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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hussein's Secretary Linked to Belarus

Saddam Hussein's personal secretary was found with Belarussian passports when he was captured in Iraq last week, a U.S. and a British newspaper reported. But Belarussian authorities said Wednesday this was not possible.

First the Independent and then The New York Times reported this week that Belarussian passports had been found on Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti when he was captured on June 16.

Mahmud is suspected of obtaining the passports in Syria, according to the reports. He told U.S. interrogators that he was in Syria after the war with Hussein's sons, Odai and Qusai, before being expelled, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing two unidentified U.S. government officials. The paper speculated that the other passports could have been for Hussein's sons.

The day before, the Independent quoted an Iraqi Kurdish official involved in the hunt for Hussein as saying Mahmud "had just returned from Syria where he had obtained the passports, probably without the knowledge of the Syrian government."

The Belarussian ambassador to Syria, Vladimir Zagorsky, said his mission did not and could not have issued passports to Iraqi citizens or any other foreigners. "This is impossible," the ambassador said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Damascus.

He said the Iraqis could not have received Belarussian passports in postwar Iraq either, since the embassy there remains closed.

In Minsk, a spokesman for the Belarussian Interior Ministry, which is responsible for issuing passports, also said the reports appeared to be false.

"We checked out this information and found no such record," spokesman Dmitry Parton said by telephone. The Interior Ministry has found no record of passports being issued to Iraqi citizens or of thefts of blank passports in the past several years, he said.

Both Patron and Andrei Savinykh, spokesman for the Belarussian Foreign Ministry, said U.S. authorities had not contacted Belarussian authorities about the passports. "Normally, we are notified in such cases through Interpol and have at least serial numbers of the documents to run checks against," Patron said.

This most likely means that the newspapers have "distorted information," or that the seized passports either are fakes or are passports of another country that look similar to those from Belarus, Savinykh said by telephone from Minsk.

The U.S. officials who said Mahmud had obtained Belarussian passports would not say where or when the passports had been issued and in whose names, The New York Times reported.

Both the Interior Ministry and Foreign Ministry insisted that no officials from Hussein's administration have found asylum in Belarus. "From the common sense perspective, this would be beyond the boundaries of minimal probability," Savinykh said.

Calls to the Iraqi Embassy in Minsk went unanswered Wednesday.

President Alexander Lukashenko had maintained close ties with Hussein's regime, with Iraqi delegations regularly visiting Minsk before the war.

A Belarussian defense company had offered Iraq help in repairing and upgrading Soviet-made defense hardware, in violation of UN sanctions, according to documents reportedly found in Iraqi archives after Hussein's ouster. Belarussian authorities have denied this.

Prior to the war, there was speculation in the West that Hussein and his retinue might seek asylum in Belarus. Libya, Egypt and even Russia were also mentioned as possibilities.

Lukashenko has been waging a cold war against the United States and other Western countries, who object to his authoritarian rule, but he would have nothing to gain from granting asylum to Hussein or his retinue, said Irina Selivanova, a Belarus expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Economic and Political Research.

Hussein also would have no reason to seek refuge in Belarus, Selivanova said.

She said the reasoning that Lukashenko's authoritarian regime would have some appeal to the Iraqis does not hold up. "If one follows that logic then they should instead be seeking refuge in Turkmenistan, which is closer territorially and religiously."