Former Iraqi pilots decry wave of killings

October 26th, 2005  
Team Infidel

Topic: Former Iraqi pilots decry wave of killings

BAIJI, Iraq, Oct 26 (AFP) - Former Iraqi air force pilots say they are the
targets of a witchhunt and are seeking refuge from a wave of assassinations
that has killed almost two dozen since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

"I don't go out any more, for fear of being killed," was how Rabih Ahmad
al-Tai, a former air force general, summed up the threat hanging over his
and comrades' heads.

"No fewer than 23 officers have been killed by groups with ties to Iran,
which wants revenge," the ex-officer said in Saddam Hussein's hometown

Tai fought in the eight-year war with Iran that Saddam launched in 1980, and
during which his regime used chemical weapons against its foes.

"One of my friends, Major Shamal Ghafuri, was shot dead in broad daylight in
Baquba (north of Baghdad), while he was shopping. A friend who was with him
-- Colonel Jassem Hassan -- was seriously wounded."

Pilots who can flee the country have, while others are holed up across Iraq
with their stomachs in knots, he sighed.

Last week, around a thousand former air force officers met with Iraq's
Kurdish head of state, President Jalal Talabani, asking for protection
against "threats of vengeance".

Talabani offered refuge in relatively quiet northern Kurdish areas, an
implicit acknowledgement that the government could not stop the killings.

"Pilots are not guilty of crimes committed by the former regime, they only
obeyed criminal orders. Had they disobeyed they would have been immediately
executed," he said.

In Kurdish areas, they were promised "safety, regardless of their political

Such promises may be hard to keep, however. This week, two former officers
were murdered in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, including retired air
force Major Rajab Abdel Wahed al-Jaberi, a police source said.

Mazen Jalal al-Salami, an ex-pilot who lives in the town of Dur, near
Tikrit, accused death squads with ties to the new Shiite- and
Kurdish-dominated security forces of involvement in the kidnapping, torture
and murder of the two men.

Sunni Arab leaders also denounce the infiltration of security services by
Shiite militiamen, in particular the now disbanded Badr Brigade that was
originally created in Iran.

"Revenge killings cost the country considerably, because they deprive it of
professionals who could have contributed to consolidating a new army,"
Salami said.

Ahmad Sattam al-Juburi, who flew air strikes against Iran, Kuwait and Iraqi
Kurdistan was killed in August 2004 by Kurdish peshmerga militiamen, his
brother Ayad charged.

When Saddam's regime was toppled in April 2003, Juburi stayed in the mixed
northern metropolis of Mosul, where Kurdish militamen allegedly killed him
to avenge victims of the Iraqi dictator.

The son of Najmedin al-Obeidi, another former pilot who was killed, blames
peshmerga for his murder three months ago in front of their home near Baiji,
a a strategic oil refinery town south of Mosul.

"The attackers fled in a car towards Kirkuk, the stronghold of Kurdish
political parties," the son said in response to Talabani's offer of asylum.

The northern oil centre, which the Kurds want to incorporate in their
autonomous region despite opposition from Sunni Arab and Turkmen residents,
is dominated by the two Kurdish former rebel movements, including Talabani's
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

"They just want to appease pilots so they don't join the insurgency," said
the younger Obeidi, noting that the government recently announced it had
broken up an Islamic militant network run by a former air force general.