Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction/Part 3
IRAQ UNDER SADDAM HUSSEIN
- The Republic of Iraq is bounded by Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Syria and the Persian Gulf. Its population of around 23 million is ethnically and religiously diverse. Approximately 77% are Arabs. Sunni Muslims form around 17% of the Arab population and dominate the government. About 60% of Iraqis are Shias and 20% are Kurds. The remaining 3% of the population consists of Assyrians, Turkomans, Armenians, Christians and Yazidis.
- Public life in Iraq is nominally dominated by the Ba’ath Party (see box on p44). But all real authority rests with Saddam and his immediate circle. Saddam’s family, tribe and a small number of associates remain his most loyal supporters. He uses them to convey his orders, including to members of the government.
- Saddam uses patronage and violence to motivate his supporters and to control or eliminate opposition. Potential rewards include social status, money and better access to goods. Saddam’s extensive security apparatus and Ba’ath Party network provides oversight of Iraqi society, with informants in social, government and military organisations. Saddam practises torture, execution and other forms of coercion against his enemies, real or suspected. His targets are not only those who have offended him, but also their families, friends or colleagues.
- Saddam acts to ensure that there are no other centres of power in Iraq. He has crushed parties and ethnic groups, such as the communists and the Kurds, which might try to assert themselves. Members of the opposition abroad have been the targets of assassination attempts conducted by Iraqi security services.
- 5. Army officers are an important part of the Iraqi government’s network of informers. Suspicion that officers have ambitions other than the service of the President leads to immediate execution. It is routine for Saddam to take preemptive action against those who he believes might conspire against him.
Internal Repression – the Kurds and the Shias
- 6. Saddam has pursued a long-term programme of persecution of the Iraqi Kurds, including through the use of chemical weapons. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam appointed his cousin, Ali Hasan al-Majid, as his deputy in the north. In 1987-88, al-Majid led the “Anfal” campaign of attacks on Kurdish villages. Amnesty International estimates that more than 100,000 Kurds were killed or disappeared during this period.
- After the Gulf War in 1991 Kurds in the north of Iraq rose up against Baghdad’s rule. In response the Iraqi regime killed or imprisoned thousands, prompting a humanitarian crisis. Over a million Kurds fled into the mountains and tried to escape Iraq.
- Persecution of Iraq’s Kurds continues, although the protection provided by the northern No-Fly Zone has helped to curb the worst excesses. But outside this zone the Baghdad regime has continued a policy of persecution and intimidation.
- The regime has used chemical weapons against the Kurds, most notably in an attack on the town of Halabja in 1988 (see Part 1 Chapter 2 paragraph 9). The implicit threat of the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds and others is an important part of Saddam’s attempt to keep the civilian population under control.
- The regime has tried to displace the traditional Kurdish and Turkoman populations of the areas under its control, primarily in order to weaken Kurdish claims to the oil-rich area around the northern city of Kirkuk. Kurds and other non-Arabs are forcibly ejected to the three northern Iraqi governorates, Dohuk, Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, which are under de facto Kurdish control. According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) Special Rapporteur for Iraq, 94,000 individuals have been expelled since 1991. Agricultural land owned by Kurds has been confiscated and redistributed to Iraqi Arabs. Arabs from southern Iraq have been offered incentives to move into the Kirkuk area.
- After the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah in Iran, Saddam intensified a campaign against the Shia Muslim majority of Iraq, fearing that they might be encouraged by the new Shia regime in Iran.
- On 1 March 1991, in the wake of the Gulf War, riots broke out in the southern city of Basra, spreading quickly to other cities in Shia-dominated southern Iraq. The regime responded by killing thousands. Many Shia tried to escape to Iran and Saudi Arabia.
- Some of the Shia hostile to the regime sought refuge in the marshland of southern Iraq. In order to subjugate the area, Saddam embarked on a large-scale programme to drain the marshes to allow Iraqi ground forces to eliminate all opposition there. The rural population of the area fled or were forced to move to southern cities or across the border into Iran.
Saddam Hussein’s Wars
- As well as ensuring his absolute control inside Iraq, Saddam has tried to make Iraq the dominant power of the region. In pursuit of these objectives he has led Iraq into two wars of aggression against neighbours, the Iran-Iraq war and the invasion of Kuwait.
