Iraq announced Sunday that it is ready to reveal military secrets it has withheld for years from the United Nations, a move that seemed aimed at limiting whatever damage a high-ranking defector might inflict on the regime.
Letters were sent to Hans Blix, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Rolf Ekeus, the head of the U.N. Special Commission charged with rooting out and destroying Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, inviting them to examine new material on Iraq’s weapons programs, Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz said in a statement issued to the official Iraqi News Agency.
The United States has long charged that Iraq is withholding information on its biological and nuclear weapons programs. The Iraqis have repeatedly insisted, however, that they have turned over all relevant information and are the victims of a U.S.-orchestrated smear campaign aimed at keeping international sanctions imposed until the regime of President Saddam Hussein is toppled.
But Sunday, Aziz acknowledged that material has been withheld and blamed the defector, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Majid, the architect of Iraq’s war machine. Before he defected, Majid was in charge of negotiations with the U.N. commission.
Aziz’s announcement came one day after Majid, in an Amman news conference, said that he will work to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who is also his father-in-law.
“After the flight of this traitor, a number of specialists in the Military Industrialization Commission said that Hussein [Majid] ordered them to withhold part of vital information on Iraq’s past programs from the United Nations,” Aziz said in his statement. “This was meant to be part of the conspiracy on the Iraqi people to provide the United States with pretexts . . . to prolong sanctions and conspire against Iraq and its leadership.”
Aziz said that Majid had misled the Iraqi specialists, telling them that he had orders from higher authorities to withhold information. He said that Majid “threatened severe punishment if he was disobeyed.”
The letters sent to Blix and Ekeus informed them “of Iraq’s readiness to furnish data which Hussein [Majid] deliberately concealed,” Aziz said.
During his appearance Saturday, Majid told reporters that he had decided to defect in part because the Iraqi regime had refused to cooperate completely with the U.N. Special Commission. He charged that the regime’s obstinacy meant that the United Nations had repeatedly refused to lift crushing oil and trade sanctions imposed on Iraq after its August, 1990, invasion of Kuwait.
Majid said that the sanctions do not hurt the regime but are causing enormous hardship to the Iraqi people. Iraq suffers from high inflation, shortages of basic foods and medicine and rampant unemployment.
Since his defection--and that of his brother, Saddam Kamel Majid--became public Thursday, Hussein Majid has become the target of a vitriolic campaign of character assassination by senior Iraqi officials and the state-controlled Iraqi media.
Western diplomats here said that the very intensity of the Iraqi response underscores how shaken the regime is by the defections. The Majid brothers took with them their wives, who are Saddam Hussein’s daughters, their children and top aides.
Saturday night, Iraqi Television interrupted its regular programming to read a letter by Hussein Majid’s uncle, Gen. Ali Hassan Majid, whom Saddam Hussein fired from his post of defense minister last month. In the letter, Ali Majid seemed to call for the assassination of his nephew.
“This small family within Iraq denounces his cowardly act and strongly rejects the treason that he has committed, which can only be cleansed by inflicting punishment on him in accordance with the law of God,” Ali Majid’s letter read. “His family has unanimously decided to permit with impunity the spilling of blood.”
Ali Majid accompanied Saddam Hussein’s son Uday to Amman on Thursday in a fruitless bid to persuade Jordan’s King Hussein to hand over Hussein Majid or at least to return the Iraqi leader’s daughters to Baghdad.
The king bluntly refused to relinquish the defectors, and the envoys returned to Baghdad empty-handed, only to see a confidant-looking Hussein Majid emerge from hiding Saturday to hold a news conference at Raghadan Palace in downtown Amman.
During the news conference, Majid denied the regime’s allegations that he took millions of dollars with him when he fled and warned that he might be forced to “clarify extremely important and serious things” if the attacks on his character continued.
Majid insisted, however, that he would not reveal state secrets “unless it is for the benefit of the people of Iraq.”
He denied reports that he has already talked to U.S. officials, but Western diplomats said Sunday that he has been contacted by the United States.
And a London newspaper said Sunday that Majid met an American delegation in Jordan on Saturday and is believed to be seeking sanctuary in the United States or Saudi Arabia.
The Sunday Times said Majid and the Americans held “wary negotiations” over how much he would reveal and what he is demanding in return. It did not give a source for the report.
The Clinton Administration “is turning cartwheels” over Majid’s defection and his blunt call to Iraqis inside and outside Iraq to work to overthrow Saddam Hussein, said one Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
President Clinton on Thursday praised King Hussein’s decision to grant Hussein Majid and his entourage asylum and pledged that the United States will come to Jordan’s assistance if the Iraqi leader makes any threatening moves toward the kingdom.
Jordanian officials expressed some unease Sunday at Clinton’s public commitment to back the king with U.S. troops if necessary. Officials continued to insist that Jordan’s relations with Iraq will not be altered by the decision to take in Majid, his relatives and associates.
“There are no political dimensions behind this asylum,” Foreign Minister Karim Kabariti said. “What Iraq is witnessing in terms of events is an internal affair, and the Jordanian government has nothing to do with it.”