The King of Diamonds Grabbed by U.S.

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The last public mention of Aziz Saleh Numan — the King of Diamonds in the US deck of most-wanted Iraqis — came on March 24. It was only days after U.S. forces launched the war. In a broadcast apparently intended to show that Saddam was still in charge, the "Voice of Youth Radio,” a station run by Uday, Saddam's eldest son, reported that the Iraqi president met with Numan, and Republican Guard chief Qusay Hussein, another of Saddam's sons.

Since then little was heard of Numan until he was seized at dawn by U.S. forces in Baghdad today. Numan is the highest-ranking former Iraqi official to be taken into custody by the U.S. so far and eighth on the list most wanted fugitives. He is also a man described on a US State Dept. website as rising, "from low-key provincial positions thanks to his reputed cruelty, brutal efficiency, and loyalty."

Numan served as military governor of Iraqi occupied Kuwait during the first Gulf War, presiding over a wave of torture, murder, rape, looting and other atrocities, as hundreds of the sheikdom's oil wells were set ablaze. A Shiite and tribal leader from Nasiriyya, he has been accused of using the most brutal methods to put down a Shiite rebellion in 1991 southern Iraq.

Although rumored to have been a figurehead with little personal involvement in misdeeds committed by others, US officials have said in the past that they would like to prosecute him for war crimes.

Numan's capture was accompanied only by a terse statement from the US Central Command that offered no detail. But TIME has learned that Numan's capture followed a three-week back-and-forth negotiation involving Numan's family and other intermediaries, a scenario not unlike the one that paved the way for the surrender of deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz to US forces on April 24.

Family members were concerned that Numan, who is 62 and a diabetic in constant need of insulin, was in precarious health and would require medical attention that he could not get while hiding from US forces. So intermediaries approached the US government. At first, family members tried to find out what crimes Numan might be charged with and whether he could avoid being tried by an Iraqi court. But the US has made clear it will not offer guarantees to anyone, although US operatives do offer private assurances that prisoners will be treated properly and receive medical attention.

Eventually, family members were given a Baghdad contact through which to reach US operatives. Meanwhile, Numan's son-in-law, a medical doctor, was reportedly taken into custody in hopes of convincing him to lead them to Numan. But the son-in-law refused and was released.

As the negotiations wore on and the pressure mounted, an increasingly desperate Numan apparently tried to take his own life by injecting himself with insulin, but was prevented from doing so by his son. At another point within the last week, the family reportedly placed a public notice in a Baghdad newspaper announcing that Numan had died of a heart attack and that his sister had held a wake at her house in Baghdad.

That did not fool US forces. When authorities zeroed in on Numan early Thursday morning, they first surrounded the houses of Numan's brother and son-in-law in the posh Baghdad neighborhood of Yarmuk. Numan wasn't at either address, but family members eventually led US forces to the nearby house of Numan's sister, where the fugitive was hiding. Carrying insulin, a few clothes and packs of Kent cigarettes, Numan was led away with his brother and son-in-law, both of whom have since been released.

So far the US has taken 25 of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis into custody. But despite the negotiations, Numan's capture was not voluntary — unlike that of deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz. Aziz was allowed to give himself up to US authorities after which his immediate relatives and the family members of other Iraqi elites were reportedly flown out of the country on a US C130.

Numan's capture represents an intensification of the US campaign against the one-time Iraqi leadership. Gen. Tommy Franks today ordered all full members of the former ruling Baath Party to identify themselves to the U.S. military. "Go to the nearest U.S. military forces and identify yourselves, and then wait to be told what to do,'' the general's statement said. “There must be no Baath Party activity, because the party no longer exists.” As many as 1.5 million of Iraq's 24 million people belonged to the party, but only 25,000 to 50,000 were hard core members. The U.S. civilian administration, led by L. Paul Bremer, announced last week that up to 30,000 former Baathists would be kept out of any new, American-established government.

As a member of the ruling Baath Party elite, Numan apparently never lost faith in the regimes mission. Receiving a friend in his tony villa near the Tigris less than two weeks before the start of the war, Numan appeared relaxed and confident. Inviting a guest into a living room decorated with pictures of himself posed with Saddam — Numan, wearing a long Arab robe, reportedly said, "The Americans can bomb, but they'll never be able to handle street-to-street fighting. And even if Iraq suffers casualties, the Americans could loose 300 or 400 soldiers and they'll just have to pull out."

That judgment turned out to be wrong