The Survival of Saddam
an interview with dr. hamid al-bayyati
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Dr. Hamid Al-Bayyati is SCIRI's top liaison with the West and, with the rest of the Iraqi opposition, is part of the umbrella leadership of the Iraqi National Congress.
From your perspective, how is it that Saddam Hussein is still in power in Baghdad?

Saddam depends on security intelligence services to stay in power. . . .In the past few years, America has hoped to arrange a palace coup, or a military coup, but Saddam is coup-proof now. He took all measures to avoid any movement in the army or in his inner circle. Basically, his Ba'ath Party came to power through two military coups--one in 1963, and the second one in 1968. In Saddam's Ba'ath Party, it was Saddam himself who was in charge of party intelligence. He was in charge of the operations responsible for assassinations and such things. He knows what sort of measures and arrangements America would take to prepare for such a coup.

You talked about the repression inside the country. What do you hear from people inside about what life is like there?

There's a law saying that, if you criticize the president, you will be executed. This is an official and public law. Imagine--if you just criticize the president, you will be executed--let alone if you are active against the regime. Any Iraqi is actually in danger of being arrested, tortured, and killed, including the families of people who are active against the regime. In 1983, 90 members of one family were arrested because of one member's political activities--all the males in the family. Sixteen men were executed, and the active member got a threatening letter, telling him to stop working against the regime. This is the kind of repression that Iraqi people face when they choose to be active in opposing the regime in Baghdad.

How effective are his security services at infiltrating opposition groups and finding out what's going on inside the country?

They are very effective. Saddam manages to control the whole country through the security intelligence. Any kind of underground movement will be discovered, sooner or later. Every month, we have people arrested, tortured and executed.

His regime says that the Iraqi people support and love the president. What do you think?

This is a bluff. For example, there was a popular uprising in March, 1991. Fourteen of 18 provinces voted against the regime. They went to the streets, and they attacked government buildings, and they controlled the 14 provinces. Unfortunately, the whole world, including the United States, chose to stand with Saddam against the popular uprising, because they were frightened that it could be a Shi'ite or an Islamic revolution.

Some say President Bush encouraged that uprising by calling on the Iraqi people, rather than just the military, to overthrow Saddam.

When President Bush said it was time for Iraqi people to take matter in their hands, they thought they'd be supported by the U.S. government if they went to the streets. But when they went to the streets, the opposite happened. America supported the Iraqi regime. We have documents saying that America actually provided the Republican Guards with fuel. The Americans disarmed some resistance units, and allowed the Republican Guard tanks to go through their checkpoints to crush the uprising.

We think that Saddam is much weaker because of our resistance.  The south is out of the regime's control, especially at night--which was actually admitted by Saddam's son-in-law. Why would they do that?

They were frightened that this is an Islamic revolution, that this is a carbon copy of the Iranian Islamic revolution, because it is a Shi'ite rebellion. I think that, now, they admit that it was a mistake.

And was it a Shi'ite and Islamic revolution?

It was an Iraqi popular uprising, in which Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis all took part. It was a reaction of the Iraqi people against oppression once they had a chance to move against the regime. They thought they'd be supported by the world to free their country.

And when Saddam survived that uprising, what was his reaction towards the people--the Shi'ites and the Kurds who rose up against him? How did he treat your people after that?

Saddam killed more than 500,000 people after the uprising of 1991. There were summary executions, mass graves, and all kind of repression.

In the 1970s, when he was still vice president, to what extent was he running and controlling the security within Iraq?

He was the head of the assassination team responsible for all the executions and assassinations that took place after the coup to get rid of all potential opposition. Saddam became powerful because he was the head of that intelligence apparatus. He was responsible for the killings that occurred before he became president in 1979.

What was your group's view of America's policy toward Iraq and the opposition around 1992, when the INC began to work?

In 1992, the Americans realized that the liberation of Kuwait wasn't enough to topple the regime. They started to reconsider their policy, and chose to support some faction of Iraqi opposition. Iraqis start to establish and build an organization for the different groups. We had a conference in 1992 in northern Iraq. The Iraqis taking part in this conference established a united national congress, the INC [Iraqi National Congress]. After that, the Americans adopted the dual containment policy, thinking they could topple the regime through sanctions, and through supporting Iraqi opposition in northern Iraq.

