The would-be beneficiaries of George W. Bush's 'regime change' in Iraq are a bunch of thugs.
Thursday, September 26, 2002
Corrupt, feckless and downright dangerous. Some say the contenders for Saddam Hussein''s throne make the Butcher of Baghdad himself look good.
Ever since the September 11 attacks, "regime change" has been the catchphrase coming out of Washington. But if George Bush is as intent on invading Iraq as he seems to be, overthrowing the Iraqi regime and deposing Saddam may well turn out to be the easy part.
Following any ousting of Saddam, the task will be to prevent anarchy from returning to the streets of Baghdad and the oil facilities throughout the country. To that end the US needs its own strongman to put in Saddam''s place.
Saddam, of course, has never had a problem with making enemies. Indeed, the breadth of the Iraqi opposition--from Islamic fundamentalists and communists to monarchists and free-marketeers--demonstrates this. Seemingly every week a new group springs up and issues a statement to the international media. There are, however, some basic patterns to the cacophony of proclamations from new movements, councils and parties that purport to represent the voice of the Iraqi individual.
There are groups like the Iraqi Communist Party and al-Daawa al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Call). And there are groups representing ethnic interests such as the four million Iraqi Kurds, and the country''s Shi''as, which make up 60 percent of the population.
But they remain split within their own ranks, and have no chance of being installed in Saddam''s place as they cannot claim to represent all Iraqis.
There are also groups, often formed under US auspices after 1990. The US has tried to encourage senior members of Iraq''s military and civilian establishments to defect to the West, and their prize has often been the prospect of taking a leading political role in a post-Saddam Iraq. It is from these groups that the US will select the new rulers if they succeed in ousting Saddam.
"He may be a son-of-a-bitch," President Franklin D Roosevelt is said to have commented of the brutal Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza, "but he''s our son-of-a-bitch." Saddam was Washington''s SOB throughout most of the Reagan administration.
Judging from the current rogues'' gallery of heirs to Saddam, it''s anyone''s guess which of them will be tagged with Washington''s favourite SOB epithet this time around.
General Nizar Al-Khazraji
According to many human rights groups, Al-Khazraji is the field commander who led the chemical weapons attack which poisoned and burned 5,000 Kurdish civilians in the northern town of Halabja in March 1988. He also, alleges one credible eyewitness, kicked a little Kurdish child to death after his forces entered a village in 1988.
But, says Ambassador David Mack, a senior official in the US State Department, General Nizar al-Khazraji has "a good military reputation" and "the right ingredients" as a future leader in Iraq.
The most senior military officer to defect since 1990, al-Khazraji was Saddam''s chief of staff from 1980 until 1991, leading the army through the Iran-Iraq war and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. He left Iraq in 1996 and was granted political asylum first in Spain and then in Denmark, where he now lives. There are claims that he was reluctant to leave Iraq, but that the CIA tempted him with promises of a major political role after the overthrow of Saddam. He has not been quiet about his plans to lead Iraq: he once described his future leadership as a "sacred duty."
The Danish ministry of justice has launch an official investigation with the potential to bring war crimes charges against him. Eighty-nine Kurdish and human rights groups have issued a joint statement to demand his trial. He has been under house arrest for almost a year now.
Brigadier-General Najib Al-Salihi
In meetings at the British Foreign Office in March this year, Brigadier-General Najib al-Salihi acquired the sobriquet of "the rapidly rising star" of the Iraqi opposition. When a popular website of Iraqi exiles held an online poll to find who would be their preferred future leader, al-Salihi raced ahead--until the poll had to be suspended amid suspicions it was being rigged. In any case, it wouldn''t have been the first Iraqi election to produce a victor with 99.9 percent of the vote.
Commander of an armoured division of Iraq''s elite Republican Guard in the Gulf War, Salihi played a significant military role in Iraq''s invasion of Kuwait. He was also engaged in putting down the uprising against Saddam''s rule that followed the defeat at the hands of the US-led forces. The repressive way in which this particular episode was handled caused 1.5 million people to flee their homes, while Salihi went on to write a book about his crushing of the popular uprising, entitled Al-Zilzal ["The Earthquake"].
After putting down another rebellion by an opposition group in 1995, Salihi defected to the side of his former enemies and came to co-operate with the US, where he now lives. He strikes a contradictory pose with regard to his future role. On the one hand he states that the military should not be engaged in the politics of Iraq. On the other, he heads the CIA-sponsored Iraqi Free Officers Movement, another collection of dubious military exiles in the Washington suburbs, which he claims can raise 30,000 fighters.
He forecasts a scenario in which Saddam would be on the run, suggesting that US aircraft policing the no-fly zones could be used to back an advance on Baghdad by rebel forces from the north.
Cleverly, Salihi avoids giving the impression of power-hungriness and speaks of the "tough work ahead" and the "bond of trust with the Iraqi people." The same Iraqi people he so mercilessly crushed when they opposed Saddam.
Ahmad al-Chalabi came to international attention not for his politics, but for fleeing to London from Jordan in 1989 amid allegations he had embezzled millions from the bank he used to own. Although he denies any wrongdoing, the collapse of the Petra Bank left thousands of its customers in penury. He didn''t return to Jordan to defend himself at his trial in 1992, which took place in his absence, and will begin his 32 years in prison only if he returns to Jordan, which he shows no sign of doing at present.
The long-time face of the Iraqi opposition in Washington, Chalabi took the reins of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an umbrella organization created in 1992 with the assistance of the CIA. He is widely accepted as the first among equals and is spoken of by INC officials as the future president of Iraq. This despite the fact that the US State Department recently found that about half of the $4 million it had given to the INC was not properly accounted for. They clearly expected better from a former math professor and banker, and cut off funding. Chalabi, however, galvanised his US supporters, and the Pentagon and the White House again started picking up the tab.
Chalabi is, if nothing else, an operator. One delegate at a New York meeting of the INC said of him: "He takes more than his share, much more than his share, and I get nothing. Just look at the way he dresses. They say Saddam has 300 suits; well, this guy has 400."
Many Chalabi mannerisms that appeal in the West may have been picked up at his Sussex private school, where he was a member of the cadet corps--his sole training for planning an invasion of Iraq.
Just as the US was forgetting him in the wake of more accusations of financial irregularities, he came up with a plan to unseat Saddam in a choreographed 11-week maneuver. The plot, launched at Chalabi''s Mayfair home and involving turning untrained volunteers into successful revolutionaries, provided him with the soundbite necessary to capture US policymakers'' minds in the wake of September 11. Few stopped to question if it verged on the unrealistic.
Convicted embezzlers, accused war criminals and CIA stooges to a man, few if any of those who would dethrone Saddam match up to the proverbial man on a white horse, a respected military officer who can ride in, take control and unite Iraq''s fractious tribes and religious groups. Serious questions remain as to the readiness, willingness and fitness to lead of those in main contention.
As Said K. Aburish, the respected Middle Eastern writer and biographer of Saddam Hussein, concluded: "I examined my notes of the interviews I conducted with 82 Iraqi opposition leaders, and began identifying those on my list whose thinking resembles Saddam''s. To my horror, I decided 75 of the people I interviewed were men who would kill to achieve their goal." One can only wonder whether Washington has come to the same conclusion, or indeed really cares.
David Pratt is the Foreign Editor of the Sunday Herald in Glasgow, Scotland.