Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has made extensive preparations to flee Iraq and has already smuggled his family out to Syria, according to a report in the Sydney Daily Telegraph.

Just days before the bombing of Baghdad began, says the paper, Saddam’s first wife, Sajida – mother of his heirs Uday and Qusay – fled to Damascus with three truckloads of possessions and 60 bodyguards.

In addition, the dictator reportedly has been selling off property and valuables to raise money for his exile.

Saddam’s former protocol minister, Haitham Rashid Wihaib, told newspapers in London that Hussein’s family members are staying with Iraq’s ambassador to Syria.

According to the Telegraph report, several of his most senior lieutenants, including his deputy Tariq Aziz, also have sent their families on ahead to Syria before the fall of Baghdad.

The families were able to slip away because they had been staying close to the border for several weeks, avoiding allied monitoring of movements from Baghdad.

They originally had planned to flee to Amman, Jordan, where many senior members of the Iraqi regime have homes and bank accounts. But Saddam reportedly does not trust the Jordanians, who have let U.S. troops into the country.

“He knows it is only a matter of time before he is defeated, and he has made sure that everything is in place for a very comfortable exile,” Wihaib told reporters.

If his escape route is cut, Wihaib claims, Saddam wants his most trusted bodyguards to kill him.

“Saddam will never be captured alive,” Wihaib said.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said today the United States and Britain would never be able to subdue the whole country and warned Syria might be the next target on Washington’s list.

“For sure, the United States is a superpower that can occupy a relatively small country. … The United States and Britain will not be able to control all of Iraq. There will be much tougher resistance,” Assad said in an interview with Lebanon’s as-Safir newspaper.

“As long as Israel exists, the threat [of a U.S. attack on Syria] is there. As long as there is an aggression on an Arab country and a war on our borders, the danger is there. … But worry does not translate to fear.”

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