by Gordon Thomas*

Saddam Hussein is alive.

He has washed out the expensive black dye from his hair.  He has shaved off his tell-tale moustache and rubbed desert sand into his skin.  He is dressed in a simple Arab robe.

He is making his way through the vast, forbidding, empty spaces of Iraq’s eastern desert.  He is using the ancient contraband routes that criss-cross the hot sands.  Along those routes are caves he can shelter in – just as smugglers have done for centuries.

This portrait of Saddam now has been assembled by “the specialists” – the generic name for the multi-disciplines at the CIA, MI6 and Mossad.

They have concluded that Saddam may be travelling on horseback as part of a camel caravan.  He will be protected by the remnants of his 300 Praetorian guard.

To avoid attracting attention, they will not be bunched together.  Some will form a suicide rearguard to slow down ground pursuit.

>From the air they will look like a group of refugees.

In his new guise, his hair its natural white, Saddam will look older than his 65 years.  He may have assumed a stoop in keeping with the ageing process of many Arabs of his years.

He may have altered his facial appearance.  Stuffing cotton wool into his cheeks, scrunching his eyebrows, discolouring his teeth.

His overwhelming vanity will have been sacrificed so that he can survive to fight another day.

This portrait is now on the laptops of the intelligence teams spearheading the world’s greatest man hunt.

The consensus is that he could be heading for the mountain vastness of northern Iran.

>From there he may be hoping to be spirited away to safety by the two powerful friends he has left, China or Russia.

While both have officially denied they will grant Saddam sanctuary, their record of support for Saddam is a long one.

“There may also be another reason why Beijing or Moscow would like him in their hands.  It would mean he would not be able to reveal all the details of the secret deals he made with them”, said a senior diplomat in Washington.

The one certainty is that the search for Saddam is now the world’s greatest man hunt.

America’s spy in the sky, NSA, has geo-positioned a satellite over the deserts to the east of Baghdad.

CIA agents in Iran have picked up a persistent report that “Chemical Ali” Hassan al Majid, made a secret visit to Tehran in early February.  There he arranged with fanatical anti-American mullahs to transfer $50 million dollars from Iraq’s central bank.  The money was to buy Saddam and his two sons, Usay and Uday, sanctuary.

In return for this service, “Chemical Ali”, according to Mossad agents in Damascus, had been allowed to loot another $30 million from Iraq’s central bank.  He took the money to Damascus to buy his way into a deluxe resort near the Syrian resort of Latakiya.

Chemical Ali will never enjoy his planned retirement.  He was killed by a B-2 bomb in Basra last week.  The money is still in a Damascus bank.

“In Tehran, American dollars talk as they do everywhere”, said a CIA source.  “That Iran would offer Saddam sanctuary is no surprise.  During Gulf War One, Iran allowed most of the Iraqi air force to shelter there.  For Saddam, Iran would be the perfect place to plan another day”.

To understand the reality of that, CIA agents last week close-questioned Parisoula Lampsos, Saddam’s long-time mistress.

Unable to cope anymore with his demands, she had fled Baghdad to Jordan.  From there she was spirited by the CIA to France.

Now 54, but still beautiful, Saddam’s former lover gave “valuable insights” into Saddam’s survival plans.

She revealed that Saddam had told her that both Osama bin-Laden and Muammar Gadhafi had promised to help him leave Iraq.

She hinted that Tariq Azis, Saddam’s most senior aide, was “no longer completely trusted by Saddam”.

She also revealed Saddam would use his numerous doubles – he still has five left – to create confusion during his escape.

But first he had to get to Iran.  To try and stop him, America’s National Security Agency’s specialists in signals intelligence are working round the clock.

The satellite they are using has multi-cameras that can produce thousands of close-up images and scoop up tens of thousands of separate conversations by anyone who moves across the sands.

These are downloaded to NSA Headquarters at Fort George G Meade in Maryland and to its ultra-secret listening station at Menwith Hill in the north of England.

A US Special Forces HALO team is at hardstand readiness in Kuwait to go into action once Saddam is positively identified trying to escape.

The team will use a high-altitude, low opening technique, jumping from 30,000 feet in their pressurised combat suits and only pulling the ripcords of their parachutes when close to the ground.

Their task will be to capture Saddam and other key members of his regime and spirit them away in helicopters that will have taken up “over the horizon positions” before the HALO team launch their surprise assault.

