Dial Saddam for Murder

Sargon Dadesho survived an Iraqi assassination plot. Now he's out for blood money.

One bullet through the head, then a quick drive to Mexico. That was the plan. If it lacked artistry or cunning -- qualities one might expect of an international political assassination -- the man who set out to kill Sargon Dadesho didn't seem to care. He believed simplicity would do.

Dadesho was no head of state, after all, with bodyguards and armored limousines. He was just a pushy Assyrian with a little radio station in Modesto. Dadesho wouldn't even see it coming. A no-frills, economy hit -- one .22-caliber bullet -- and on to Mexico to pick up the second half of the $50,000 fee. Then it was home free, back to Iraq.

That's how Andri Khoshaba envisioned the murder. It was the way he explained it while trying to enlist the help of a friend, Rodes Youkhana. Khoshaba offered to split the $50,000 evenly if Youkhana helped with the killing.

But Youkhana had other loyalties -- and a tape recorder.
"I am telling you, one shot to the head. I fuck his sister. He is not a lion to avoid death," Khoshaba told Youkhana in one of the conversations recorded by his duplicitous confederate. The government of Iraq would pay for the murder, Khoshaba claimed, and provide haven in Iraq after Dadesho was executed.

Before the plan could be carried out, however, Youkhana snitched, and his secretly recorded tapes were turned over to the FBI. When a federal grand jury heard what was on them, it indicted Khoshaba on four counts including conspiracy, interstate travel in connection with a murder for hire, and acting as an agent for a foreign government. Khoshaba ultimately copped to one of the charges, and was sentenced to five years in federal prison.

Iraq's second-highest-ranking official at the United Nations, Hamed Ahmed al-Amery, was thrown out of the United States for his alleged role in the plot. Diplomatic immunity shielded him from prosecution.

Eight years and one war have passed since the assassination scheme was uncovered. Dadesho can still be found in Modesto, alive but wary. He remains, apparently, the only U.S. citizen that Saddam Hussein's government has attempted to kill on U.S. soil.

From a small radio and television complex just south of Modesto, Dadesho continues to agitate for his people -- the Assyrians -- a minority in northern Iraq that has suffered greatly under Hussein's rule. Dadesho's skill in pressing the Assyrian cause apparently drew Hussein's wrath, and the assassination plot was intended to quiet him. Obviously, that didn't happen.

Dadesho, in fact, is now anticipating a small measure of revenge.
After surviving the effort to kill him, Dadesho sued Iraq in U.S. District Court, accusing the Iraqi government of racketeering, civil rights violations, and infliction of emotional distress. Iraq made no effort to defend itself against the suit, and in 1995 a judge awarded Dadesho $1.5 million in damages.

Only after losing did Iraq hire a local law firm to contest the judgment at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the 11th hour, Iraq is arguing that its government never actually sanctioned the hit on Dadesho. Iraq's lawyers -- the San Francisco firm of Trump, Alioto, Trump & Prescott -- are asking that the judgment be set aside.

As the legal jousting enters its final round, it seems almost certain that Dadesho will prevail. The government of Iraq will owe Dadesho $1.5 million, plus a half-million or so in interest that has accrued since the judgment was entered.

Collecting money from Hussein's government may seem a fool's errand, particularly for someone the Iraqis apparently wanted dead. But Dadesho is only 48 years old. He's a patient man.

He figures Hussein's rule must end someday. If U.S. bombs help speed that outcome, so be it. When Hussein falls or Iraq manages to re-enter the good graces of the international community, its bank accounts will be unfrozen and it will have to pay its debtors.

Dadesho will be waiting. He intends to collect his due -- his blood money -- for himself and for the Assyrians.

When they celebrate the beginning of their culture's New Year this March, the world's Assyrians will mark the advent of the year 6748. They are a very old people. In Mesopotamia, the Assyrian civilization flourished between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers thousands of years before Christ. Early Assyrian culture continues to yield rich veins of study for scholars of ancient language, writing, philosophy, law, and science.

Over the centuries, Assyrians have ruled their own land less often than they have been ruled by others. The great Assyrian dynasties began with King Sargon I in 2300 B.C. and ended about 1,800 years later. Before and after, Assyria has been ruled by various potentates, satraps, monarchs, and dictators, and the Assyrian people have blended and battled with Persians, Turks, Arabs, Mongols, and Asians.

Assyrians embraced Christianity from the outset -- "We accepted Christianity from the Apostles themselves," Dadesho says -- but found themselves increasingly outnumbered as Islam took hold across most of the Middle East.

By about 1300 A.D., Assyrian civilization had dwindled, and the Assyrian language, one of the world's oldest tongues, was being largely usurped by Arabic. For the next 600 years, Assyrians endured what their scholars call the Dark Age, struggling to forestall the day when oppression and time's passage would wear their culture down to little more than historical detritus.

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