Top-level Iraqi defectors left Jordan for their homeland Tuesday, six months after they fled Baghdad vowing to topple Saddam Hussein.
The Jordanian government announced the departure of Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel al-Majid and his brother, Col. Saddam Kamel. They left Amman in a convoy with their wives, both daughters of the Iraqi leader, and children.Al-Majid, then the head of Iraq's weapons program, defected to Jordan on Aug. 8 with his brother, deputy head of the Iraqi president's palace security. The defection was considered at the time to be a major blow to Saddam.
Using al-Majid's information about Iraqi weapons programs, U.N. inspectors were able to force Baghdad to surrender records on clandestine chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.
Nevertheless, Arab states critical of Saddam and most Iraqi opposition groups in exile have viewed al-Majid with suspicion because of his former close ties with the Iraqi leader and his involvement in the brutal suppression of Iraqi dissidents. They also question his commitment to democratic rule in a post-Saddam Iraq.
Al-Majid said Monday that he planned to return home within days, apparently because he had been rejected as a potential leader by Iraqis seeking to topple the Baghdad regime.
Al-Majid faces an uncertain future when he returns to Iraq. He said he had been in touch with the Iraqi leadership, through unidentified middlemen, and had received a favorable response to a letter he wrote to Saddam asking to be allowed to return.
But he declined to say whether Saddam had forgiven him for his defection and gave no indication of what his status would be in Iraq once he returned.
Before leaving, al-Majid "sent a letter of gratitude to His Majesty, King Hussein, for the generous hospitality which the king provided to him and his family during his stay in Jordan," Prime Minister Abdul-Karim Kabariti of Jordan told the official Petra news agency.
Kabariti said al-Majid's return to Iraq "is a decision he has taken by himself and by his own will, after he conducted private contacts with Baghdad."
Petra said al-Majid was accompanied to Jordan's eastern border by the Iraqi ambassador to Jordan, Nouri Elwayes.
Iraqi Embassy spokesman Adel Ibrahim denied the mission in Amman was aware of al-Majid's contacts with the Iraqi leadership and said Monday he apparently was "in direct touch with Iraq through his own channels."
Since winning a presidential referendum last fall in which he was the sole candidate, Saddam promised to introduce reforms and loosen his Baath Party's absolute grip on power.
He subsequently scheduled the country's first parliamentary elections in seven years for March.
Opposition groups say Saddam's pledge of reforms is aimed at pacifying Iraq's 20 million people amid increasing poverty caused by his defiance of U.N. resolutions.