General put under house arrest for nerve gas attacks on Iran

By Leonard Doyle
Thursday 21 November 2002 01:00

Saddam Hussein's former chief of staff, who directed the country's army at a time when it was using nerve gas to terrorise the Kurds and lay waste to the Iranian army, was placed under house arrest in Denmark yesterday.

Under General Nizar al-Khazraji's command, the Iraqi armed forces gassed to death thousands of Kurdish men, women and children in the town of Halabja in 1988. An estimated 5,000 civilians died.

In the course of the six-month campaign of extermination, known as Anfal, hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled into exile; tens of thousands more were killed in a campaign of genocide that peaked that year.

General al-Khazraji is the highest-ranking military officer to have defected from Iraq, but his attempts to gain political asylum in Europe have been thwarted by Kurdish exile groups.

"I have been without a passport and I do need to travel," General al-Khazraji, 64, said in Soroe, 60 miles from Copenhagen, where he has been living since 1999. "I want to travel to see my friends and my colleagues abroad and I want to attend meetings and conferences, but I am unable to move because I am restricted."

General al-Khazraji was part of President Saddam's inner circle of military commanders when as many as 80,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees were forced to flee the Badinan area into the Turkish borderlands.

The Iraqi army razed thousands of villages and dropped chemical weapons on civilians to terrorise them into fleeing over the mountains.

The Halabja and Badinan episodes are counted as the first documented instances of a government employing chemical weapons against its own civilian population. The main Iraqi troops involved in the Anfal campaign were the army and air force, commanded by General al-Khazraji.

He was fired in 1990 by President Saddam two years after the war with Iran ended.

He then became a military adviser to President Saddam, but was critical of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. He fled Baghdad in 1995 with his family, going first to Jordan and then to Europe.

General al-Khazraji was put under house arrest after saying he wanted to leave Denmark for Saudi Arabia.

"He said that he wanted to travel out of Denmark as soon as possible," said Brigitte Vestberg, a prosecutor who is investigating his involvement in crimes against humanity and violation of the Geneva convention on protection of civilians during war.

General al-Khazraji is now restricted to his apartment and must regularly report to the police.

General al-Khazraji also stands accused of ordering the use of chemical weapons during the Iraq-Iran war.

The Iraqi army turned the tide of the war with Iran by using sarin nerve gas and mustard gas to instil panic into the army and population.

In 1986 Iraq was formally accused by the UN of using banned chemical weapons which caused more than 10,000 casualties. Despite being turned down for asylum, General al-Khazraji was granted leave to remain in Denmark on the basis that he could face execution in Iraq.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments