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France mulled protecting Saddam aides.

Byline: AFP

PARIS: Three months before the US invasion of Iraq, France was considering protecting senior figures from Saddam Hussein s regime, according to a senior intelligence officer s notes published Monday.

Extracts taken from the private diaries of General Philippe Rondot, a former adviser on intelligence and special operations in President Jacques Chirac s government, were reprinted in the French daily Liberation.

In a passage dated December 3, 2002, the general refers to an "agreement in principle to recover if necessary Tareq Aziz and Al-Rafai", referring to the then Iraqi foreign minister and a prominent Baath Party politician.

Three weeks later on December 23, Rondot met Chirac s chief of staff and afterwards noted: "Iraq situation report: exfiltration of personalities: ex Tareq Aziz, sources, engineers. My trip to the zone, mid-January."

Then on January 2, Rondot met the then French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin, best known at the time for his fierce opposition to the US invasion threat at the United Nations Security Council.

"Informed of my projects on S. Hussein. Understand that we should recover Iraqis seeking to shelter in the embassy, sensitive researchers, the case of Tareq Aziz," noted the general after the meeting, according to Liberation. Rondot apparently drew up a list of the Iraqi officials and engineers that France should seek to protect.

Some of the names were considered "sensitive" by his political masters, but on January 12 he reported having received a green light for at least part of his plan: "Iraqi ops: agreement on my operational propositions.Eoe1/4A[yen] On January 15, he wrote to Villepin to update him on the plan.

"The direct contacts that I have with the ministry of defense and various Syrian agencies lead me to believe that Syria could serve as a launch base for various clandestine operations in the Iraqi theatre," he said.

Rondot remained in contact with his Iraqi sources, and with the US Central Intelligence Agency, but -- after the invasion of March 20 -- Aziz in fact ended up surrendering himself to US forces on April 24.

The minister, a member of Iraq s Christian minority, has since been tried by Iraq s post-invasion government, convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to two jail terms of 15 and seven years.

Liberation said it has access to many of Rondot s notes from the period between 1997 and 2005 when he was an intelligence officer attached to the French defense ministry, and that they reveal several secrets.

In addition to the idea of saving Aziz, the extracts published Monday suggest that the CIA sent France a list of Al-Qaeda militants marked for assassination and that Paris considered taking part in the programme.

According to the general s account, following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Chirac considered but rejected the idea that French agents could take part in the "neutralization" or "kidnapping" of Al-Qaeda targets.

Leaks from the notes began to appear in the press after they were seized by magistrates probing the Clear stream scandal, in which Villepin is accused of manipulating intelligence data to smear current President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2009

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Sep 8, 2009
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