Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ali Ibrahim Al-Tikriti, a southern regional commander for Saddam's Fedayheen in the mid-to-late 1980's. Due to his ruthlessness in heading the brutal campaign to terrorize the population, he was known as the “Butcher of Basra.”
FP: Mr. Ibrahim, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Ibrahim: Thank you Mr. Glazov for providing me the opportunity. I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak freely to the press unlike under Saddam's regime.
FP: Tell us about your background.
Ibrahim: I was born in Saddam's town of Tikrit in 1942. I worked within Saddam's inner circle shortly after his takeover of power in 1979 and participated in the Ba'ath revolution in 1963. I was taken in by the propaganda from the Ba'ath party as a young man and was more loyal to the party than my own mother. We all believed in this strong-pan Arab nationalist movement to empower us and always found ways to justify the killing of our own brothers in the process.
After rising to my position of regional Fedayheen commander in 1984 I continued the same brutal campaign of dealing with anyone who even uttered a word against the party. As far as I was concerned Ba'ath was Iraq and everything else was spies and lies.
Random arrests and executions were common place and the only way to ensure to Saddam that I was still loyal. Others opposed such tactics and ended up in the same mass graves as the Shi'ites.
During the Iran-Iraq war we would hide chemical weapons in what we believed were dissidents’ homes where their families were residing to avoid detection if our forces were over-run.
Through my own personal tactics I was eventually referred to as simply the "Butcher of Basra."
I began to question my tactics in late 1990 and before the military campaign against Saddam for invading Kuwait I decided to heed my wife's warnings and defect with my family to U.S. soldiers. My wife was the only person in Iraq safe for being one to question my tactics and thank God that she did.
FP: Can you describe the Ba-ath revolution of 1963?
Ibrahim: During the revolution I played a 'strong man' approach. Saddam always admired the tactics of Joseph Stalin and he was my regional leader. He emphasized Saddam's tactics of striking fear into the population and forcing the population to fear us and give them only one option and that option being the Ba'ath Party.
We engaged in a heavily charged propaganda campaign speaking on the street, spreading information through any media or community event we could. Once our foot was in the door we would force the people through 'offers they couldn't refuse' to go along with our ideology.
During the actual revolution it was done in a manner not to really overthrow the government as much as it was to strike fear into the population, much like Adolf Hitler did with his brown shirts. Much aid was brought in from the Soviet Union at the time including propagandists and advisors of all sorts, similar to what happened in 1958 in Iraq during that coup.
We received smaller amounts of monetary support this time and it was limited to only propaganda and weapons. With help from the Nasser regime in Egypt the government was quickly and easily overrun which paved the way for the Ba'ath Party to maintain control through fear tactics adopted from Stalinist Russia.
FP: What do you think made you vulnerable to Ba’ath propaganda? What is it you needed emotionally and psychologically? What is it they appealed to that struck a chord in you?
Also, what is so exciting about the Arab nationalist movement? And what makes a person more loyal to some party rather than to one’s own family members and to a code of morality (i.e. not killing people). How did you rationalize the terror you perpetrated?
Ibrahim: What made me and so many others so vulnerable to the Ba'ath propaganda was the idea of empowering the Arab people. At the time we saw wealthy Sheikhs living in palaces while we lived in poverty and wealthy westerners constantly living the 'good life' off of our oil. It enraged many on the street and this is what was used to strike a chord in many Arabs living in poverty.
At the time we were taught about our history and what great people we were and how we were the cradle of civilization. We should all be living like Kings and the only way we could was by rising up and controlling our oil and challenging the West. Like many in poverty there is always something deep down to want to get back at those who have because you 'have not'. We were trained to believe in only the greater good and we as individuals were not as important. What we needed to do was sacrifice whenever necessary for the greater good of society and our children.
Killing was always justified by our leaders. They said they were traitors or they were stealing from the Arab people or they were conspiring with the Zionists. The Western moral code of conduct was thrown out the window along with even the Islamic or Christian morality. Ethnic identity was enforced and survival paramount. The only way we could survive was through vast wealth from the West from the trade of our oil. They saw colonialism of France and England as the main reason for this injustice and this wrong had to be corrected or we would have to always live with this injustice because the balance of life was interrupted. We were surrounded with these ideas and you would never dare speak or even think against this out of fear of being labelled as a traitor.
FP: How does one rationalize this nonsense and madness? You believe you are fighting for the “greater good” and yet you are killing people, innocent people, and you yourself are terrified to think freely, knowing you will be killed. How does one reconcile these completely incompatible realities in one’s mind?
