Iraqi defector 'responsible for massacre of thousands'

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The son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, who is being seen as a possible successor to the Iraqi leader following his flight to Jordan earlier this month, has been condemned by Iraqi exiles as a war criminal who should face trial.

Hussein Kamel al-Majid, whose defection was heralded as a sign that President Saddam's regime was on the verge of collapse, was himself responsible for one of the worst massacres in recent years in Iraq. During the uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, he commanded the military force which slaughtered thousands of civilians when they recaptured the Shia Muslim holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf.

Officers who defected from the Iraqi army during the uprising say General Hussein Kamel was in charge of the forces which fired missiles into civilian areas of the cities and then pounded them with heavy artillery. After they were recaptured anybody suspected of helping the rebels was shot.

Kanan Makiya, a leading opponent of the Iraqi regime who runs a centre documenting its human rights abuses at Harvard University, says many witnesses to the massacres have identified Gen Hussein Kamel as being in command when they occurred. "He should be extradited from Jordan and put on trial," said Mr Makiya. "The Iraqi opposition should have nothing to do with him."

Since fleeing to Amman, Gen Hussein Kamel has been entertained by King Hussein and interviewed by Saudi Arabian and American officials. Rolf Ekeus, the UN official in charge of destroying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, saw him yesterday to ask him about the Iraqi arms programme. The Iraqi opposition is divided about allying themselves with him to lever President Saddam out of power, a move Mr Makiya opposes.

Gen Hussein Kamel is also accused of diverting a convoy of prisoners being taken from Najaf to Baghdad for interrogation and having them executed. The exact number of people killed is not known, because they were shot in the back as they stood by pits dug by bulldozers.

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