Skip to comments.From leaky roofs to secret agents (THE SADDAM FILES)
Posted on 05/05/2003 5:04:29 PM PDT by MadIvan
From leaky roofs to secret agents: how the files I found in Iraq's looted foreign ministry cast light on the paranoid world of Saddam Hussein
How many Iraqi officials does it take to fix the leaky roof of a diplomat's house in London? How long does a skilled translator need to convert one of George Galloway's parliamentary speeches into Arabic?
In almost 1, 000 pages of Arabic prose, each stamped with the Eagle crest of Iraq, the files found inside the foreign ministry in Baghdad cast a somewhat surreal light on the questions that turned the bureaucratic wheels of Saddam Hussein's regime and its view of Britain.
Five tightly-bound pale blue folders, all labelled Britain in Arabic talk darkly of plots against Saddam, rage against the "lies" of western governments and contain plaintive pleas for the supply of western military publications.
They detail contacts with the British Government and with figures deemed friendly to Iraq. There is a particular focus on George Galloway's political activities.There are 25 separate documents referring to the Labour MP, covering 1998, 2000 and 2001.
It is in this pile of documents that I found, on the second day of reading through the files, the copy of memorandum signed by the head of the secret police, the Mukhabarat, purporting to show that the Labour MP had secretly benefited from oil and food contracts to fund his campaigning group, the Mariam Appeal.
Mr Galloway denies benefiting in any way from his dealings with Iraq and has said that the relevant document is a forgery planted by western intelligence agencies with the aim of discrediting him.
Much of the material is routine paperwork, ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. All five folders, each holding about 200 pages, betray the essential hallmarks of Iraq's bureaucratic culture - secrecy, formality, official courtesy and an obsession with compiling meticulous records of everything, however trivial.
Thus ministers are always referred to as "The Respected Mr Minister" and even the briefest handwritten scribble in the margin of an official document conveys elaborate greetings.
A few weeks after the September 11 attacks, when America began to debate whether to topple Saddam as part of the "war on terrorism", some of the powerful men in the Iraqi regime found themselves dealing with the question of the leaking roofs of five diplomatic properties in London.
Naji Sabri, the foreign minister, and Gen Abid Hamid al-Khattab, the all-powerful head of Saddam's Secretariat, exchanged lengthy correspondence on the issue in Oct 2.
The head of Military Intelligence also got involved. The house once occupied by the defence attaché in London, in the days when Iraq had an embassy in Britain, had been "damaged by rain and the environmental effects of the years," he wrote.
Gen al-Khattab's response was straight from the manual of Iraqi officialdom.He formed a leaky roof committee.The heads of military intelligence, military housing and military works were put on the case, with a brief to "study the subject of renovating the mentioned houses and informing the Foreign Ministry ". The letter on Oct 15 added: "A report should be written about this subject."
I found no record of anything actually being done. The London rain may well still drip through those rafters.
The documents come from an orange box file labelled "Britain" that I found in a small room on the first floor of the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad. The BBC news website reported on Mar 22 that the building was burning after a night in which 1, 000 cruise missile were fired at Baghdad.
Yet this appears to have been mistake. There is no evidence that the Foreign Ministry was ever struck by a bomb or a missile. Instead, the building was looted immediately after the war and severely damaged by fire.
But almost everything inside the room in which I found the documents was intact. Its heavy door, which was scorched on the outside but undamaged on the inside, had evidently protected the room from fire.
Scores of box files, each containing three or four folders filled with documents, littered the floor or were stacked on metal shelves.In total, many thousands of documents on a huge range of subjects had survived.
Looters had clearly entered the room - the door's lock had been broken and many files thrown into a heap on the floor - but having no interest in paperwork, they had left it intact.
Most of the box files carried label in Arabic. They were covered in dust and ash and some of the documents had come loose from their folders - letters marked "Confidential and Personal" fell to the floor - but most of the paperwork seemed in good condition.
