- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

A Danish court moved yesterday toward prosecuting the highest ranking military officer ever to defect from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, raising the prospect of the first legal accounting for the gassing of Iraqi Kurds in 1988 but potentially frightening other Iraqi officers from defecting in the face of a U.S.-led attack.
A local court in the Copenhagen suburb of Soroe barred Gen. Nizar Khazraji from leaving the country and said he must remain under police supervision as the state investigates charges that he played an active role in the gassing of at least 3,000 Kurds in the town of Halabja on March 16, 1988.
Gen. Khazraji has denied any involvement in the war crime, which is often cited in justification of U.S. calls for the overthrow of Saddam.
The court proceedings were spurred after Danish authorities learned that Gen. Khazraji's family planned to leave the country for Saudi Arabia. In an interview with the Danish newspaper Politiken, Gen. Khazraji said he planned to travel to Saudi Arabia and then on to northern Iraq, where he intended to take part in military operations against the regime he once served.
Danish prosecutor Birgitte Vestberg presented findings from her nearly one-year investigation based on interviews with Iraqi officers claiming that Gen. Khazraji helped planned the Halabja attack and was guilty of the summary execution and deportation of countless other Kurds during the Anfal campaign in northern Iraq in 1988.
Mrs. Vestberg's findings go further than those of other human rights groups, which have reserved judgment on Gen. Khazraji's role at Halabja.
"Our view has always been [that] Khazraji occupied a very high position in the Iraqi military when these atrocities took place. Our argument is that this needs to be seriously investigated," said Joe Stork, Washington director of the Middle East-North Africa division for Human Rights Watch.
Gen. Khazraji, who was head of the armed forces when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, fled to Jordan in 1995 and four years later applied for political asylum in Denmark, where he has since lived.
Danish authorities in 1999 granted him the right to live in Denmark with his wife and children in 1999, agreeing he would be at risk of facing the death penalty if he were sent back to Iraq.
While yesterday's ruling may advance the cause of international justice, it may set back efforts to topple the Iraqi leader.
"The timing of this is critical. It may potentially deter any future defections because others may fear they will face similar retributions," said Qubad Talabany, the deputy Washington representative for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
The PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the two major Kurdish parties that share semi-sovereignty over the portion of northern Iraq protected by the U.S.- and British-enforced no-fly zone, both lobbied the Danish government last year to drop its investigation into the Khazraji case.
The issue is potentially more critical now, considering the CIA established two offices last month in the Kurdish-controlled territory of northern Iraq in large part to entice new defectors from Iraq's army. The Iraqi National Congress has been running a similar defection program inside Iraq for several years.
Gen. Khazraji announced he would appeal yesterday's ruling.


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