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(photo credit: AP)
Jordan is not ready to surrender Saddam Hussein's eldest daughter to Iraq, despite an Interpol alert and a new push from Iraq for her handover, a top government spokesman said Monday.
Nasser Judeh cited traditional Arab protection of a woman guest living in the country as the reason, but Iraqi officials contend the daughter deserves trial because she is funneling money to violent Sunni militants in Iraq.
However, Judeh would not rule out the possibility that Raghad Saddam Hussein, 38, who enjoys asylum in Jordan, could be handed over to Iraqis at some later date.
The issue is one of several things that have caused tension between Iraq and Jordan in the last few years, as Shiite-Sunni tensions inside Iraq and across the region have grown.
Jordan, which is mostly Sunni, has been leery of Iraq's Shiite-led government, while Iraq fears that Sunni insurgents get money and aid from the large Sunni Iraq refugee population in Jordan.
An Interpol red alert issued last year saying Raghad is wanted for "crimes against life, incitement and terrorism" gained new publicity after Iraqi government announcement this weekend.
Government officials in Baghdad have previously accused Raghad of similar crimes - saying that she was one of several wealthy Amman-based Iraqi Sunni Arabs who are funding militants fighting a bloody insurgency that has bred sectarianism and brought the country to the brink of all-out civil war.
Jordan has rejected requests by two successive Iraqi prime ministers, including the current Nouri al-Maliki, to hand over Raghad.
Raghad's asylum in the Hashemite kingdom was granted on humanitarian grounds, Judeh said. Privately, government officials have said that to hand her over would violate Arab codes of honor and would be embarrassing for Jordan.
Under terms of her asylum, Raghad agreed "never to practice any political or media activities" while living in Jordan, Judeh said.
A red alert is only a warning from Interpol, not an arrest warrant, Judeh said. He would not say whether Raghad was mentioned during last week's high level security talks with Iraq's security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie in the Jordanian capital.
But Jordan's independent Al Arab Al Yawm daily reported Monday that al-Rubaie handed Jordanian officials a "list of wanted people, with Raghad at the top."
Citing unnamed members who were part of the Iraqi security delegation, the Arabic-language newspaper said the wanted among others also included Raghad's two cousins, Iraqi Sunni opposition leader Mishan al-Jubouri; a prominent journalist in Iraq, and the eldest son of Saddam's deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who is now in US custody.
Raghad, her younger sister Rana and their children came to Jordan in July 2003, three months after Baghdad fell to US-led forces who toppled their father.
Jordan's King Abdullah II granted them asylum because they were considered as women and children left with no family and no male protection.
In 1996, Abdullah's late father, King Hussein, granted asylum to the women's husbands, including Raghad's husband Hussein Kamel - who was responsible for Iraq's nuclear file and the country's military industrialization - after they defected from Iraq.
But months later, the men were lured back to Iraq where they were executed.
Raghad is known to have considered King Hussein as an "uncle." Hussein enjoyed good relations with Saddam, who provided cash-strapped Jordan with free oil.
Former Information Minister Saleh Qallab ridiculed the allegations against Raghad in comments Monday in Jordan's pro-government al Rai newspaper.
"If Raghad Saddam Hussein was responsible for all what is happening in Iraq with the chaos, massacres, car bombs, al-Qaida, al-Mahdi army, ... then the Americans shouldn't be in dialogue with the Iranians, but with her," Qallab said.
But Raghad has been known to speak up publicly in support of the anti-American insurgency in Iraq - most recently in Yemen in February where she joined hundreds of Baath party supporters commemorating the 40-day passage of Saddam's death.
At the gathering, Raghad - who supervised Saddam's defense and is known as "Little Saddam" because she shares her father's strident temperament - said that "as long as the resistance and the mujahedeen are fulfilling their duties in Iraq, the Iraqi people, without any doubt, will achieve victory."