My Iraqi translator saw that most box files were labelled by country. Some were labelled Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, France and United States. Others carried labels saying Security Council and Political Records.
I asked him to look for ny carrying the label Britain. Searching together, we eventually found two, along with one box labelled France. They were plainly abandoned.
Flicking through the pages, most of them written in Arabic, I saw letter written in English with Mr Galloway's letterhead.It nominated Fawaz Zureikat as his representative in Baghdad.I thought little of it, picked up the box files and headed back to the hotel.
We looked through one folder.I wondered whether we might find something interesting on Iraq's perception of Tony Blair. Did they believe their own propaganda about him being America's poodle?
This was a slow and laborious process, for my Iraqi translator had to read each page out loud in turn. We found nothing of interest. One routine letter, the humdrum correspondence that had crossed the desk of an Iraqi foreign minister, succeeded another.
We called it a day and stopped work. Not until late on the following day, did we come across a letter which caught my eye. It was an Arabic document, written on elaborate paper, carrying the symbol of an iris and the English words "Iraqi Intelligence Service".
The memorandum purported to be a copy of a letter from the head of the Mukhabarat to Saddam's Presidential Secretariat - the dictator's inner office that deals directly with the security services.It was only when my translator read out the subject of the memorandum as "Mariam Campaign" that I understood this might be linked with George Galloway and that it might yield an important British story.
The memorandum was part of folder containing 129 other documents, about a host of different subjects. The folder was bound, like the others, with a distinctive singlebow knot. Leaving aside the question of whether the contents of the memorandum are true, evidence found elsewhere in the files reinforces the authenticity of this document as a genuine product of the Iraqi bureaucracy. There are six other examples of similar Mukhabarat notepaper elsewhere in the files.
Haitham Rashid Wihaib, Saddam's former head of protocol, who fled Iraq in 1993, has identified the signature on the document as that of Tahir Jalil Habbush al Tikriti, head of the Mukhabarat from 1999 until the fall of the regime. Four other documents carrying this signature appear in the files.
The memorandum outlining Mr Galloway's supposed business dealings is handwritten. Three other documents in the files are written in the same hand. Three other documents also make direct reference to the crucial memorandum, quoting its date and reference number.
One other letter mentions Mr Galloway's alleged oil contracts. If the crucial document is forged, all these must have been painstakingly faked as well and then carefully planted in the files. The files also contain letters from Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister, Canon Andrew White, director of International Ministry to Coventry Cathedral, Lord Waverley, crossbench peer, and Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary.Each of these letters has been authenticated.
Four out of five folders -the exception being an account of sanctions conference in London - begin with a handwritten index of its contents. The covering letter to which the memorandum purporting to be about Mr Galloway was attached is listed in the index on the relevant folder. If the crucial document is fake, the lengthy nd complicated index must also be.
The memorandum was also written in a distinctively Iraqi fashion. Arabic has no equivalent of the letter G. The Iraqi Mukhabarat would routinely use the Persian character instead. The memorandum uses this distinctive technique to spell Mr Galloway's name.
The memorandum was just one from among a substantial number of papers, most of them routine, related to Mr Galloway. For example, a copy of Hansard from Nov 25 1998, containing a speech from Mr Galloway about Iraq, appears in the files, with the Labour backbencher's business card stapled to it.
Mohammed Said al-Sahaf, then Iraqi foreign minister and later the relentlessly upbeat information minister during the war, wrote by hand on the Hansard volume: "To: Prof Qassem Hafiz.Translate this special volume of the words of Mr Galloway in Parliament and the responses directed towards him please."
This herculean task took Prof Hafiz two weeks and produced 35 pages of Arabic prose. The words of Mr Galloway, thus transformed into Arabic, were promptly forwarded to Saddam's Cabinet Office.
Mr Galloway kept in touch with Iraqi ministers.On Dec 21 2000 he wrote to Mr Sahaf on the notepaper of the "Great Britain - Iraq Society ". "Firstly I extend to you my warm fraternal greetings and compliments of the season," wrote Mr Galloway to a senior member of the regime which he always claimed to oppose.