- With the fall of the Shah in Iran in 1979, relations between Iran and Iraq deteriorated sharply. In September 1980 Saddam renounced a border treaty he had agreed with Iran in 1975 ceding half of the Shatt al-Arab waterway to Iran. Shortly thereafter, Saddam launched a large-scale invasion of Iran. He believed that he could take advantage of the state of weakness, isolation and disorganisation he perceived in post-revolutionary Iran. He aimed to seize territory, including that ceded to Iran a few years earlier, and to assert Iraq’s position as a leader of the Arab world. Saddam expected it to be a short, sharp campaign. But the conflict lasted for eight years. Iraq fired over 500 ballistic missiles at Iranian targets, including major cities.
- It is estimated that the Iran-Iraq war cost the two sides a million casualties. Iraq used chemical weapons extensively from 1984. Some twenty thousand Iranians were killed by mustard gas and the nerve agents tabun and sarin, all of which Iraq still possesses. The UN Security Council considered the report prepared by a team of three specialists appointed by the UN Secretary General in March 1986, following which the President made a statement condemning Iraqi use of chemical weapons. This marked the first time a country had been named for violating the 1925 Geneva Convention banning the use of chemical weapons.
- The cost of the war ran into hundreds of billions of dollars for both sides. Iraq gained nothing. After the war ended, Saddam resumed his previous pursuit of primacy in the Gulf. His policies involved spending huge sums of money on new military equipment. But Iraq was burdened by debt incurred during the war and the price of oil, Iraq’s only major export, was low.
- By 1990 Iraq’s financial problems were severe. Saddam looked at ways to press the oil-producing states of the Gulf to force up the price of crude oil by limiting production and waive the $40 billion that they had loaned Iraq during its war with Iran. Kuwait had made some concessions over production ceilings. But Saddam blamed Kuwait for over-production. When his threats and blandishments failed, Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990. He believed that occupying Kuwait could prove profitable.
- Saddam also sought to justify the conquest of Kuwait on other grounds. Like other Iraqi leaders before him, he claimed that, as Kuwait’s rulers had come under the jurisdiction of the governors of Basra in the time of the Ottoman Empire, Kuwait should belong to Iraq.
- During its occupation of Kuwait, Iraq denied access to the Red Cross, which has a mandate to provide protection and assistance to civilians affected by international armed conflict. The death penalty was imposed for relatively minor “crimes” such as looting and hoarding food.
- In an attempt to deter military action to expel it from Kuwait, the Iraqi regime took hostage several hundred foreign nationals (including children) in Iraq and Kuwait and prevented thousands more from leaving, in direct contravention of international humanitarian law. Hostages were held as human shields at a number of strategic military and civilian sites.
- At the end of the Gulf War, the Iraqi army fleeing Kuwait set fire to over 1,160 Kuwaiti oil wells with serious environmental consequences.
- More than 600 Kuwaiti and other prisoners of war and missing persons are still unaccounted for. Iraq refuses to comply with its UN obligation to account for the missing. It has provided sufficient information to close only three case-files.
Abuse of human rights
- This section draws on reports of human rights abuses from authoritative international organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
- Human rights abuses continue within Iraq. People continue to be arrested and detained on suspicion of political or religious activities or often because they are related to members of the opposition. Executions are carried out without due process of law. Relatives are often prevented from burying the victims in accordance with Islamic practice. Thousands of prisoners have been executed.
- Saddam has issued a series of decrees establishing severe penalties for criminal offences. These include amputation, branding, cutting off ears, and other forms of mutilation. Anyone found guilty of slandering the President has their tongue removed.
Saddam Hussein’s family
- Saddam’s son Udayy maintained a private torture chamber known as the Red Room in a building on the banks of the Tigris disguised as an electricity installation. He created a militia in 1994 which has used swords to execute victims outside their own homes. He has personally executed dissidents, for instance in the Shia uprising at Basra which followed the Gulf War.
- Members of Saddam’s family are also subject to persecution. A cousin of Saddam, Ala Abd al-Qadir al-Majid, fled to Jordan from Iraq citing disagreements with the regime over business matters. He returned to Iraq after the Iraqi Ambassador in Jordan declared publicly that his life was not in danger. He was met at the border by Tahir Habbush, Head of the Directorate of General Intelligence (the Mukhabarat), and taken to a farm owned by Ali Hasan al-Majid. At the farm Ala was tied to a tree and executed by members of his immediate family who, following orders from Saddam, took it in turns to shoot him
- Some 40 of Saddam’s relatives, including women and children, have been killed. His sons-in-law Hussein and Saddam Kamil had defected in 1995 and returned to Iraq from Jordan after the Iraqi government had announced amnesties for them. They were executed in February 1996.
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