The former deputy prime minister of Iraq, and the minister of its military industrialization program, Abdel Tawab Mullah Huweish, surrendered quietly to U.S officials in Baghdad late Thursday afternoon in a deal brokered through prominent Shiite clerics.
The surrender, witnessed by a NEWSWEEK reporter, took place on a quiet residential street near one of Baghdad's main Shia mosques. Huweish was listed as No. 16 on the U.S. list of Iraq's 55 most wanted men, and he may reveal a trove of information about Iraq's weapons program. Huweish's arrest was announced Friday along with that of two other top leaders of the former regime, Taha Muhie-eldin Marouf, a former vice president, as well as Khadr Hadi, a Revolutionary Command Council member.
While the details on the two latter figures remain unclear, Huweish's arrest was carried out as quietly as possible. At 3:55 p.m. on Thursday, a gold Mercedes pulled up to the door of a mosque office on a quiet street in one of Baghdad's more prominent Shia neighborhoods. Huweish was in the rear seat, and as he drove by Iraqis in the street turned their heads, perhaps recognizing a man whose beret-clad face has appeared next to Saddam Hussein's on so many occasions. Five minutes later, at precisely 4 p.m., four military Humvees turned the corner of the street and parked in front of the office's back door. Two U.S. military officers emerged from a white SUV, also in the convoy, and were taken into the mosque. Ten minutes later, Huweish, dressed elegantly in a silver-colored suit and a tie, emerged and made his way to the SUV accompanied by the two officers. Before being led inside, he paused in the street and embraced two of the Shia clerics who had helped negotiate his surrender. Then, with a quick glance up and down the street and a nod and a smile to the few bystanders who had gathered on the sidewalks at the sight of the American troops, he brushed his hand down the front of his suit and stepped up into the truck. The small crowd watched quietly.
Huweish had been in hiding since the fall of the regime last month. NEWSWEEK has learned the details of the negotiations behind his surrender from one of the intermediaries, who had met him while Huweish was serving as minister of health as well as the minister for military industrialization. Huweish had helped to arrange an urgent heart operation for one of the followers of the cleric, who asked to remain anonymous. Two days ago, the cleric was contacted by some of Huweish's intermediaries about a possible surrender--an action that the religious leader felt would be an beneficial to Iraq. "[The cleric] wanted to do a service for his country because Tawab is one of the 55 most-wanted people, and it's possible that he might give information that would serve the people," one of the intermediaries told NEWSWEEK. Negotiations with the Americans were begun on Wednesday, in the late afternoon, when the intermediaries paid a visit to the local American commander.
There was some bargaining. Tawab was upset that his Baghdad residence had been taken over, first by looters, then by American soldiers and finally by representatives of an opposition group. He claimed that many personal items had been stolen, including several thousand dollars in cash. In exchange for his surrender, he wanted the Americans to do something about his lost goods.
By 2 p.m Thursday, the U.S. negotiators gave their answer: They would try to fulfill at least part of Tawab's request. They also reassured the intermediaries that Huweish would be "treated in a decent humanitarian way." Tawab, who at that point was staying in a Baghdad home, was told of the conditions and, according to people present at the talks, a "zero hour" for the surrender was arranged. "Huweish came to the agreed place and we told the Americans that now we have the man," said one of the intermediaries. Why did he surrender? "Huweish knew that he had no criminal, or destructive role and that he would not be judged because he saw himself as a technocrat," said one of those involved. "He wanted to prove to the United States and to the Iraqi people that he was innocent of what had happened to the Iraqis."
Huweish's role is certainly an intriguing one for Washington. As minister for military industrialization, he was responsible for significant portions of Iraq's weapons-development program in the period after United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998. It is believed that Saddam may have used that interval to significantly ramp up his country's weapons development program. If so, Huweish may prove an invaluable source to the Americans. "It is definite that he has important information about the technical aspects regarding military industrialization that were active in the last few years," says the man who directly dealt with Huweish in his surrender, "Saddam relied in a focused way on some specific military capabilities, so Huweish will have valuable information."
As Huweish pulled away from the mosque in U.S. custody, the soldiers had grim faces. But the account of the initial meeting appeared to have been quiet and cordial with the U.S officers joking and drinking tea with Huweish. According to sources present at the meeting, the U.S officers joked about Iraqis having stomach trouble, and one of the Shia clerics present replied that Iraqis didn't have such problems before the arrival of U.S troops. "We served them tea," said one of the clerics, "The Americans love Iraqi tea." As he left the building, the U.S officers politely stepped aside while Huweish said his goodbyes and surveyed the streets of Baghdad on his own two feet, perhaps for the last time in a long while. And then, with a bow to the translator working with the Americans, he was gone.