Saddam may face war crimes trial

Iraq: Crimes against humanity tribunal suggested to destabilise Iraqi leader as his deputy survives assassination bid
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The Independent Online
SADDAM HUSSEIN and other members of the Iraqi government may face charges of crimes against humanity before a specially convened war crimes tribunal as part of the British and American plan to bring about his overthrow.

British ministers yesterday said they would be pressing the UN Security Council to establish the Iraqi war crimes tribunal after meeting Iraqi opposition parties in London to discuss the strategy for toppling the Iraqi president.

Backing an international "Indict Saddam" campaign, ministers believe that a tribunal set up along the lines of the war crimes court for former Yugoslavia in The Hague would help to destabilise President Saddam's government. It would produce evidence of the atrocities committed against his own people.

"The Security Council could take powers as with Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia to set up an ad hoc tribunal. I could see that being attractive," said Derek Fatchett, the Foreign Office minister.

"It would catch the public mood. We know Saddam has used chemical weapons against his own people. To concentrate on those sort of issues would be strong and powerful."

With the immediate threat of air raids on hold, the United States and Britain are focusing on the propaganda war, including disclosing that only $183m (pounds 110m) worth of medicines have been distributed by the Iraqi authorities from shipments in the last six months worth $440m. Martin Indyk, the US State Department assistant secretary, will be finalising details of aid to the Iraqi dissidents at a further meeting in London today.

Mr Fatchett said there was no consensus over the need to set up an Iraqi government-in-exile after meeting representatives of 16 opposition parties, although the groups had agreed to unite against the Iraqi leader despite policy differences between the groups.

The Foreign Office minister said they had not discussed arms supplies. "We didn't discuss arms and they [the opposition] are not seeking military support in that way," he said.

The groups at the meeting included the Iraqi National Congress, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Iraqi Democratic Party, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Iraqi dissidents have not always been well received in London or Washington.

Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which now rules eastern Iraqi Kurdistan, recalls that in the late 1980s he did not get through the door of the Foreign Office. Even during after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 Jalal al-Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, was not allowed to enter the US State Department.

This was a hangover from the days when Washington was backing President Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war. The problem for the Iraqi opposition groups is not lack of unity but their inability to operate inside Iraq because of the vigilance of the Iraqi security services.

From 1991 to 1996 Kurdish opposition groups had a safe haven in Iraqi Kurdistan, but the Kurdish leaders have since reached an understanding with Baghdad which makes it unlikely they would allow an opposition group to set up a headquarters there.

Experienced Iraqi opposition leaders say that the US underestimates the strength and experience of security services in Iraq. Military coups were common in the Arab world in the 25 years before 1970 but since then very few have succeeded in overthrowing established governments.

Saddam Hussein has great experience in staying in power. He began his own career by attempting to assassinate the then Iraqi leader, Abdul Karim Qassem, in 1959. He took power himself in a coup in 1968.

He has always sought to reinforce the loyalty of the security services with family, tribal and Baath party allegiances. He has succeeded particularly in making sure no military commander can build up his own power base.