Joining Forces with Izzat Ibrahim Ad-Duri

Vice President Dick Cheney has called the war "one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted." President Bush, however, is more cautious. One reason is that Iraq's oil-rich north has not yet been pacified. A second may be the still-potent Iraqi forces who have retreated into those regions, and one man in particular: Izzat Ibrihim Ad-Duri.

Assuming Izzat is alive, there are two reasons he is important. One, he controls the northern oil city of Mosul. And second, Saudi strongman Prince Abdullah chose him as his number one ally in Iraq at a recent Arab conference in Qatar.

Izzat is one of the few old comrades of Saddam who go back to the 1960s, when the Baath Party was illegal. He managed to survive Saddam's many purges. His daughter was married to Saddam's eldest son Udai.

Izzat's reputation is unsavory. Human Rights Watch called on the Qatar government to arrest him for crimes of mass murder and torture.

But now indications are the Americans might be looking to him as an ally. The Arabic-language, London-based Asharq al-Awsat (Mar. 31) published a curious report entitled "Secret military organization reveals the presence of Izzat Ibrahim's office in a Mosul graveyard." The implication was that an office in a graveyard holding the remains of a holy man made it immune from coalition aerial bombardments.

The piece said nothing about Izzat's joining Iraqi forces supporting the American-British coalition. But immediately after mentioning him, it quotes another Iraqi defector general as saying the disputed rocket that killed 60 people in a Baghdad market came from a Russian missile, meaning it came from the Iraqi side. This information, which could only come from the highest levels of the Iraqi regime, hints that Izzat too may have split with Saddam before the "bunker buster" was unleashed on the latter.

The article reads more like a coded message than a journalistic report. Defecting generals arriving in the Kurdish area announced forming a "National Coalition Unity of Iraq" that called on the people not to fight the Americans and British. They also had reason to believe that Izzat Ibrahim, who left Baghdad for Mosul, was ready to join them. Rumors of a deal being struck with high Baath officials to save their lives were rife on all Arab networks. The National Beirut Network television speculated that was the reason American tanks entering Baghdad met with such little resistance. Even the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Al Douri, appeared relaxed and smiling and disavowing ties to Saddam on Al Jazeera, which reported he would remain as the ambassador for the new government.

If over the past week there have been significant defections from the Baath, then it's likely that there won't be a rush by the Americans to take Kirkuk and Mosul. And the Americans are already talking with Izzat or ready to do so.

As world opinion knows, Iran and Turkey have major interests in northern Iraq. But less known is the Saudi interest. Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah played the key role in ending Lebanon's civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990. That tour-de-force allowed America to launch the Gulf War that began on Jan. 16, 1991.

Prince Abdullah is determined to do the same now in Iraq. He believes Bush and the Americans knew nothing about Lebanon in 1990-1991 and know nothing about Iraq now. Last March, a major Arab conference was held in Doha, the capital of Qatar that also is the headquarters of the American command in the Gulf and of Al Jazeera TV. Izzat Ibrahim attended as the leading Iraqi delegate and Prince Abdullah embraced and kissed him. The Arab delegates and reporters got the message.

The American and world media are mesmerized about the shock-and-awe audio-visual journalism that fills TV screens and newspapers. But Iran, Turkey, the Saudi Kingdom and many more countries are quite worried about American rashness and brashness. Iran is worried that two of its main neighbors, Afghanistan and Iraq, are now in chaos. Turkey is worried that the lengthy civil war that pitted Turk against Kurd could reoccur. And the Saudis fear that America will create chaos in the Middle East that could easily bring down the Saudi Kingdom.

George W. Bush has a deep admiration for Prince Abdullah, whom he invited to his Crawford ranch. He certainly knows that the prince played a mighty role in guiding his father through the sandstorms of Iraq. Chances are he is now seeking the same.

Schurmann (fschurmann@pacificnews.org) is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and author of numerous books. Ghazi (jalalghazi2002@yahoo.com) monitors and translates Arab media for New California Media and WorldLink TV.

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