To help them pin-point the target, Britain’s equally invisible eye in outer space, the Government Communications Headquarters at Cheltenham, has cast its electronic footprint over Saddam’s escape route.

For days,  GCHQ has been monitoring and decoding radio and email traffic around Baghdad as Saddam’s crumbling regime tries to communicate with each other.

But the electronic search is only part of the man hunt.  Human intelligence has been mobilised on an unprecedented scale.

>From Washington, CIA director George Tenet has sent almost 100 of his top agents based in Cairo, Amman, Damascus, Iran and the Yemen into the Baghdad area.

>From London, Richard Billing Dearlove, the head of MI6, is spending part of his £3 billion a year annual budget directing a large number of his 175 field agents in tracking Saddam.

In MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, analysts are snatching sleep in the basement dormitory used by staff during what one called “a big number”.

He added: “And they don’t come any bigger than bagging Saddam”.

It’s an open secret that Tony Blair would see a British capture of Saddam as not only crowning the Prime Minister’s decision to go to war, but also paves the way for the deposed dictator to face an international war crimes trial.

In Washington however, the mood in the White House is different.  Firstly, President Bush has made it clear he does not care is Saddam is caught “dead or alive”.  If alive, then Bush wants him to face justice in either an American controlled court in Iraq – or a trial in the United States.

Paul Wolfowitz, US deputy secretary of defence, has indicated “this is personal for George – and he wants Saddam to face American justice for his part in 9/11”.

Helping Bush achieve that are the hardmen of the intelligence world – Mossad’s spies.

Not only have they been the only spies on the ground during the Saddam regime – but they have also played a vital role in the run up to, and during, the war with Iraq.  It was their intelligence which enabled Coalition troops to storm up into Baghdad in record time.

No other agency is so well-entrenched in the Arab capitals of the region.

Now, those agents, under the direction of Mossad chief Meir Dagan, have reinforced the Mossad men already in Iraq.

They are part of an operation squad, codenamed Caesarea.  Many are Iraqi Jews.

“They can track as well as any Bedouin.  They speak the desert dialects.  They eat, sleep and behave in every way like an Arab.  That is what makes them so unique”, one of Dagan’s staff said.

Years ago, Mossad had an agent inside the inner circle of Syria’s leadership.  The man, Eli Cohen, time and again gave Tel Aviv vital forewarning of a Syrian threat.

Rafi Eitan, the former Operations Chief with Mossad, secreted a spy into King Hussein of Jordan’s palace.

“Our man gave us information that no other service had – not the CIA or MI6.  Not anybody”, Eitan said.

Unknown to Saddam, Mossad had an agent within the top echelon of the Iraqi leadership.

Last week, the spy managed to plant a homing device in the briefcase of one of Saddam’s top aides when they met for a dinner meeting at the al-Saa restaurant, in Baghdad’s Mansour district.

Over thirty of Iraq’s Special Security Organisation and senior military intelligence officers had gathered in the expensive restaurant to hear Saddam speak.

“The homing device was designed to become activated when everyone was seated”, a Mossad source said.

But, with that sixth sense for which he was renowned, Saddam for as yet an unexplained reason became suspicious.  He left the restaurant – but ordered everybody else to remain present.

Four minutes later, 300,000 feet above the restaurant, US weapons officer Lt-Col Fred Swan programmed the coordinates in his BI bomber.

“Bombs away”, he called out in time-honoured fashion.

Two BGU-31 bunker-busting bombs whistled down onto the restaurant complex.  Both penetrated deep into the target before exploding.  Seconds later another two, each with a 25 second delayed fuse, hit the area.

“You wouldn’t find enough DNA left to take a sample”, said a Mossad source.

But an MI6 agent in Baghdad signalled to Dearlove in London, “target survived”.

Mossad believe this is what happened.

“Saddam went to the north western suburbs.  There he removed the colour from his hair and shaved off his moustache.  He dressed as a desert Bedouin.

“His doubles were sent to various quarters of the city to give the impression that Saddam was here, there and everywhere.  It was that confusion which led to the Marine attack on the mosque.  To other sightings.

“The real Saddam had already made his way out of Baghdad.  Heading for the Iranian border,” said the senior Israeli intelligence source in Tel Aviv.

      * Gordon Thomas is an Irish author living in Dublin with some 38 books to his credit,
         including Voyage of the Damned which was made in to a major motion picture.     
         Thomas is well-known for his close connections to Israeli and British intelligence circles.