How Saddam keeps Iraq in fear
Revealed: Captured documents detail the dictator's policy of torture, rape and death, reports Patrick Cockburn
Patrick Cockburn is an Irish journalist who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 for the Financial Times and, presently, The Independent. He was awarded Foreign Commentator of the Year at the 2013 Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards.
Sunday 18 August 1996
The latest conspiracy against the Iraqi leader was crushed in June, and 32 Iraqis involved were executed last weekend, according to one opposition group. The plot was led by General Mohammed Abdullah al-Shawani, formerly a commander in the Iraqi army special forces, who is now in hiding in Britain.
As in the case of previous attempts against him, the Iraqi leader appears to be using the latest plot as an excuse for a wider crackdown, according to exiles. As many as 800 people may have been arrested in the last six weeks. "The extent of the purge in Iraq is much greater than you would expect from the size of the plot," says Laith Kubba, an Iraqi opposition intellectual. "Saddam may be using it as an excuse to eliminate potential opponents."
The intelligence papers were discovered late last year when the Iraqi army launched an offensive against guerrillas hiding in the marshes of southern Iraq. A rebel counter-attack in Amara province on the Tigris led to the capture of a local security headquarters in which the documents were kept. A covering letter instructs senior officers: "The plan must be held in your personal possession, and it is forbidden to circulate it among the staff."
In the first document Saddam Hussein lays down the guidelines for Iraqi security at a meeting with the director of Mudir al-Amn al-Amaa (General Security), one of the five main Iraqi security organisations, in the wake of the uprising at the end of the Gulf War. This is amplified in a 100- point list of instructions from the director to his men.
Together the two documents give a picture of the close-meshed web of security which has enveloped all Iraqis since the end of the Gulf War. The Iraqi leader's instructions combine windy philosophising about saving the revolution and specific orders, such as one about winning over "families who have had a son executed or an uncle imprisoned".
At every turn the Iraqi leader sees enemies: Iraqi Shias and Kurds, Iranians, Syrians and Egyptians. He tells his security men that "according to our comprehension, the Iraqi works well as long as the stick is close to him". Some orders are very specific - more security men must be placed "at passenger bus depots, some openly, some secretly". But the overall burden of his message is to eliminate all enemies, because "we must amputate the treasonous families".
The head of General Security has no doubt about how this should be done. As in other Iraqi intelligence documents, he is not named, but is known only by his title. His plan dates from three years before the document was captured, but the overall approach has not changed. All groups in Iraqi society are mentioned as security threats, but emphasis is also given to creating a general atmosphere of terror. To this end agents are told not to worry "if we bring in a citizen and subject him to torture", only to find later that he is innocent.
Methods of interrogation are to be standardised, the documents say. The General Security head complains that not enough patience is being exercised by interrogators, and warns: "Those who die as a result of interrogation are a loss to us, not because they are good citizens, but because we have lost a link in our investigations which could have led us to their superior and his superior." He recommends that a suspect be threatened with the death of a son or brother.
Dangers to the regime are seen everywhere, but General Security is truly terrified only of Saddam Hussein himself. In one instance, the Iraqi leader was annoyed by a woman who wanted to get her husband released. In her petition she revealed that she knew to which prison he had been transferred. Saddam Hussein, far from releasing the husband, wanted to know who had leaked this information to her. Evidently bruised by this criticism from the top, the security boss says to his men: "I tell you, make it known that 70 per cent of our prisoners will probably never again emerge into the light of day."
The lifestyle of security men is criticised both by Saddam Hussein and his security boss. They say intelligence officers visit hotels where "they enjoy getting drunk, frighten and terrorise others and fire random shots into the air". Given that last year Uday, Saddam Hussein's son, shot dead several dancing girls and wounded his uncle Watban, a former Interior Minister, at a drunken party in Baghdad, the security men may well feel that this criticism is unfair.
There are intriguing references to past co-operation with foreign intelligence during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. "Our war with Iran was springtime for our intelligence, as all the Western countries, including America, opened their doors to you," says the letter. Delegations of security men travelling abroad found that "even the cost of their missions was paid for by the Gulf states".
There is endless pettiness as well as ferocity. Not only are opponents to be wiped out by "beating to death" and their relatives raped, but banned books are to be removed from libraries "by stealing them if necessary". Books about the Shia faith, followed by the majority of Iraqis, are to be targeted, though at one time Iraq also banned Agatha Christie and Alexandre Dumas.
To spur their efforts, security men are reminded of what will happen to them if the regime is ever overthrown. The fate of those captured by rebels in the uprising of 1991 is recalled. "Their blessed bodies were, sadly, carried away in buckets and buried with the garbage," says the writer of the paper, adding melodramatically: "Beware, Beware."
Given the intensity of security surveillance, it is not suprising that all of the six principal conspiracies or attempted coups against Saddam Hussein since the Gulf War have failed. The latest, in June, was easily unmasked. Not only does Iraqi intelligence reach down into every household, but the security services watch each other. The regime is protected by an inner ring of 35,000 special forces, chosen for their loyalty. Further from the centre of power is the elite Republican Guard, and outside them comes the regular army, which is ill-positioned to launch a coup. Even if it did, it could certainly be resisted.
Many members of the Iraqi opposition believe the armed forces cannot overthrow Saddam Hussein and that it is irresponsible to try. "We don't believe in the theory of a coup against Saddam," said Ghanim Jawad, of the Iraqi National Congress. He points out that even somebody as close to the heart of the government as Gen Hussein Kamel al-Majid, Saddam's son-in-law, who was murdered in Baghdad when he returned to Iraq after defecting to Jordan last year, could not penetrate the defences of the regime.
Iraqis fear that the intensity of the repression, encompassing everything from getting children to spy on their parents to assassinating opponents abroad, has sown such fear and distrust among the country's 20 million people that it cannot be eradicated even by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In his directive the head of General Security commands the use of "terror and temptation" to obtain information, and few Iraqis are in a position to resist. "The damage done by Saddam is so deep that Iraqi society is shattered, said Kamran Karadaghi, a veteran commentator on Iraqi affairs. "Everybody has selfish interests. Deep inside, many Iraqis feel their society can never recover."
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