But we believe that the Americans were not serious about toppling the regime. They were not allowing any kind of popular movement against the regime. There were many examples where America stood against any popular movement. In 1995, the INC agreed to move against Baghdad. There was some kind of agreement with American officials that their move would be supported. But they received a message at the last minute that their plan was in compromise. They chose to continue for themselves. Then all kinds of promised support wasn't fulfilled. So later on, the movement stopped.

We believe that the policy of the American government was always to contain the regime through the sanctions, through isolation, and then to hope for a coup.

At the time of this conference in 1992, was there a feeling of hope within the opposition, in what the Americans were telling you regarding their policy? Were they saying that they were serious, and that they wanted to overthrow Saddam through the INC?

I can't verify whether it was really direct promises from the Americans. Some Iraqis at the conference who had contact with the Americans said there were such promises--that the Americans would support Iraqi opposition work inside Iraq. The INC had some military activity in northern Iraq in 1996, which was crushed.

At that time, the regime arrested and executed more than 100 people from the INC troops. The regime crushed all the offices, and confiscated all the equipment, the computers and documents. It was a big setback for the INC work in northern Iraq.

In the early 1990s, did the American State Department and the CIA talk to your group?

From time to time, we had some kind of contact with the American administration through the embassy in London. But we don't have such strong relations afterward, because of all the sensitivity from our side and from their side. So we didn't have a direct contact. The only direct contact was very limited, in which we exchanged views about what the situation in southern Iraq. But we never had a time where we discussed real business with the Americans.

What is the sensitivity?

The Americans always feel that we are an Islamic movement based in Tehran, and that our activity could be controlled or influenced by the Iranians. The Americans were actually frightened that, even if something happened inside Iraq, it would be under the influence of the Iranians. From our side, the Iraqi people feel betrayed by the Americans, who brought Saddam to power, supported Saddam, and didn't take him when they have the chance during the second Gulf war. Even when we had the popular uprising, the Americans stood with Saddam, rather than with the Iraqi people. So, after that in 1995, 1996, the Iraqi people are sensitive about the American attitude. Iraqis feel that the Americans still want Saddam to stay, and they don't want him to go. So it is very difficult for us to convince Iraqi people that we can work with the Americans to topple the regime.

America has been concerned that you may be an Islamic group or a revolutionary group. Is there any truth to that? Should America be concerned about your group's views?

There is no doubt that we are an Islamic movement. We are not trying to hide anything, and we have nothing to be afraid of. Iraqi Shi'ites are Iraqis first, Arabs second, and Shi'ites third. The fact that we are from the same sect as the Iranians doesn't mean the Iranians control us. We are an Iraqi organization. We have Iraqi leadership, and we take our own independent decisions. Yes, we have good relations, not only with Iran, but with most of the region's countries.

Are you fighting the regime now?

We are fighting the regime. We've been fighting the regime for over 30 years, and we continue to do so as long as it takes us.

What kinds of things do you do?

We do a lot of activities. We have secret cells all over Iraq. We distribute leaflets, we write slogans on the walls and in the streets, and we do military activities against the regime all over Iraq, including Baghdad.

What kind of military activities do you do?

We attack mainly military installations and intelligence centers, which actually play an important role in crushing our resistance and fighting the Iraqi people. We would like to break the circle of fear among Iraqi people. By doing that, we would like to encourage Iraqi people to oppose and resist the regime.

Do you have any sense of whether your attacks are having an effect? Is Saddam getting weaker because of them?

Of course, we think that Saddam is much weaker because of our resistance. The south is out of the regime's control, especially at night, which was actually admitted by Saddam's son-in-law when he defected to Jordan. Saddam's government instructed Ba'ath Party members, officials, and military units not to be out after five o'clock in the evening, because of the danger from the resistance. It's a clear indication that we are able to control the south of Iraq completely.

The Iraqis took us to Basra and said, "Look, we control this country. This is normal, life is going on here, and the people will support the regime." What's your view of that?

When you conduct guerilla war, you attack and run--you don't take the ground. If you take the ground, you will be crushed. Saddam will use all kinds of weapons to crush the area we control. So we attack and run. We have secret cells inside Iraq. We don't confront the region's forces, because the situation is not balanced. They have tanks, missiles, and all kinds of mass destruction weapons. We have only light arms.

