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The killers they want to rule Iraq

December 13, 2002 | Page 4

WHO WILL the U.S. government find to replace Saddam Hussein if a new assault can drive him out? Unfortunately for Washington, one of their top choices to replace Saddam might be busy when the time comes--serving a prison sentence for war crimes.

Last month, Danish police arrested Gen. Nizar Khazraji, the former Iraqi chief of staff and the most senior officer to defect from Iraq--on charges that he's responsible for killing thousands of Kurds in a chemical weapons attack 14 years ago.

According to a Danish judge, there are "justifiable suspicions" that Khazraji--the commander of the Iraqi military during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War--was responsible for using poison gas to attack Iranian troops and Kurdish civilians. In the most notorious incident, 5,000 Kurds in the town of Halabja were killed after being bombed with nerve gas and mustard gas.

For the last three years, Khazraji has been living in Denmark--where he has been under investigation after he was reported to Danish authorities by a Kurdish immigrant. But Khazraji's use of "weapons of mass destruction" hasn't stopped Washington from putting him at the top of their list to help topple Saddam's regime.

Khazraji's arrest came after he recently asked for permission to travel to Saudi Arabia--leaving some to speculate that he was going to the Middle East to help with Washington's war plans. "His arrest is a major setback for us," one Iraqi opposition figure told the London Times. "His arrest will make it that much harder to encourage other officers to defect if they fear that they will be charged, too."

The Times wrote that Khazraji "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 U.S.-led operation."

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