Iraqi Air Force Veterans Targeted by Death Squads
Former Iraqi Air Force Pilots Targeted in Manhunts
Former pilots who served in Saddam Hussein’s Air Force are victims of a manhunt by armed militias which has cost the lives of dozens of veterans since the fall of the former regime in April 2003.
I never leave the house out of fear of assassination, says Rabih Ahmad al-Taï, who held the rank of general in Saddam Hussein’s Air Force, echoing the fears of his comrades-in-arms who live under continual threat of assassination. At least 23 pilot-officers have been murdered by Iraqi groups linked to Iran, which wants to take vengeance on the pilots, continues al-Taï, who originates from Tikrit—the fief of Saddam Hussein. Al-Tai fought in the eight year-long Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988 during which the regime used chemical weapons on Iranian troops. Pilots who had the means to leave the country have left while others remain cloistered in their homes, with fear in their stomach, shrugs a resigned al-Tai. A thousand former military officers formed a delegation two weeks ago to visit President Talabani, a Kurd, to request his intervention against the acts of vengeance. Acknowledging his own impotence in protecting lives in the current turbulent atmosphere, Talabani invited the group to settle in Kurdistan: The pilots have no responsibility for the policies of the former regime and merely carried out criminal orders. If they had refused, they would have faced summary execution, Talabani told the delegation, while promising them a safe and secure life in Kurdistan, regardless of political affiliation. But he has been unable to deliver on the promise.
This week two former officers were shot dead in the holy Shi’ite city of Karbala, including former Air Force Commandant Rajab Abdel Wahed al-Jaberi. Pilot-officer Mazen Jalal al-Salaami, who lives in the Dour neighborhood in north Baghdad, accuses police death squads for their involvement in the kidnapping, torture and murder of former Air Force officers. Sunni religious and political leaders denounce the infiltration of the security forces by Shi’ite militiamen, particularly the Badr Brigades, who were trained in Iran. These acts of revenge are causing a terrible loss for our country because they are killing off professionals who could have made a subtantial contribution to the new Iraqi military, regretted al-Salaami.
Ahmed Sattam al-Joubouri, who participated in bombing missions against Iran, Kuwait (1991) and Kurdistan, was assassinated by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in August 2004, says his brother Ayed. After the fall of the Ba’athist regime, he remained in his village south of Mosul, where Kurdish militiamen murdered him to avenge the victims of the former regime. Ayed doubts President Talabani’s sincerity. He sought to calm the fears of the pilots so they would not join the insurgency, says Ayed, emphasizing that the government recently announced the dismantling of a “Salafist” network, whose leader was a former Iraqi Air Force general.