[Documents menu] Documents menu

Rebels ready to topple Saddam

By Mustapha Karkouti, Gulf News (London), 17 July 2002

Defections in the Iraqi army are increasing and it would play an important part in removing Saddam from office, a senior Iraqi opposition leader Major-General Tawfiq Al Yasiri, spokesman of the newly elected Military Council told Gulf News yesterday.

Commenting on press reports in the U.S. that defection is only a minor component of a complex military operation which requires the involvement of 200,000 troops and hundreds of aircrafts minimum to topple Saddam, Al Yasiri in an exclusive interview said:

Let me tell you; first of all we made sure that the council represents all different sectarian factions and ranks in the army; second, the process of change will take place from inside where the Iraqi army will have a major role; three, we will not replace a dictator by another and we confirm that a democratic government takes control when the current regime is ousted; four, we welcome any support from our international friends.

Al Yasiri is a naval officer who was wounded in 1991 uprising in southern Iraq, then fled to Saudi Arabia and now lives in London. He is known for his close association with the controversial Dr Ahmad Chalabi, head of the so- called Iraqi National Congress (INC).

The INC provided was the umbrella group which supported the three-day meeting for some 70 exiled Iraqi top generals whose three-day meeting in the lavish surroundings of down town London's Kensington High Street elected the Military Council as part of a plan to overthrow President Saddam Hussein's regime and establish civilian rule. The Council's major aim is to incite and encourage defections within the Iraqi army.

Another senior Iraqi officer, Major-General Najib Al Salhi who led a mechanised division of the army before his defection in 1995, told Gulf News that with morale in the Iraqi army is running very low, we estimate that as many as 1,000 officers are ready to help topple the regime.

We have made it clear to our American friends how important its is that they must declare they are only after Saddam Hussein, and not his army, otherwise they would not have the support of the Iraqi people or army.

Al Salhi believed that most of his colleagues favour trying the Iraqi president and his henchmen for war crimes. But I am sure by the time we get to Iraq they will be dead anyway, he adds.

A special British military officer, who doesn't want to be identified, watching the meeting, has confirmed that the preparation for any invasion, with the aim to remove Saddam, could last well into next year.

On his impression of the exiled military top brass and Iraqi opposition, he said: Frankly, a lot of these people at the conference are flaky.

Another Western 'observer', an American who was more casual in his comments said: This meeting is good for publicity for the U.S. and UK as they begin their military offensive.

We have our doubt whether these officers and civilian oppositions will be a factor in the overthrow of Saddam. President Bush has declared that he will be using all tools to enforce regime change in Baghdad, and this (military council) could be one minor tool.

Kensington meeting was also attended by former Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan whose presence caused big embarrassment for his nephew King Abdullah II.

American and British 'observers' attended the meeting first day on Friday. Their presence did not seem to have caused the slightest stir.

The Pentagon envisages that under a devastating display of airpower, more than 150,000 U.S. troops and up to 30,000 British soldiers will be needed for the invasion. Many would come by helicopter through the mountainous terrain of Kurdistan in the north along the border with Turkey, and by tanks in the flat desert of the south.