Ibrahim: When one initially falls victim to this propaganda you are not thinking about these hypocrisies. You believe you have found the truth and the way to progress toward justice and nothing in your mind can stand in that way. By the time you start realizing what is going on and how wrong it really is, it is too late. You are trapped and no longer have the option to say "I don't agree with this" or "The idea sounds good but the tactics are murder". If you were to say such things you personally know the fate you will face because you yourself have delivered this to others. Eventually one begins to just accept this reality as the social norm because there is no other option at that point.
FP: Why did the Ba'ath Party have to terrorize its own people? Why was terror so important for the survival of the regime?
Ibrahim: The Ba'ath Party had to terrorize the population in order to break down the false ideas of Western imperialism. This is what we were told. Much like when a young man joins the military and it breaks him down. We viewed this same process on a national and regional scale. The entire Arab populace had to be rehabilitated. Terror was necessary to keep power for two reasons. One because of the outside forces opposing our rise to power. Domestic forces being powerful Sheiks and the various religious movement including the Wahabi movement out of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Once in power though we didn't see it as terrorism but rather justice. Justice in our minds was absolute empowerment of the Arab people and re-establishing the kingdoms of our history and those opposing this didn't care about the Arab people but rather greed in our minds. They were going to pollute the minds and society we were hoping to create. This form of justice was the only way we saw it. There was no other way in our minds to deal with what we saw as dissidents.
FP: Did you know Saddam and his two sons? Can you tell us some details of what you knew or witnessed in terms of their evil acts?
Ibrahim: I had the opportunity to meet and know the Hussein family personally. After his total and undisputed reign began in 1979, I built a special relationship with him and became known as the 'Butcher of Basra'. I was very loyal to Saddam as he was able to rise to power and enjoyed the utmost loyalty from those around him. He had always led us to victory so I didn't generally question him and he gave me and my family many rewards for this.
On many occasions my encounters with them were pleasant in terms of holidays and celebrations but while in uniform I was always entertaining them with orders of theirs that had been carried out or stories of mass graves that had recently been made without them having to order one. They had this idea that there were spies everywhere and if you randomly killed people you were bound to kill some of the spies and possibly scare off the others. One thing I did witness was Saddam's son Uday marching a battalion of young Iraqi boys into a minefield to clear it for his personal use. He said they were Shiites and would have grown up to be loyal to Iran so he was pre-empting more rebels and spies.
FP: What are some crimes that you yourself committed? What did you feel emotionally during committing them and after? Are you a religious person? Did you believe your God was proud of these crimes you and the Ba’ath Party were perpetrating?
Ibrahim: I ordered myself and carried out orders from higher ups to fill mass graves with dozens and on two occasions several hundred Iraqis. I ordered the complete destruction of a small village in the south western part of the Al-Anbar province. It was deemed to be a rebel stronghold in 1994 so we burned it to the ground and had it buried under the sand. All of the inhabitants were locked inside of their homes and burned. Similar crimes were carried out but the most frequent was just house to house searches done at my own discretion. If we didn't find who we were looking for we would usually just declare the male head of the household with some crime against Iraq.
During all of these crimes I never felt remorse because I rarely ever attended the actual carrying out of these orders. They were just words on paper and another quota filled. Today though I live with what I have done and have nightmares at least four times a week. I see psychiatrists and have contemplated suicide more times than I count. While in that position of power I was always filled with propaganda to justify what I had done and given commendations to help me forget what I had done. Once all of the medals and power infrastructure is gone I am left with myself and my memories and knowing I can never right these wrongs.
I live in a constant state of guilt today. I live my life today trying to help rebuild Iraq in any way I can and do whatever I can to individual Iraqis that I meet to attempt to right my wrongs. I have written apologetic letters to some of my victims families asking them for my forgiveness and most have replied saying that they do forgive me.
Today I am a religious Muslim and everyday I pray hoping God will forgive me for what I have done in the past. I feel I am damned for what I did but every chance I get I apologize and attempt to make right with Iraqis I have met in exile.
FP: Tell us about the stage of your second thoughts, your wife’s influence on you and how you defected.
Ibrahim: The crimes against humanity didn't make me second guess what I was doing. I was very desensitized to death and mass graves at this point but not the explanations for why. I was never a fan of Stalin or Hitler so when hearing them justify their acts amongst those closest to them saying it worked for Hitler and Stalin I was immediately taken back.
The man and the party that I followed and was willing to sacrifice my family for was justifying their acts upon what Hitler and Stalin did made me realize that I was no different than the regimes I despised. I wasn't doing good or progressing the Middle East and the Arab people by doing the same acts and following the same road of these two regimes.
My wife one day came to me and said, "What if I was the woman you put in that mass grave or that was your son you were ordering to be executed. You need to realize that those people are someone's wife or son or father or uncle." These words started making me see these tactics not in terms of statistics or numbers but rather as people.
