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Two sons-in-law of Saddam Hussein, including the man who was considered the second most powerful in Iraq, have defected to Jordan in what is seen as a dramatic blow to the Iraqi president.

The Jordanian government said on Thursday that Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Hassan, who led military industrialization and the industry and minerals ministry, had arrived in Amman along with his brother, Lt. Col. Saddam Kamel Hassan, who is in charge of Saddam's guards.Both men are married to daughters of Saddam and had sought diplomatic asylum in Jordan. It was immediately granted.

Hussein Kamel was the man who built up Saddam's war machine that invaded Kuwait five years ago, only to be defeated at the hands of U.S.-led allied forces in the Gulf War.

"It's an extraordinary, dramatic development," one diplomat said. "On the level of military industrialization, it will be a major blow. He had been directing it since 1987, in charge of all procurement, everything, right up to the last moment."

The defections raised the prospect that the two men might be about to mount a campaign of resistance against the Iraqi leader and rally Iraqi dissidents outside the country.

News of the defection of the men and their families, first reported by a senior Jordanian source on Wednesday, was confirmed in a government statement on Thursday.

"Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Hassan, who had the honor of meeting with his majesty King Hussein after his arrival, appealed to his majesty to allow him and his companions to stay in Jordan, appealing to his majesty's care for them in dear Arab Jordan," an official Jordanian spokesman said.

King Hussein welcomed the minister and his companions and ordered the authorities to make arrangements for their stay in Jordan, the spokesman said.

The Iraqi government's only comment was a brief statement on the official Iraqi News Agency saying the industry minister had been relieved of his duties.

The two sons-in-law of Saddam were accompanied by a cousin of the two men, Maj. Izzedine Mohammed Hassan, their families and aides.

Their exact location was not disclosed, but a large number of Iraqi government Mercedes were parked at a Jordanian government guest palace in central Amman. A Jordanian armored car was parked opposite the entrance to the well-guarded compound.

Diplomats have long maintained that any serious threat to Saddam's hold on power would have to come from those close to him because intense security and a record of ruthlessly suppressing unrest make a popular revolt unlikely.

In Washington, the Clinton administration described the defections as an important development. President Clinton called King Hussein Tuesday night to discuss the matter, presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said.