Iraq in the Balance: The Bush Team Is Looking for Some Former Iraqi Generals to Help Oust Saddam Hussein. NEWSWEEK Has Tracked Down the Top Candidates. They're All Veterans of War-And a Few May Be War Criminals
Thomas, Evan, Gutman, Roy, Newsweek
Byline: Evan Thomas and Roy Gutman
President George W. Bush's description of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil" was dismissed as macho bluster in many capitals around the world. But inside Iraq, Bush's tough talk has been taken seriously by Saddam Hussein's own Army, judging from the steady stream of Iraqi Army officers who have been switching sides recently. About three weeks ago 36 officers, including a colonel in Saddam's elite special Republican Guard, showed up in neighboring Turkey, according to one former Iraqi general (a State Department source puts the Iraqi officer defection rate at about a half dozen per week). They brought two messages. One was that Saddam, fearing disloyalty, has been executing officers in his supposedly loyal Republican Guard. The second is "we are ready to revolt," says Fawzi al-Shamari, the former Iraqi Army general who has been in contact with the new emigres. Some officers fleeing Iraq may actually be spies, planted by Saddam. But most seem to be trying to get on the winning side.
In Washington last week, Bush signaled more firmly than ever his determination to oust Saddam. "He is a problem," the president said at a press conference. "And we're going to deal with him." On an eight-day tour of Middle Eastern capitals, Vice President Dick Cheney was trying to line up support for U.S. intervention in Iraq. Publicly, Arab leaders raised strong objections. Privately, at least one key Arab leader was more pliable. A knowledgeable source tells NEWSWEEK that King Abdullah of Jordan indicated to Cheney that if the Israeli-Palestinian crisis eased and the United States moved swiftly and decisively against Saddam, then Jordan would raise no objections. Indeed, the Jordanians are already stockpiling fuel to prepare for the disruptions of war.
Behind closed doors in Washington, in secret diplomatic cables and inside CIA safe houses from suburban Virginia to Kurdistan, the search for solutions--for a plan and a leader--is on. As the vice president and the Jordanian king talked over a sumptuous meal of seared scallops, grilled beef and berries with mascarpone at the royal palace in Amman, the hard question about overthrowing Saddam was not if, but how and when. And just as vexing: who would replace Saddam? According to the knowledgeable source, Abdullah was contemptuous of Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, which has the highest profile of the exile opposition groups. Abdullah's scorn for Chalabi is widely shared in the United States government. The elegant, London-based former banker is popular among top civilian aides at the Defense Department, but he is widely derided as an ineffectual showboat just about everywhere else in the U.S. national-security establishment.
At the CIA, State Department and among the uniformed military, specialists are trying to find the proverbial Man on a White Horse, a respected military officer who can ride in, take control and unite Iraq's fractious tribes and religious groups. Mythology is sometimes more powerful than history: the last general who successfully returned from exile to restore his nation to greatness was Charles de Gaulle in France--more than 50 years ago. Still, the United States will need some kind of military strongman to foment a coup, or head a rebel army that could work alongside U.S. forces, or run the Iraqi military after Saddam is gone. There are a number of former high-ranking officers from Saddam's Army who are waiting in the wings and deserve to be taken seriously. But interviews with five of the most prominently mentioned Iraqi ex-generals, reached by NEWSWEEK at their homes in Europe and northern Virginia, raised questions about their readiness, willingness and fitness to lead.
The good news is that the generals are all very experienced war fighters. The bad news is the way they fought--sometimes, with chemical weapons. Nizar al-Khazraji, for instance, has impressive credentials: a four-star general, he was the top commander of the Iraqi Army from 1980 until 1991. …