Sunday, November 27, 2005

Iraq's Twin Generals

I was researching next Tuesday's column when I came across a few interesting bits about Hussein Kamal, the name and darkish legend, or living dead. This is the Iraqi defector who, in 1995, told the United Nations that all of Iraq's WMD stockpiles were destroyed. This is the guy who was Saddam's cousin, who married one of Saddam's daughters, who founded the Republican Guard, who was one of Iraq's intelligence dons, who headed the country's fearsome "Amn el Khass" secret police, who was reportedly seen shooting people at random during the 1991 Shiite insurrection in southern Iraq, and who ran the country's weapons procurement program. He defected to Jordan with his brother in '95. Six months later they returned to Baghdad, lured there by one of Hussein's sons with promises of love and friendship, only to be killed in a Wild-Bunch like gun battle, minus the Sam Peckinpah footage. He was known as Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, or Kamel (the spellings are notoriously interchanged in western press reports). The name, if not quite the person, reemerged two weeks ago: Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, deputy interior minister, chief of intelligence (like every other minister and sub-minister in present-day Iraq, because nothing really changes), and so on. He was the one quoted about how outraged the Iraqi government was to have found torture chambers run under its nose.

I'm not into conspiracy theories, but the similarities between the two Kamals were too tantalizing. And if "Hussein" and "Kamal" are as common in Iraq as Tom and Dick in Iowa, their combination is not as common, and the prevalence of Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamals in an Iraq where both major generals and the military are endangered species seemed just a bit odd to pass over unnoticed. It would help if the Iraqi government web site provided biographies of its ex-mobsters. We know, for example, that the actual interior minister, Bayan Jabr, has a closetfull of skeletons to which he keeps adding with glee and rhetorical lime: A couple of days after the discovery of the den of torture run by a militia with his fingerprints all over it, he was calling the allegations of widespread torture "untrue and inaccurate." To be sure, Iraqi ministers' definition of torture is cribbed from that of Dick Cheney and our Department of Justice. And Jabr's words were cribbed from President Bush's: "I reject torture," he said, proving how well he'd been watching Bush's televised speech on the subject a few days earlier, "and anyone found guilty of that will be punished." So any reassurance that the Iraqi government isn’t involved in torture is wildly exaggerated. But Jabr’s past history is one of the few that can be parsed easily, Knight Ridder having done its homework on the guy. The same can’t be said for other ministers and subministers, like Kamal and his former lives: There is a ministers' page on the Iraqi government's web site. But the entire site's English version was last updated in September ("The Iraqi PM announces a three day moaning on the victims of the Khadmia Bridge"). And the ministers' page is, has been, and apparently will remain, "under construction." Perhaps that’s a telling enough biography of Iraq and its ministers, construction sites being mobsters’ natural work environment.