Taking Sides

Article excerpt

I suppose I can just about bear to watch the "inspections" pantomime a second time. But what I cannot bear is the sight of French and Russian diplomats posing and smirking with Naji Sabry, Iraq's foreign minister, or with Tariq Aziz. I used to know Naji and I know that two of his brothers, Mohammed and Shukri, were imprisoned and tortured by Saddam Hussein--in Mohammed's case, tortured to death. The son of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was sentenced to twenty-two years of imprisonment last year; he has since been released and rearrested and released again, partly no doubt to show who is in charge. Another former friend of mine, Mazen Zahawi, was Saddam Hussein's interpreter until shortly after the Gulf War, when he was foully murdered and then denounced as a homosexual. I have known many regimes where stories of murder and disappearance are the common talk among the opposition; the Iraqi despotism is salient in that such horrors are also routine among its functionaries. Saddam Hussein likes to use as envoys the men he has morally destroyed; men who are sick with fear and humiliation, and whose families are hostages.

I don't particularly care, even in a small way, to be a hostage of Saddam Hussein myself. There is not the least doubt that he has acquired some of the means of genocide and hopes to collect some more; there is also not the least doubt that he is a sadistic megalomaniac. Some believe that he is a rational and self-interested actor who understands "containment," but I think that is distinctly debatable: Given a green light by Washington on two occasions--once for the assault on Iran and once for the annexation of Kuwait--he went crazy both times and, knowing that it meant disaster for Iraq and for its neighbors, tried to steal much more than he had been offered.

On the matter of his support for international nihilism, I have already written my memoir of Abu Nidal, the murderous saboteur of the Palestinian cause ["Minority Report," September 16]. I have also interviewed the senior Czech official who investigated the case of Mohamed Atta's visit to Prague. This same official had served a deportation order on Ahmed Al-Ani, the Iraqi secret policeman who, working under diplomatic cover, was caught red-handed in a plan to blow up Radio Free Iraq, which transmits from Czech soil. It was, I was told (and this by someone very skeptical of Plan Bush), "70 percent likely" that Atta came to Prague to meet Al-Ani. Seventy percent is not conclusive, but nor is it really tolerable. Meanwhile, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan holds several prisoners from the Ansar al-Islam gang, who for some reason have been trying to destroy the autonomous Kurdish regime in northern Iraq. These people have suggestive links both to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. It will perhaps surprise nobody that despite Kurdish offers of cooperation, our intrepid CIA has shown no interest in questioning these prisoners. (Incidentally, when is anyone at the CIA or the FBI going to be fired?) People keep bleating that Saddam Hussein is not a fundamentalist. But he did rejoice in the attacks on New York and Washington and Pennsylvania, and he does believe that every little bit helps. …