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Financial Times (London) March 21, 2003

US faces huge task in working out the who's who of regime

It has never been easily defined and its internal workings are a mystery, Roula Khalaf reports

By ROULA KHALAF

A senior Iraqi official recently remarked that the US was entertaining a fantasy if it believed it could unseat the Iraqi regime. "The regime is not a room," he said. "It's not something that you can bomb and destroy."

However dispersed and underground the regime might be, the US has started a war aimed at hunting down or indeed destroying its key members.

To increase its chances of success the US recently circulated lists of 12 to 14 officials it says would face trial for war crimes or crimes against humanity. President George W. Bush seemed to narrow the list even further when he issued his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, saying he should leave Iraq with his two sons.

Many more people might eventually be prosecuted but leaving them off the lists at this time could limit the definition of the regime that must be unseated.

It might also encourage other senior officials to co-operate in the American military effort or bring it to a swift end by taking action themselves. According to Iraqi opposition sources, the names they were asked to circulate in recent months excludes most current military commanders.

It has yet to be seen, however, whether the apparent attempt to divide the regime as war is waged will prove effective in a country where the fate of many other officials has been so closely tied to Mr Hussein that his fall might unleash a bloody wave of score-settling.

The Iraqi "regime" has never been easily defined and its internal workings are a mystery. It has a public facade, presented to the outside world through people such as Tariq Aziz, deputy prime minister, and Taha Yassin Ramadan, another deputy prime minister. Some of the lists circulated by the US - but not all - are believed to include their names.

Izzat Ibrahim, Mr Hussein's most visible vice-president, seems to feature high on every list. All three leaders are accused of complicity in Mr Hussein's misguided military adventures, his 1990 occupation of Kuwait, and his brutal repression of the Kurdish and Shia populations. Indict, the opposition-backed committee that seeks to prosecute the Iraqi leadership for war crimes, also accuses Mr Ibrahim of the use of excessive military force against the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq.

The most important mem bers of the leadership after Mr Hussein are Qusay and Uday, his two sons. Three half-brothers who were once pillars of the regime have been marginalised in recent years. One of them, Barzan al-Tikriti, was for many years Iraq's ambassador to the UN in Geneva but has had troubled relations with Mr Hussein. He is said to have been placed under house arrest earlier this month.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, Mr Hussein's cousin, is also considered a loyal aide. Better known as "Chemical Ali" since he led the 1988 gas attacks against Kurds, he was also considered the effective military governor of Kuwait during the occupation. Mr Hussein has put him in charge of southern Iraq in this war but had recently also sent him on delicate diplomatic missions. He was recently rumoured to be buying gold and diamonds on behalf of the regime on his trips in the Arab world.

The remaining key figures in Mr Hussein's inner circle are shadowy aides who are accused of gross human rights violations but have either remained in the background or have not been in the limelight in recent years. They are said to include Abdel Hamid al-Tikriti, a distant cousin of Mr Hussein. He is little known but believed to oversee the presidential secretariat responsible for the Iraqi leader's personal security.

According to Jane's Intelligence Review, he could be the number two figure in the Iraqi leadership. Along with the two sons, he is said to control access to Mr Hussein and can overrule government decisions.

Mohamed Hamza al-Zubaidi is the former head of the northern bureau of the ruling Ba'ath party, a former prime minister and former deputy prime minister. According to Global Security.org, an international security website, he is known as Mr Hussein's "Shia thug", and was involved in suppressing the Shia uprising at the end of the Gulf war. He is also said to have led the destruction of the southern marshes in the 1990s. He was, however, pushed out as deputy prime minister and member of the Ba'ath party regional command in 2001.

Another official on the most wanted list is Aziz Saleh al-Noman, the former governor of Kuwait accused of ordering a wave of looting and torture. At that time his human rights violations included the campaign of destruction in Karbala and Najaf, sites of Shia shrines.


Copyright 2003, The Financial Times Limited