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Author: Saddam aide 'tough nut' to crack

Simon Henderson
Simon Henderson

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(CNN) -- U.S. forces continue to come under fire in Iraq, but they have a major capture to celebrate this week.

Saddam Hussein's top aide, Gen. Abid Hamid Mahmud Al Tikriti, was taken into custody Monday. Mahmud is the ace of diamonds in the U.S. military's deck of 55 most-wanted Iraqis and No. 4 on the list behind Saddam and his sons Uday and Qusay. (Flash card deck: Iraq's most-wanted; non-Flash gallery)

CNN Anchor Bill Hemmer on Thursday talked to Simon Henderson, author of "Instant Empire: Saddam Hussein's Ambition for Iraq," about this latest capture.

HEMMER: How critical is this pickup, Simon?

HENDERSON: I think it is a very important pickup, and in retrospect, it might turn out to be critical. By getting one of the top four, even though it isn't Saddam or his sons themselves, it sends a very telling message to the rest of the senior Baath leadership who are still in hiding or are still on the run -- that the Americans are determined to go after them, and frankly, they'll probably get them in the end -- so what's the point in holding out?

HEMMER: [CNN analyst] Ken Pollack was on with us ... and I asked him the same question. (Read the transcript.) What does it tell you about the fact that the man was picked up in Tikrit, north of Baghdad?

HENDERSON: It tells me the obvious, which was probably obvious to us, but we didn't really know it. When we came down to it, the senior members of this regime will retreat at the time of the collapse of the regime to their local areas, which roughly is the northwestern quadrant of Iraq, out from Baghdad to Tikrit in the north.

Gen. Abid Hamid Mahmud Al Tikriti, left, was Saddam Hussein's top aide.
Gen. Abid Hamid Mahmud Al Tikriti, left, was Saddam Hussein's top aide.

HEMMER: What does it is say that more than 30 on the list of 55 have now been captured or have surrendered, and that there is still no firm evidence right now for weapons of mass destruction? What does that tell you?

HENDERSON: I'm somebody who's less than concerned on this issue. We know he had them. We know he probably got rid of some of them. Even the United Nations knows that.

The questions are: If there are any left, where are they? And if there aren't any left, what happened to them? Where were they destroyed? And where was the paperwork for this? Because, whatever you can say of Saddam's regime, it was a bureaucracy. It did write things down on paper.

And the man, Abid Hamid, who was caught on Monday, the ace of diamonds, was a crucial person. It was his desk across which the paperwork flowed.

HEMMER: Now there will be interrogations; we know that. Apparently he's being held in the airport west of Baghdad, the Baghdad International Airport as it is now being known. Is there incentive for this man to talk?

HENDERSON: He's probably a very tough nut. He used to be apparently a junior soldier in one of Saddam's bodyguard units. He was then plucked probably because he had some ability, was loyal and was related to a tribe which was important to Saddam. He then was made an officer, a brigadier general, when he was initially appointed in this function in 1992 and lieutenant general by the time the regime finally collapsed.

But he is a hardened nut. If they can make him break and, you know, there are plenty of ways other than physical torture which can encourage people to break, then I think this is good news.

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