When the regime is there, we are not there. We hide. We get our chances to attack the regime at the time and the place that we choose.

What are you hoping to achieve?

We hope to eventually overthrow the regime, when we coordinate with other opposition groups, such as the Kurds in the north, army units, and tribes who are opposing the regime all over Iraq.

What kind of support do you hope to get, or want, from outside?

We need the protection of Iraqi people according to United Nation resolutions. What is happening is against Security Council resolutions. We would like to see the international community work to protect Iraqi people, as it did in Kosovo, Bosnia, and in other parts of the world.

Has there been a change in the past year or so, in the way the U.S. administration deals with your group? Are they more willing to talk, and are they less concerned about an Islamic revolution inside Iraq?

The Americans realize that the Supreme Council is an Iraqi organization, with independent decisions, and is not under the control of any country in the region. So the Americans decided to deal with the Supreme Council. We feel that the American administration is now more serious about the situation inside Iraq, but not as serious as we wish them to be. They talk about the oppression of Iraqi people in the south, and about what happened in the south. We reported that Saddam raided villages, and they released some kind of satellite image, which proved what we said--that this village was there, and that it was razed to the ground.

However, we think they are actually short in facing the Saddam regime, especially in the United Nations and in implementing Security Council resolutions. The only resolution they talk about is the human rights resolution, which unfortunately isn't compulsory under the United Nations charter. It doesn't authorize the United Nations to use force against the regime, unlike the resolution in 1994, when the UN resolution authorized force to prevent the regime from sending troops and tanks to the Kuwaiti border.

Last year, television showed that Saddam sent troops, tanks, and artillery to the south. But because they were not a threat to Kuwait, and they were only a threat to Iraqi people, the world turned a blind eye to it. So we think that it is time for the Americans to talk about Iraqi people's rights, not only about weapons of mass destruction or neighboring countries. We feel strongly that the world should protect neighboring countries, and should work on weapons of mass destruction. But we would like to see them talk as much about Iraqi human rights.

So, I can conclude that the Americans are little bit more serious about that. With a letter from President Clinton, the Americans indicated that they want to deal with the Supreme Council. However we have our reservations about all the material aid that America would like to give to the Iraq opposition.

Throughout the 1990s, there was this policy of dual containment regarding Iraq and Iran. Has there been a change in U.S. policy towards Iran regarding the future of Iraq? Has Iran been receptive? Is there a convergence of interest between Iran and the U.S. regarding the Iraqi regime and its future?

Unfortunately, there are some contradicting messages. In one statement, American officials say that they would like to talk to Iran. On the latest tour by Secretary Cohen to the Gulf, he said that our troops are against Iraq and Iran. So, we are confused. We don't know if the Americans have really changed the dual containment policy--if they've given up on toppling the regime in Iran--or if they are thinking of working against the Saddam regime, or if they will keep following the same policy.

Do you get any practical logistical support from the U.S. for your operations?

No, we don't, and actually we have reservations about receiving any kind of material support. We believe that America should play its role as a permanent Security Council member, to force the Iraqi regime to implement all resolutions, especially those regarding human rights, and to stop the oppression of Iraqi people according to the UN charter. This is a legitimate international body, and nobody will have reservations about implementing those resolutions.

When we interviewed Tariq Aziz, he said that the INC is not serious, nor effective. He says the only effective opponents to the regime are the Shias in the south, and the Kurds, and that the other people are irrelevant. What do you think of that?

The Kurds and the Shi'ites are the major opposition groups. There are some smaller other groups. We deal with everybody; we work with everybody. But the Kurds and the Shi'ites are very effective inside Iraq, and you know it's very difficult to work inside Iraq. Those groups have secret cells, and they have fighters. If we talk about thousands of fighters, then we are talking about the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ites in the south.

Do you want help from America? Are they willing to give it?

We need the United States to implement the UN resolution to prevent the Iraqi regime from oppressing Iraqi people--preventing Saddam from using his Republican Guards, his tanks, and missiles against Iraqi people in the south. If this resolution were implemented, the Iraqi people are capable of having their own plan to overthrow the regime.

Do you need a logistical support from the U.S.?

I don't think we need any kind of material support. We need political and moral support, and the implementation of UN resolutions. This kind of protection for Iraqi people will give them the chance actually to do something.