FP: Your life today must be in great danger, no?
Ibrahim: Yes, my life today is in danger from old Ba'athists as well as Islamic Jihadists and their ilk to silence me from speaking out against them and Saddam Hussein and supporting the United States liberation. We receive death threats and are told by law enforcement authorities to try in avoid public appearances and putting on spotlight on us. I choose not to along with many others because the truth must be said and proclaimed. The voices of murder and genocide must not be allowed to reign freely under the guise of 'freedom of speech'.
FP: What do you know about Iraq’s WMDs?
Ibrahim: I can personally vouch for Saddam's WMD programs. I helped protect his scientists and their documents while I was there. His nuclear program was at the top of his list and Saddam was very interested and sent out his security forces to hunt down a nuclear weapon when the Soviet Union fell. There were rumors amongst the inner circles that he had a crude nuclear weapon but I never saw it. I did handle as well as my units VX, Sarin and mustard gas. We were supplied with Russian NBC protective suits and they were always updated. Vast networks of bunkers were built to protect the military when such weapons were to be used. There were chutes built from the bunkers to the surface to launch these weapons in mortar shells in a surprise attack upon enemy forces approaching.
There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam had these weapons when the United States invaded. Saddam never did anything that he believed showed weakness. His weapons programs were also always a top priority for research and development because he knew he could always purchase conventional weapons abroad. The relationship between the Ba'ath Party in Baghdad and Damascus were one in the same. There is no doubt in my mind that if Saddam wanted to he could have sent such weapons and documents to Syria with ease. Assad and especially his generals would have welcomed such an idea or proposal from Saddam.
FP: What is your view of the American liberation of Iraq and today’s struggle against the terrorists?
Ibrahim: The United States is doing for the Iraqis what I myself and many others failed to do: provide them with a true sense of dignity, self determination and above all respect. I am so grateful for the liberation of Iraq and everyday I now have to live with the fact that I had the opportunity to help the Iraqi people and I didn't. I look at those who struggle against Iraq's liberation and see them as myself 20 years ago. If those who opposed the war really knew what happened in Iraq and who and what they were supporting they would never go to the streets with a sign protesting what President George W. Bush has done.
The terrorists in Iraq do not care for the Iraqi people just as I and the Ba'ath party didn't. This war must and will be won. There is no option of retreat against the terrorists fighting in Iraq today and everything must be done to defeat them, their ideology and whatever attracts young Arabs to these movements. They exemplify all that is evil in the world and what was wrong in Iraq under Saddam.
FP: What is the psychology of individuals such as Al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden? Are they true Muslims?
Ibrahim: Monsters such as Zarqawi and Osama Bin Laden are far from being Muslims. That is my opinion along with most Muslims. In their minds they are and they are fighting in the cause of God. The vast majority of Islamic clerics denounce them for what they do and my Imam has said Zarqawi is nothing more than a replacement for Saddam Hussein, there is no difference. Murderers have no religion, they only use religion to justify their heinous acts.
FP: What is the best way for the U.S. to conduct its war of liberation in Iraq? How best can it defeat the terrorists? What are the positives if we win? What will happen if the Left succeeds and forces a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq?
Ibrahim: The best way for the U.S. to conduct this liberation is mainly staying the course, as George W. Bush has said. You have to take this fight to the terrorists and continue training the Iraqis – who are truly the only ones that will really defeat the terrorists because they live in their neighbourhoods and can turn more public opinion against them. The best way to defeat their ideology of hate is fighting them on two fronts. One is the military front and two is in terms of destroying the environment which breeds the military front. We must show the Iraqis that there is another way instead of terrorism by providing them with more jobs and doing more to rebuild their infrastructure. We are doing a lot but the cost disparity could be closed to truly win the hearts and minds.
If the Left succeeds in their attempts to get the U.S. to withdraw you would see a wave of global terrorism that would put 9/11 in the scope of a failed suicide bombing. If anyone here thinks that defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan emboldened the terrorists imagine them being able to take over an oil rich nation such as Iraq, in the heart of the Middle East and having the ability to run on the platform of defeating the sole super power of the world. Iran as well as other government who openly support terrorism would cut off oil supplied, disrupt the world economy and provide them with WMD's. There is no doubt in my mind of this or the Iraqis in the streets of Baghdad today.
FP: Mr. Ibrahim, thank you for joining us.
Ibrahim: Mr. Glazov thank you for the interview and thank you for the great service you provide for the world. Inshallah the United States will prevail and democratic principles will defeat the culture of death perpetuated by Osama Bin Laden and their ilk.
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