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WAR WITH IRAQ

Hussein Foes Hope to Prevent Revenge Killings

March 21, 2003|Azadeh Moaveni | Times Staff Writer

TEHRAN — Iraqi opposition groups are urging their nation's citizens to refrain from revenge killings, hoping to avoid the bloodshed that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when crowds lynched followers of Saddam Hussein during the early days of a failed uprising against his regime.

In a campaign that began a month ago, the main Shiite Muslim opposition group -- the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI -- has sent pamphlets, broadcast warnings on TV and radio, and issued religious decrees exhorting Iraqis not to take justice into their own hands.

A senior member of SCIRI, Ibrahim Hamoudi, said the aim is to discourage revenge killings in the initial chaotic days of the war by assuring Iraqis that members of the regime would face trial by a transitional government.

Iraqis were advised not to destroy government property or try to settle scores themselves.

Iran-based Iraqi groups that oppose the Baghdad regime believe that unless U.S. or British military forces intervene, Iraqis will turn against officials of Hussein's Baath Party in their towns at the first opportunity.

"The biggest killers of the Baath Party will be dealt with by the people," said Abu Bilal Adib, spokesman for the Iraqi Shiite party Al Dawaa. "Vendetta actions will happen, and they will be deserved, because these [Baath officials] killed many people and should be punished."

SCIRI transmitted the instructions in response to questions from people in southern Iraq about what the group would do if the regime fell. Word was sent through two opposition radio stations, Voice of the Islamic Revolution and Voice of the Iraqi People, as well as the newspaper Al Shoada, or the Martyrs, and pamphlets passed across the border, Hamoudi said.

The group has coordinated efforts with Kurdish television stations in northern Iraq to ask people to "abandon their differences and postpone arguments."

The Kurds also rose up in 1991 against Hussein, wrongly anticipating that the U.S.-led military coalition that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait would support their rebellion.

SCIRI emissaries met with Iraqis in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and in Damascus, the Syrian capital, to relay the message.

Iraqi exiles believe that even Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, fears ferocious score-settling in the south, the heartland of the nation's Shiite majority. That is why, they say, he charged Ali Hassan Majid with command of the southern region. Majid is known in Iraq as "Chemical Ali" for his role in directing chemical weapon attacks on Kurds in 1988.

SCIRI hopes that by helping to limit disorder, it can show the U.S. that Iraqi opposition groups have a role to play in providing security.

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