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THE WORLD

A New Son Is Rising Over Iraq

September 30, 2002|BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — He is rarely quoted in the newspaper or shown on television. He has never given an interview and apparently has never delivered a speech in public. He is said to stutter.

Most Iraqis, it is said, would not recognize the short man with the thick mustache if they encountered him on the street--though two who did tried to kill him recently, according to an opposition group.

Qusai Hussein, 36, the younger son of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, has emerged as a significant figure in the regime and an object of growing U.S. concern. He commands key military, security and intelligence forces and, U.S. officials say, directs lucrative smuggling networks in violation of United Nations sanctions.

If an invasion killed or dislodged his father, Qusai could well be left in control of the regime's deadliest weapons.

A British government report revealed last week that the elder Hussein may have delegated to Qusai authority over Iraq's suspected arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. The disclosure was the latest sign that Qusai has eclipsed his infamous older brother, Uday, as the Iraqi strongman's most trusted aide and heir apparent.

U.S. officials say Qusai's growing power has emerged as a wild card as U.N. inspectors plan to return to Iraq to search for possible weapons of mass destruction--and as the Bush administration weighs how best to topple Hussein's regime.

"If Saddam is knocked out early, and command and control breaks down, then how do they fire their stuff?" said a senior U.S. intelligence official who is involved in the planning. "Who's going to push the button?

"Qusai is someone who, A, would be loyal to his father, and, B, if he gives the orders, those orders will be followed like his father's," the official added. "There's contingency planning going on, and he's a big part of it."

According to U.S. and British intelligence, Hussein's regime in recent years has produced both biological and chemical weapons and can deliver them with artillery shells, free-fall bombs, sprayers and ballistic missiles. They could be deployed within 45 minutes, officials say.

Would Qusai use them? Former U.N. weapons inspector Terrence Taylor isn't sure. "These are not Taliban, theologically motivated people," said Taylor, now president of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-U.S. "This is a secular ruling clique, a Mafia-type group. They want to survive. So they're going to try to strike deals."

Qusai had no known role in his father's past military adventures, including the war against Iran in the 1980s and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 that led to the Persian Gulf War the following year.

But Qusai knows about Iraq's clandestine weapons programs. Iraqi defectors have told U.S. officials that starting in the mid-1990s, he headed a special unit of as many as 2,000 men whose job was to hinder and hamper U.N. weapons inspectors.

According to these accounts, one team from Qusai's group would create traffic jams and other diversions to delay the inspectors, while another team would rush to move incriminating records, equipment and other items that the inspectors were seeking.

David Kay, a former U.N. weapons inspector, says Qusai can be seen "lurking in the background" in photographs of key inspections. Another former inspector, who asked not to be identified, says Qusai was part of a high-level Iraqi committee that "decided what to give up and what to conceal. He was involved up to his eyeballs."

U.N. inspectors withdrew from Iraq in frustration in December 1998 and have yet to return.

Experts say Qusai's influence has grown dramatically since then, especially in the military and security structure of the Iraqi police state. Getting to the top wasn't hard; his father appointed him to every post.

Qusai oversees the Republican Guard, the best trained and armed military unit, and the Special Security Organization, which is entrusted with protecting the president and with hiding any weapons of mass destruction. The SSO also monitors telecommunications between Iraq and the outside world, Iraqi exiles say.

The two posts, as well as a recent appointment as head of the northern army, the force that presumably would defend Baghdad against an attack from Kurdish areas in the north, give Qusai operational control over some of the most important units in Iraq's armed services.

Qusai also helps run the Mukhabarat, Iraq's largest and most dreaded intelligence and internal security service.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have accused the Mukhabarat of torturing suspected dissidents or their families.

A former Mukhabarat member, Khalid Janabi, told U.N. investigators last year that members of a special unit, the Technical Operations Directorate, have raped relatives of suspected opponents and then used videotape of the assaults to ensure future cooperation.

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