18/02/04 General Nizar Al-Khazraji and Sloppy Journalism

General Al-Khazraji was the field commander is alleged to have led the 48-hour chemical weapons attack which poisoned and burned 5000 Kurdish civilians in the northern town of Halabja in March 1988. He also, alleges one credible eyewitness, who testified in video-taped evidence, kicked a little Kurdish child to death after his forces entered a village during the height of the Iraqi repression in 1988.

According to Ambassador David Mack, (who is said to have never met him) a senior official in the US State Department who co-ordinates meetings of Iraqi opposition groups in Washington DC, 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 is a Sunni and was Saddam’s chief of staff from 1980 until 1991, leading the army through the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. He was responsible for attacks upon the Kurds from Feb 23rd – Sept 6th in 1988 under the “Anfal” (Koranic section covering the spoils of war) in which 100,000 Kurds were made homeless and 10,000 are said to have died.

He left Iraq in 1996 and was granted political asylum first in Spain and then in Denmark, where he now lives in Soroe a quiet suburb of Copenhagen. There are claims he was reluctant to leave Iraq, but that the CIA tempted him with promises of a major political role after the overthrow of Saddam. As a result, he has not been quiet about his plans to lead Iraq, once describing his future leadership as a ‘sacred duty’. Apparently the CIA were reluctant to hand him funds and allow him to spend them as he wished.

Apart from his apparent boastfulness, which has alienated many of his fellow travellers in the exiled opposition, al-Khazraji’s role in some of the worst abuses of Saddam’s regime poses serious problems in presenting himself as a future leader of Iraq.

A Danish newspaper investigating al-Khazraji’s role found he was the field commander during the Halabja operation, choosing the chemicals to be used and the intensity with which to drop them. Although al-Khazraji denies having had this role, the allegations were serious and detailed enough for the Danish Ministry of Justice to 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.

Both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have come out in support of al-Khazraji, while another group, the Kurdistan National Congress asked the Danish minister of justice to press for his prosecution. Still, there has never been an official investigation because the Danes had reached the conclusion that the whole issue was fabricated. With regard to the events at Halabja, al-Khazraji says it is Saddam Husseyn and Ali Hasan al-Majid who bear responsibility for the massacre.

He was kept under effective house arrest for almost a year, guarded by four police officers. Despite this al-Khazraji, 64, a Sunni Muslim like many of the current rulers in Iraq, said he had no doubt the Iraqi military is ready to rise up against Saddam. All it will take is a lot of American firepower, carefully targeted, and some organising by military exiles like himself. How can he be so sure? ‘I was the chief of my army and I know my men very well,’ he says.

It is claimed he is close to Wafiq – al – Samara’I ex head of Military Intelligence who defected and now lives in London. They are both said to have strong Saudi contacts.

Al – Hayat a London based and highly respected paper quotes Iraqi opposition sources in Damascus saying Khazrhani is “most favoured candidate”.

In July 2002 Wolfowitz the US Deputy Defence Secretary met the Turkish Chief if Staff Huseyan Kivrikolglu and stressed that the US did not want a create to a separate Kurdish state and that the oil rich areas of Mosul would remain Iraqi.

During an interview on BBC Radio (Today Program BBC 8.10 am BST 23/9/2002) he was asked about American support for his position, and claims about his involvement with the Halabja gassing. He was very evasive and non-commital and appeared to resent being called the Harmad Kazai of Iraq. He was attempting to be humble and say he was merely a military man and once Saddam was toppled it was down to the politicians.

The BBC reporter stated that he had travelled to Denmark to meet him.

Since then little was heard of Al-Khazraji until the invasion of Iraq. Then on Sunday March 16th he disappeared from his home, which appeared not to alarm his family. The Kurdish weekly Hawlati on 21st March 2003 said he was in Suemani in South Kurdistan. Some Kurdish opposition groups told the Danish Newspaper Ekstra Bladet that the CIA had spirited him away to Saudi, another Danish newspaper BT said the CIA had taken him to Saudi via Hamburg and quoted a US official saying he was in the Persian Gulf helping US troops.

On the 23rd March the Washington Post claimed he was in Qatar with Najib Sahli. Sahli was also accused of complicity in the Halabja gassing and subject to investigation by the Danish authorities. They were said to be “helping” the US armed forces with their knowledge of the Iraqi army. At the same time the Danish Prime Minister said that the Police would investigate his disappearance.

Later reports said that Al-Khazraji had been seen with Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, the two Kurdish leaders.

Since then the airwaves, the daily blats, the TV screens remain silent on the subject of Mr Al-Khazraji

Sloppy journalism

Mr Byford,described as the Acting Director General of the BBC and Leeds University friend of Geoff Hoon ( described as the Minister of Defence) has a keen eye for sloppy journalism, especially on the Today program. I cannot help wondering why the BBC sent a hack all the way to Copenhagen to interview this man , to say nothing worthwhile, to broadcast it on the top “drive” slot and who was, despite his exotic Iraqi past, to so shortly disappear, either to Saudi, Qatar, Northern Iraq or somewhere else with the aid of the CIA.

Compared with Gilligan’s breathless classic first real break on the story of the deceit, dishonesty, and plain unvarnished lies of the UK Government, which so quickly and finally led to the death by his own (or other hands) of a top UK spook – now I call THAT sloppy journalism.

But then of course, there may have been a very good reason why the BBC were told to interview Mr Al-Khazraji.(Especially BBC World Service. Prop. Mr Byford) Suggestions in an e-mail please.

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