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3 Oct 2014
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Gordon Corera A Future Iraqi Leader?
Listen to an extended unbroadcast version of Gordon Corera’s interview with former Iraqi general, Nizar Al-Khazraji
The man who led the Iraqi army during the invasion of Kuwait has warned that the Iraqi people may not support America if they fear they will lose their independence after the ousting of Saddam.

General Nizar Al-Khazraji was the Chief of General Staff, the head of the Iraqi army, when it invaded Kuwait and is the most senior figure ever to have defected from Saddam’s Iraq.

Until now he's kept his counsel to himself but in an exclusive interview he spoke to the Today Programme.

Khazraji, who is thought to have significant support amongst both current and former members of the Iraqi army, said that the army was waiting to topple Saddam and that he could he lead it in a rebellion. "I led it before and I can do it again," he said.

But he warned that the failure of the US to clarify what will come after Saddam was undermining the chances of support from the Iraqi people and army from any attempt to oust the Iraqi dictator. The notion that America could stay in Iraq to rebuild the country was dangerous he said.

"Some say we will stay 20 or 30 years to control the country and control the oil. All this damages the will of the people to overthrow the regime" Khazarji claimed, saying that now "most of the people and the armed forces are afraid that the future will be even worse" and that "the Iraqis must be sure there will be a democratic regime after the overthrow of the Saddam and that Iraq will be an independent country". Asked what would happen if American troops did occupy Iraq he said "It will be a very dark future for all."

Khazraji now lives in a small village in Denmark where he is under police protection but also under investigation for possible involvement in the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in the 1980s.

The General denies any involvement and claims that he is being smeared not just by Saddam but also other opposition groups who fear him because of his popularity.

When I met him he produced documentation from Kurdish groups absolving him from responsibility and also documents issued by Saddam showing that responsibility for dealing with the Kurds was given to Ali Hasan al-Majid - also known as Chemical Ali.

This fits into the pattern where Saddam gives responsibility for more sensitive tasks to security organisations under his direct control rather than the army.

Al-Khazraji could end up being a major player in the future of Iraq. He represents the authentic voice of Iraqi nationalists and the military, those who oppose Saddam and want him out but don’t want the country to become a US puppet state with its oil controlled by outsiders.

His words are a warning that the support of the Iraqi people for removing Saddam cannot be taken for granted.

BBC News Online - the war on terror in depth

The Iraqi flag.
The flag of Iraq
Listen - an extended unbroadcast version of our interview with General Nizar Al-Khazraji. (23/09/2002)
Listen - Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesman Menzies Campbell discusses the interview. (23/09/2002)
A procession of Iraqi troops
A procession of Iraqi troops
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