- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq — President Jalal Talabani is offering safe haven and — according to some sources — $1,000 cash payments to deposed dictator Saddam Hussein’s former air force pilots, several of whom have been systematically killed.

The president said his purpose in reaching out to the officers — overwhelmingly from Saddam’s favored Sunni sect — is to woo them away from the insurgency and break up their alliance of convenience with Islamist foreign fighters.

Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, said he met recently with more than 1,000 former Iraqi officers in Baghdad.

Afterward, according to coalition sources, Kurdish officials entered the room and set briefcases down on tables. The briefcases were opened to reveal wads of new $100 bills; each officer was given $1,000 as compensation for the loss of his pension.

“I openly called in a meeting I had with 1,000 Arab Sunni former high-ranking officers for them to come to Kurdistan and live in peace,” Mr. Talabani said in an interview.

He said he was unsure who was killing the pilots, but suggested it was in retaliation for war crimes. “I don’t know whether it is revenge for bombing civilians, for bombing Iran, for bombing Kurdistan.”

An estimated 300,000 Kurds died in the Anfal campaign of 1988, in which chemical weapons were dropped on Kurdistan and mass executions carried out. Among the atrocities was the massacre at Halabja, on the Iranian border, in which Iraqi pilots killed around 5,000 Kurds with poison gas bombs.

But in an extraordinary expression of mercy, Mr. Talabani has forgiven the perpetrators, though not those who planned the genocide.

The pilots “were ordered by military commanders,” he said. “During the time of Saddam, anyone who refused orders was killed. And not everyone was ready to take his aircraft and fly to London or some other place and ask to be a refugee because Saddam would have killed their family.”

One of the pilots to be killed was Ismael Saeed Fares, 48, known as “the Hawk of Baghdad” because of his legendary exploits. A series of daring raids at the end of the eight-year war with Iran earned him a string of medals and the admiration of millions.

They also earned him 24 bullets in his chest, fired at point-blank range by a gunman who struck as he sat with a neighbor in the garden of his home in north Baghdad earlier this year.

Scores of others are believed to have been killed, although precise figures are not available. There is no suggestion that Mr. Fares was involved in the anti-Kurdish atrocities of the Anfal campaign.

The organized manner in which the slayings have been carried out, each with multiple shots fired from an AK-47, has fueled suspicions that elements within Iraq’s government are behind them.

“Many of my father’s friends have already left Iraq for Jordan because they received written death threats warning them to leave,” said Mr. Fares’ son, Wisam, 21.

Victim’s families suspect their names and addresses have been taken from old records at the Iraqi Defense Ministry. They claim that the killings are the work of the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the two main Shi’ite parties that dominate Iraq’s new government.

Although the Badr Brigade has officially disarmed, it has recently been blamed for the killing of scores of Sunni clerics in revenge for massacres of Shi’ites carried out by Sunni-backed insurgents.

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