DANISH police arrested last night an exiled Iraqi general tipped as a possible
replacement for President Saddam Hussein. He faces charges that he was responsible
for killing thousands of Kurds in a chemical weapons attack 14 years ago.
The arrest of General Nizar Khazraji, the former Iraqi Chief-of-Staff and the
most senior officer to defect from Baghdad, appeared to wreck any chances that
he might lead a mutiny in the Armed Forces and help to topple Saddam’s regime.
He has been under investigation in the North Sea town of Soroe for the past
year, after he was reported to the Danish authorities by a Kurdish immigrant.
Reports from Copenhagen last night said that the police had charged him with war
crimes, violating the Geneva conventions and other human rights abuses.
General Khazraji, 64, commanded the Iraqi Armed Forces during the Iran-Iraq
War, when Baghdad used banned poison gas against Iranian troops and Kurdish civilians.
In the most notorious incident 5,000 Kurds in the town of Halabja were killed
when Iraqi artillery and warplanes bombed the area with nerve gas and mustard
He remained military commander during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, but fled
to Jordan after falling out with Saddam. He applied for political asylum with
his wife and son in Denmark three years ago.
Iraqi opposition sources said last night that his arrest was a serious blow
to their efforts to build a credible alternative to Saddam’s regime. Next month
they hope to convene a conference in London for 350 Iraqi exiles as a first step
to establishing an alternative government.General Khazraji could have played an
important role, particularly on security and military matters.
“His arrest is a major setback for us,” one opposition figure said. “He is
a man with credibility back home. His arrest will make it that much harder to
encourage other officers to defect if they fear that they will be charged, too.”
The Bush Administration is compiling evidence against several prominent members
of the Saddam regime, who could face war crimes trials if it is toppled. Washington,
however, would like any hearings to take place inside Iraq and to concentrate
on a “dirty dozen” list of suspects, including Saddam and his ruling clan.
General Khazraji, from a prominent Sunni Muslim family in the northern Iraqi
city of Mosul, was not believed to under investigation. Nevertheless, he was regarded
in Washington and London as one of the few former army officers with real clout
inside the Armed Forces. His arrest will probably be greeted with dismay in both
capitals. The Bush Administration is counting on the Iraqi Army to revolt en masse
against Saddam in the event of a US-led operation.
General Khazraji has consistently denied that he was responsible for ordering
the use of chemical weapons and claims that the accusations were orchestrated
by Iraqi intelligence officers to prevent him co-operating with the opposition.
In a BBC interview earlier this year he predicted that the military would rise
against Saddam in the right circumstances. “The most important thing is that the
Iraqis must be sure that a democratic regime will be there after the overthrow
of Saddam Hussein and Iraq will be an independent country,” he said.
Although mentioned as a possible future leader, he said that he was not interested
in the job. “I am a military man, I prefer to stay on this side,” he said.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd