YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Hussein Backers Regain Role in Government

The U.S. seeks to sway its foes in Mosul through inclusion. Critics see a return to a hated regime.

May 12, 2003|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

MOSUL, Iraq — The U.S. Army has allowed several once-forceful supporters of Saddam Hussein's regime back into power here, including a religious leader who just weeks ago ordered Muslims to fight American troops to the death.

Convinced that sweeping out all officials associated with Hussein would result in a government too weak to hold Iraq together, U.S. forces in Mosul hope to win over their enemies by allowing them to sit on a new interim city council.

It is a risky gamble that some say may undermine the long-term goal of a stable democracy. And it already has left some longtime opponents of Hussein in the northern city feeling left out of a new government that they say is shaping up as a reincarnation of the regime they struggled to overthrow.

"We're afraid the dictators left and the smugglers took power -- and the liars with them," said Sheik Bader Hilaly, an imam previously jailed for speaking out against Hussein.

A powerful member of the new council is Sheik Saleh Khalil Hamoody, who also heads the Mosul region's council of Islamic scholars. Several days after U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq began, Hamoody issued a fatwa, or edict, declaring that it was the religious duty of all Muslims to fight U.S.-led forces.

"Our valiant Iraq is facing a noble and faithful battle against imperialist and Zionist attackers who hate us," said the fatwa, which was approved by the Islamic scholars council. "They aim to destroy Islam and its existence to achieve their goals of world domination and to guarantee security for Zionism and its future."

Hamoody is widely known in northwestern Iraq for his close ties to the former Baath Party regime. He is a cousin of Hussein's former defense minister, Sultan Hashim Ahmad Jabburi Tai, who is on the U.S. military's list of most-wanted fugitives.

Hamoody was elected to the interim city council at a May 5 convention of about 150 community elders despite assurances from the commander of American forces here that U.S. intelligence would weed out candidates who were too closely associated with the toppled regime.

U.S. Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, who is in charge of northwestern Iraq as commander of the 101st Airborne Division, said he is aware of anti-American sentiment among some religious leaders in Mosul. He also acknowledged in an interview that he had not been informed about Hamoody's fatwa, and he said he might ask the imam to withdraw it in an official statement.

Petraeus added that he is watching Hamoody and others closely, and listening to what they say, to make sure they aren't secretly trying to sabotage the transition to democracy.

Petraeus said he already has asked Hamoody to urge support for the city's interim government and public patience with problems such as severe gasoline and cooking gas shortages.

"I think he is doing that," Petraeus added Sunday. "But we've only been engaged in this [for a short time], and it takes a little while. I will tell you there is a bit of a debate going on in the Islamic religious community right now. And there are debates going on in a lot of communities."

Lying was often the only way to survive under Hussein's regime, and, Petraeus said, "there is a problem of trust with everyone" now.

But there is "a constant process of evaluating those who are participating" in the new government, Petraeus said. And some people in government who are not on the city council have been removed for deception, he added.

Petraeus has demanded that Hamoody and other members of the interim council and administration sign forms certifying that they have never been members of the ruling Baath Party and that they expressly denounce the party, as well as Saddam Hussein and his regime.

However, it is clear to many here that some who signed the forms had long affiliations with the deposed Baath Party.

Those who have signed include Adnan Dawood Sulaiman, a local Baath Party propagandist who headed Mosul's press department. He is now in charge of media relations for Mosul's interim mayor, Ghanim Basso, a former Iraqi army major general. Basso was a longtime Baath member who said he was forced to retire from the military by Hussein in 1993 after his brother, who headed the Iraqi air force, was executed.

Hamoody, meanwhile, said in an interview that he sees no reason to retract his March fatwa, which ended with a call to take up arms against kafirs, or non-Muslims, and quoted from the Koran: "You have to fight all the kafirs and make their hearts terrified, so you have to strike them wherever you see them. And fighting for God, and believers in the Koran, is a holy duty."

The imam said the ruthlessness of Hussein's regime left the Islamic scholars council with no choice but to issue the edict.

It also accused U.S. and British forces of trying to "destroy the fighting spirit of our nation," stop "the blessed Palestinian revolution," seize control of the region's oil wells and attack Islam by "making immoral principles widespread."

Los Angeles Times Articles