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Iraq: Former Officer Tells Of Summary Executions

By Ahmad Al-Rikaby and Charles Recknagel

The regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has frequently been accused by human rights groups of using terror and murder to enforce its rule. Much of the evidence comes from disaffected members of the regime who have been eyewitnesses to its methods. RFE/RL's Iraq Service recently spoke to one former official, who told a chilling tale of how two years ago, at a prison not far from Baghdad, 2,000 men were executed on a single day.

Prague, 20 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Captain Khalid Sachit Aziz Al-Janabi is a former Iraqi intelligence officer. He served nearly 20 years in the Mukhabarat intelligence service which, among its many functions, monitors government officials and citizens for any signs of opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime.

Al-Janabi defected after his brother, Staff Lieutenant-General Kamil Sachit, died in 1998 at the hands of the Iraqi president's son, Qusay Saddam Hussein. Al-Janabi is now a member of the Iraqi opposition and lives in Amman.

The former captain told RFE/RL's Iraq Service details of how 2,000 prisoners were executed on a single day in 1998 in one of Iraq's most notorious prisons -- the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

He said most of those executed were being held on vague charges of taking part in anti-government activities and many of their cases were pending appeal. But the appeal process suddenly ended when Saddam's son Qusay arrived at the prison on March 15, 1998, and surrounded it with his Special Security Forces.

At the time, Captain Al-Janabi was visiting the prison as a member of a joint supervisory committee set up by the various Iraqi intelligence branches to follow up the cases of prisoners previously ordered released but still in jail.

Captain Al-Janabi picks up the story at the point where Qusay arrives.

"When he (Qusay) arrived, he greeted us and said he would like to tour the prison. There was a section housing 2,000 prisoners, some had been sentenced, others were awaiting appeal decisions. Qusay went straight to that section. In answer to Qusay's question, the warden said that these prisoners had been sentenced and some were awaiting appeal decisions. He looked at the warden and ordered him to carry out their executions immediately."

Al-Janabi says the warden, Colonel Al-Ameri, was a right-hand man of Saddam Hussein and he asked Qusay if such an order should not come from his father directly. Qusay told him the 2,000 were to be executed beginning at 6 am the next morning and that he would receive an order in due course. He also said he would leave behind a group of his Special Forces to supervise the executions.

Al-Janabi says that Qusay was, in fact, authorized to give the order and that the warden had no choice but to comply. Shortly before the incident, Saddam Hussein had told his commanders, ministers, and party members that executions were to be carried out in accordance with Qusay's orders.

At dawn the next morning, the executions began. Some prisoners were hung and others were shot once in the head. Al-Janabi says most of the prisoners were ordinary citizens who did not constitute a threat to the regime.

"Most of them were from the South, accused of joining parties and taking part in (anti-government) activities. There was, of course, no foundation for such accusations, but accusing people of such activity is standard procedure. Most seemed quite helpless to me and didn't appear likely to threaten Saddam Hussein. They had just been dragged in from the [southern] marshes and thrown into Abu Ghraib. Two thousand of them died on that same day."

Al-Janabi says many of the victims were buried at a cemetery near the prison in a special section with only numbers for identification. The bodies of others were returned to their families for burial. But he says the regime generally is reluctant to hand bodies back to relatives because it disrupts the secrecy of proceedings. The families expect executions to be preceded by lengthy court proceedings with public records. And no such records exist for those killed arbitrarily.

"This can cause problems, especially among the southern tribes. Their families don't even know that they are prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Thus, they are sentenced and executed under orders from Qusay, and none of their relatives know. They could even have fled abroad, for all their families know."

Al-Janabi says the executions at Abu Ghraib were carried out by specialist executioners who were themselves convicted criminals. And Qusay's special forces remained around the prison to be sure the work was done -- despite the warden's protests that he had no facilities to execute so many men at once.

But while the guilt of carrying out the orders fell to others, the hands of Saddam and his son Qusay remained clean. Al-Janabi says no blood can be traced to them because they sign no execution orders which might be used later to incriminate them.

"There are no records of sentences passed, or any signatures by Saddam Hussein or any other government official. There is thus no evidence to be discovered by the international organizations, which of course demand documentary evidence...Neither Saddam Hussein nor Qusay have ever signed an execution order. The victim is simply shot in the head and then buried."

Qusay is Saddam's younger son. In recent years Saddam has given him ever greater responsibilities, mostly in the security arena. The Special Security Force he heads oversees the country's intelligence and security agencies and reports directly to the presidential palace. He also heads the presidential guard, a large and elite military force, which is independent of the Defense Ministry and reports directly to Saddam.

Qusay is often seen as locked in rivalry with Saddam's oldest son, Uday, over which will ultimately succeed their father. Uday heads business dealings for the family, mostly smuggling of oil. He also directs much of Iraq's state-owned press, including the country's most influential newspaper (Babel) and the al-Shabab (Youth) television channel.