The former Iraqi president fell into the hands of fighters from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) after he was betrayed by a man belonging to the al-Jabur tribe, according to reports on Sunday.

The betrayal arose because the man's daughter was once raped by Saddam's son Uday, the Sunday Express tabloid says, quoting an unnamed British military intelligence officer.

The story of the blood feud and the role of Kurdish forces in Saddam's capture on 13 December "exposes the version peddled by American spin doctors as incomplete" the paper says.

Quoting an unnamed senior British intelligence officer, the report says Saddam – on whose head the US had placed a $25 million bounty - was then held captive by the PUK, which bargained with the US before arranging to hand the drugged dictator over.

The paper quotes an Iraqi intelligence source confirming that series of events.

The paper also quotes a senior UK intelligence source as saying Saddam will eventually "be held in a prison in Qatar for the rest of his life". The Gulf state is home to the US military command centre for the Middle East.

Kurdish role

The PUK, led by Jalal Talabani, has long campaigned for Kurdish autonomy and fought as a US ally in the war to topple Saddam.

The deal over the ousted Iraqi president apparently rewards the PUK with some political gain in the Kurdish-dominated north.

The PUK reportedly used Saddam 
to gain political benefits

News of Saddam's capture broke late on Saturday 14 December when Talabani told the Iranian news agency IRNA the former Iraqi president had been detained near Tikrit.

Kurds in the north of the country were openly celebrating early on Sunday - hours before the US military in Baghdad announced it had Saddam in custody.

A PUK spokesman, Nazim Dabag, told Reuters news agency the night of Saddam's capture PUK special forces accompanied by American troops arrested Saddam Hussein, the Sunday Express says.

The following day, Kurdish media sources echoed that line. KurdishMedia.com said an intelligence unit led by a senior PUK official and accompanied by a group of US soldiers found the former Iraqi leader in his birthplace of Tikrit.

Sedated

The capture of a defeated Saddam, and his later appearance on television looking compliant and bewildered, prompted many to claim the ousted leader had been sedated.

"Everyone who knew him closely knows that he who was shown on television screens was a drugged Saddam Hussein," his eldest daughter Raghad told Dubai-based al-Arabiya television.

Later, she told CNN: "One of the people he relied on must have put something in his food... because I know my father would never surrender."

"Saddam appeared to be asleep when the US soldiers first found him, which has also given rise to speculation that he was drugged," the Sunday Express says.

Intelligence sources

The UK paper's version of events stressing the Kurdish involvement was written by a former Aljazeera.net journalist who is known to have extensive contacts in the Middle East and among British intelligence sources.

A US soldier enters the hole where
Saddam was found near Tikrit

An unnamed Western intelligence official was quoted as saying Saddam "was not captured as a result of any American or British intelligence".

"We knew that someone would eventually take their revenge, it was just a matter of time," the source said.

Aljazeera.net telephoned US Central Command in Florida and Baghdad on Sunday, but no one was immediately available for comment.

But according to the US military's official account of Saddam's capture, a top aide of the ousted Iraqi leader, who had helped Saddam evade the US-led occupation forces, gave the Americans crucial information about the fugitive's movements when he was caught and interrogated last month.

Troops from the US 4th Infantry Division then narrowed their search to two locations near Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, before discovering Saddam in a small underground hideout by the village of al-Dawr on 13 December.