape.
From CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre.