Iraqi defector accused of mass murder

Rights groups say Saddam's son-in-law had thousands killed in suppression of 1991 Shia revolt, writes Patrick Cockburn

Hussein Kamel al-Majid, the trusted lieutenant and son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, who defected to Jordan this month, was responsible for one of the biggest atrocities in recent Iraqi history when he suppressed uprisings in the holy Shia Muslim cities of Kerbala and Najaf at the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

General Hussein Kamel, who is staying in one of King Hussein's palaces, is accused by Iraqi human-rights organisations of ordering Scud ground- to-ground missile attacks on civilian areas in the cities.

After they were recaptured from the rebels, he ordered thousands of prisoners to be tortured and shot.

A convoy of detainees being taken from Najaf to Baghdad was met on the road by Gen Hussein Kamel, who told the Iraqi officer in charge to turn around and drive into the desert. A survivor, interviewed later at a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia, says that at a place called al-Tar the prisoners were ordered out of the trucks and shot.

Kanan Makiya, head of the Iraq Research and Documentation Project at Harvard, says: "We spent three months establishing from eye-witnesses that he [Hussein Kamel] was in personal charge of the tank division when entered Kerbala where the worst atrocities took place. On some of the tanks was written: 'No more Shia after today'."

During the suppression of the uprising in Iraq in March, 1991, children were burned alive to force them to reveal the hiding places of their parents. A former Iraqi army colonel who joined the opposition but does not want his name revealed because his family is still in Iraq, says that Gen Hussein Kamel, as commander of the mid-Euphrates region, gave orders for doctors at the Saddam Hospital in Najaf to be killed for treating rebels

A 25-year-old prisoner in the same city saw Gen Hussein Kamel just before the rest of his family was shot. He says that many of the killings were supervised by Taha Yassin Ramadan, now vice-president of Iraq, whose guards shot people in the back as they stood before open pits dug by a bulldozer. The witness escaped after he was left for dead with a bullet in the shoulder.

Kanan Makiya says: "I find it repulsive and short-sighted that anybody should consider Hussein Kamel as a potential leader of the opposition. I think the Iraqi opposition should take legal action to have him extradited and brought to trial."

He says that if one drew up a list of the 20 Iraqis most responsible for killings and torture since Saddam Hussein came to power, Gen Hussein Kamel would be "in the top five or six."

Since he fled to Jordan with his wife on 8 August, Gen Hussein Kamel has denounced President Saddam but has not apologised for any of his own actions. He is also being treated as a new centre of opposition by Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Rolf Ekeus, the UN official in charge of monitoring the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, was due to see Gen Hussein Kamel, the former head of military procurement in Iraq, in Amman yesterday.

Gen Hussein Kamel is also said to have brought crates of documents with the names of Western companies responsible for supplying Iraq with arms legally and illegally during and after the Iran-Iraq war.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad two other relatives of President Saddam, his cousin Hashem Hassan Al-Majid and his former bodyguard, Arshad Yassin, who is married to President Saddam's sister, have disappeared.

The uprisings which engulfed southern Iraq in March, 1991, started in the port of Basra and spread rapidly to all the Shia Muslim areas in the country apart from outside Baghdad. In desperation the regime used loyal Republican Guard units armed with heavy tanks - in Kerbala they used British- made Chieftain tanks captured in Kuwait - to counter-attack. According to one account, which cannot be confirmed, Taha Yassin Ramadan, though noted for his personal violence, opposed Gen Hussein Kamel's use of Scuds against the cities.

The recapture of Kerbala and Najaf were the most important military objectives for the regime because they are the shrines of the Shia Muslims. Heavy artillery was used mercilessly. Ayatollah Khoe, the 91-year-old spiritual leader of the Shia, whose house was in nearby Kufa, was arrested by Taha Yassin Ramadan and forced to appear on television with President Saddam to denounce the uprising.

After the recapture of the holy cities, Gen Hussein Kamel moved to Hilla, another centre of revolt on the Euphrates, where he is accused of supervising killings at the Infantry Training Centre and Mahawil base, averaging 120 a day.

Some witnesses survived because, although repression was savage, it was also sometimes haphazard.

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