Then he outlined a new idea for "limited liability company", based in Britain, to lobby the Government on behalf of British businessmen shut out of Iraqi markets by international sanctions. "Our initial plan of activities for 2001 is a business conference on Iraq in May 2001, which will be held in the Houses of Parliament, a trade delegation to Iraq in June and a British exhibition in early October," he wrote.
Mr Galloway also announced that he would be arriving in Baghdad on Jan 14 2001.On an attached note, Mr Sahaf wrote in Arabic: "You are most welcome". Mr Galloway's entry in the House of Commons' Register of Members' Interests confirms that he did indeed make this visit to Iraq. When Mr Galloway led a demonstration outside the Trident submarine base in Faslane, Scotland, Mr Sahaf reported this approvingly to the Presidential Secretariat. "It has been considered one of the biggest demonstrations organised against this base," wrote Mr Sahaf.
The paperwork shows the mixture of paranoia and fascination with which Iraqi ministers viewed the western world. Some of Saddam's most senior henchmen attached great signficance to subscribing to western military publications, perhaps forgetting that they contained nothing but unclassified information.
Mr Sahaf sked for copies of Jane's All the World's Aircraft , Jane's Air Launched Weapons, Jane's Avionics and Jane's Helicopter Markets and Systems .This request, on Feb 22 1998, went to Gen al-Khattab at the Presidential Secretariat. It was forwarded to the Military Industrialisation Commission, responsible for much of Iraq's programme to build weapons of mass destruction, which confessed that it did not have all the publications that Mr Sahaf was asking for.
So the paper trail went back to the Iraqi Interests Section in London, which was peremptorily instructed to ensure a steady flow of Jane's military magazines. What passed for Iraq's intelligence on western military capabilities was apparently lifted from magazines bought in London newagents. British human rights organisations were also viewed with deep and predictable suspicion. Vincent Del Buono, deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International, tried to send a three strong delegation to Iraq in February 2000.
In a letter to Mudhafar Amin, head of the Iraqi Interests Section in London, Mr Del Buono said that the team would "investigate the circumstances in which Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of air strikes by the US and UK armed forces in recent years".
Mr Amin did his best.He forwarded Amnesty's letter to Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, and added in a covering message that the delegation would only investigate "continuous dual UK/US aggression against Iraq." But nothing could overcome Iraq's official paranoia.Mr Aziz wrote in the margin of Mr Amin's letter: "To Mr Foreign Minister, greetings. I don't see co-operation with this organisation. With greetings."
The Foreign Minister, then Mr Sahaf, did not protest. "Send the necessary telegram to our Interests Section in London," he wrote. Iraqi intelligence clearly ran agents in Britain. The Mukhabarat chief knew all about the 2001 plans of exiled opposition groups to demonstrate outside the Interests Section in London on the anniversary of the Ba'ath party's revolution in July 1968.
He sent a warning message to the Foreign Ministry on June 16 2001 about the supposed threat to the Iraqi "embassy "- apparently forgetting that Iraq had no diplomatic relations with Britain and that its office in London was nothing more than a humble Interests Section.
"It has been brought to our attention by our gents on British soil that the so-called Iraqi opposition based there will take part in a hostile operation against our embassy in London on the occasion of the celebration of the Eternal July [the Ba'athist revolution ]," wrote the spy chief. "Please take the necessary measures and inform us."
Mr Sahaf wrote on the message: "Inform our embassy in London to take the necessary precautions." Many of the letters are cringeinducing examples of official sycophancy towards Saddam. References to "Our Leader, the Presiden " are usually followed with the phrase "May God bless him and watch over him". Some letterheads display examples of Saddam's supposedly profound sayings.
One carries the following pearl of wisdom: "Be wary of your enemies. Keep them in front of your eyes so that they do not go behind your back."
Oh wow, I'm looking forward to reading about the french, hehehe.