We have other options, like indicting Saddam and members of his regime as war criminals. This was done with Milosovic, other Serb war criminals, and with war criminals in Rwanda and Cambodia. Saddam has committed war crimes. Genocide, crimes against humanity, torture and all these war crimes are actually a good reason to bring Saddam to international trial, and then to indict him and his regime. This is another way of isolating Saddam and defeating him.

We've talked to several people in various administrations, officials and CIA people who say that actually the situation right now is probably about as good as we can get. Saddam is contained, he's not threatening anybody outside of his borders and he probably can't, immediately. They said the policy is effective, that we may not like it, but if he's contained, then we've got a good policy. What do you think of that?

Saddam has never been contained. He continues to produce weapons of mass destruction. He sacrificed billions of dollars because of the sanctions to keep his weapons. He played a game of cat-and-mouse with the United Nation teams for eight years. He's going to keep those weapons, and those weapons are a danger to Iraqi people, neighboring countries, and to world peace. As long as Saddam stays in power, he will be a danger for us, for the regional countries, and for the whole world. Saddam is very well known for getting revenge on people who oppose him and stand against him. Sooner or later, Saddam will take revenge from regional countries, and then from the whole world, by using these weapons of mass destruction.

Why does Hussein's regime film torture and beatings?

Some of the footage is filmed and distributed by the regime to deter people, to frighten people from opposing and resisting the regime. It plays an important role in frightening people. When the Kurds went to negotiate with the regime after the uprising of 1991, they were shown footage of oppression in the south. They were told that the same thing would happen with the ,f the Kurds chose to resist the regime. It is a policy of frightening people and deterring them from opposing and resisting the regime.

We talked about America hoping for a coup at various times. Do you think that hope has changed, or is America hoping and possibly working for a coup rather than some kind of popular resistance?

The Americans feel it is time to realize that the coup is not the only hope. That is why they try to explore other methods and options. However, I don't think they would support a popular movement against the regime. They are thinking of it, but they're still hesitant to support any kind of popular movement. They still hope that a coup will take place one day, whether supported by themselves, or whether it's an internal Iraqi movement by Iraqi officers who are fed up with Saddam's policies, who then decide to move against him. We think that this hope will not come through, and they will wait a long rime before any coup is actually successful in Baghdad.

Do you think they're actively working for a coup?

The intelligence service always work for a coup in Iraq. We don't know how many people they have in Baghdad, or what sort of contacts they have in Baghdad. But from previous experiences, yes, they were working with the military officers directly or indirectly to stage a coup against the regime.

How difficult is it for any outside intelligence services, particularly the CIA, to penetrate Saddam's military?

It is very difficult for any country outside Iraq or an intelligence service to infiltrate Saddam's regime, because he took all the measures to prevent that kind of thing. Any officers who move alone will be faced with all these surveillance measures in Iraq. And if a single officer starts to talk to other officers to join him, then he will be discovered, because Saddam put spies on each single officer in the Iraqi army, especially high-ranking officers.

The Americans resist supporting a popular resistance movement against the Iraqi regime, because they fear that if Saddam falls down, we will have a civil war, or Iraq might disintegrate. Saddam tries to distribute those fears to show the world that he's the only person who can keep Iraq as one country, and stable. We feel that, if Saddam stays in power, then Iraq will actually disintegrate. Northern Iraq is basically outside the control of the central government. There are pockets of resistance in the south, and the Shi'ites will never be satisfied with the regime in Baghdad.

The only solution we have is to get rid of Saddam--then the Iraqis will be united in the future. We don't think there is a risk of a civil war. All Iraqi opposition groups agree that we have one country, and that we will have some kind of democratic system in the future. The only hope for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi opposition is to have direct elections, and to have a constitutional, parliamentarian regime in the future.

America is also concerned that another kind of regime could have implications beyond Iraq. Other American allies in the region that are not democratic might be uncomfortable with such a regime in Baghdad.

It's possible that the Americans are frightened that such a regime will affect some other countries in the region. But the fact is that this is the choice of the Iraqi people. The only hope for Iraq is to get rid of Saddam--to have peace and stability inside Iraq and the region--so we think that everybody should support this choice. And at the end of the day, America claims to support democracy in the world, and to support human rights.

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