Albaghdadia satellite TV station has become in recent years by many regarded as a reliable source for the disclosure of historical events took place in modern Iraq, by conducting interviews and show reports on Iraq during the time when Saddam was in power. I mentioned once before an interview on this station with Faisal Al-Yasiri, where important part of how people in the regime used to behave and their attitude. In addition, many Iraqis had the opportunity to watch the controversial interview that Albaghdadia did with Raad Al Hamdani, a senior military commander during the 2003 war in Iraq, who explained in details the circumstances and focused mainly in his testimony on the way Saddam, and his elite (including his sons) dealt with the political and military aspects before, during and shortly after that war.
A couple of days ago I watched another interview on Albaghdadia satellite TV station. It was with Saleem Shaker Al Imam, a former military commander and a diplomat in the late 1970's. He was another witness of Saddam's brutality during that period as his testimony focused on the notorious Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) conference on 22 July 1979 – two weeks after Saddam assumed presidency. There are a number of names given to that meeting: some call it “Saddam’s purge of the Ba’ath party”, some call it “the setup”, and others used to call it as “the slaughter of the comrades”. Saleem Shaker Al Imam was among many high-profile Iraqi politicians and military commanders Saddam accused them of plotting against the “the new leadership of Iraq” with the help, support and sponsorship of Syria. During that time, Saleem Shaker Al Imam was a senior diplomat in the Iraqi Ambassy in London when the he was called and ordered to fly back immediately to Baghdad. Al Imam did not have any prior knowledge on the events of the meeting and that a number of Iraqi politicians, such as Mohammed Ayesh, Ghanim Abdel Jaleel and Adnan Al Hamdani were taken into custody. Such knowledge would not qualify him of being a collaborator with them in trying to topple Saddam. Further more, the airplane he boarded first made a short stop in Damascus International Airport! Yes, it is the same Damascus, the capital of Syria. This is something very strange, because if Al Imam was planning to participate in that alleged “coup”, he would simply made precautious measures and would be applying for political asylum in Syria, and not to continue with his trip to Baghdad, right? Al Imam arrived in Baghdad a car with two security service men in suits were waiting for him at the airplane. They put him in a car and was taken to a building used to be called “the Jewish temple”. There, he was among many politicians he knew very well from the old days, either through military or political career, and there were some whom he met there for the first time in his life. All were put before a court established to trial those “conspirators”, it was presided by Na’eem Haddad, Sadoon Shaker and Barzan Al Tikriti (Saddam’s half brother). The result was considered as one of the most inhumane mass murder in Iraq’s history: quarter of the RCC members were executed by shooting them to death, another number of men were jailed between 1 and 20 years. It didn’t stop till that, Saddam extended his punishment to include family members: He issued an order to confiscate all properties like houses, lands, money in banks, belongings…etc The wives of these men executed or jailed in July 1979 were fired from their jobs; some of those wives were also been arrested many times after some fabricated accusations related to bad-mouthing the government; others were submitted to harsh psychological harassment, they were terrorized by intelligence services agents for years followed. Other family members like cousins, nephews, husbands and wives of close relatives till 4’th degree have faced with the same fate.
That was the final episode of a series of hunting down Iraqi political and military figures by Saddam since he was appointed as vice president in July 1968 onward. Names like Hardan Al Tikriti and Abdel Khaliq Al Samaray used to bring shivers to Saddam, that’s why it was essential for him to take them out in mid 1970’s to ensure that his ambitions to become the only leader, the one who cannot be challenged, argued with or threatened. Speaking of Abdel Khaliq Al Samaray, when the 1979 meeting took place he was already under arrest since 1973, but it was the best opportunity to include him with the others in 1979, because according to Saddam, letting an opponent stay alive means a ticking bomb would explode at anytime, for that reason it must be ignited or take it out.
According to one source, on 18 of July, few days before that RCC meeting Ba’ath party leaders were invited to a dinner party at the presidential palace where Saddam asked all of them to write a detailed report of any meeting they might have had with Adul-Hussain Al Mashhadi or Mohammed Ayesh. Saddam has ordered that the meeting to be filmed on Video tape and those copies of that horrendous play to be distributed on every single governmental organization, ministry, military academy and all Iraqi embassies abroad. I have seen the video tape many years ago. I also have seen a copy of that video with English translation with it. I don’t know the source of that copy. The author of the book, Republic of Terror, summarizes the events took place in that meeting, as follows:
ON the 20th of July he convened an extraordinary conference of the party in an unremarkable hall near the presidential palace which was to be the setting for a most ugly piece of business strongly reminiscent of Stalin’s show trials. On his orders the proceedings were videotaped. It was his intention to ensure that every Ba’athists everywhere should know the power which is now ruling the country, copies were sent to thousands all over the world, it is badly shot in black and white and the sound is of a very poor quality but nothing can hide the dramatic nature of what was taking place. The proceedings were opened by one of his thug who announces the discovery of the plot and declares that all the conspirators were in the hall. Then a man who has until very recently been in charge of the presidential office and the secretary general of the RCC but who has recently voiced some misgivings about the wisdom of the coming war came into the hall walking very slowly and speaking with apparent difficulty, he makes a lengthy confession in which he condemns himself and accuses four other members of the leadership of participating in the plot which he blames on the president of Syria, the man has been put under arrest soon after the RCC meeting when he was so stupid to oppose the adventure Saddam was now committed to undertake. Throughout all these events he was sitting alone at a table on a slightly raised platform slumped in his chair smoking one of his favorite eight inch Havana cigars the smoke wreathing around the table as he listen. The delegates are disturbed, nervous and shifting trying to decide how to react, then the leader stands up and start to read from a list of names in his hands, a name is read and the figure who has been mentioned is seen taken away from the hall by one of the security men who were encircling the delegates, another name is called and another doomed creature is taken a way and so on and it continues for sometime by the end of it Saddam has worked through a list of 60 names, there is a box of tissue near him when he reads some of the names he finds it difficult to stop a very strong stream of tears from his eyes!! That same day a special court found 55 of the named men guilty and sentenced them to death by democratic execution a devise of Saddam’s creation which means that senior members of the party has to take part in the firing squads which ensures a no going back; responsibility is spread.
By the way, that method of filming such an event was used later on in the 1980’s by Saddam second half-brother, Sab’awy Ibrahim Al Hasan when he was the minister of interior. Uday, Saddam eldest son also found that method of terror useful, check the Iraqi Olympic Committee meetings.
One of the things that Saleem Shaker Al Imam did make clear on that interview is: First, all those who have been accused of the conspiracy against the government were innocent. Second, there was no plot backed up by Syria in the first place, and none of those RCC members did plan anything to overthrow the government. Third, all the men who have been either executed or jailed were selected because of their own political view, which in itself would pause a grave danger to Saddam plans for the future of Iraq. Mr. Shaker Al Imam is not the first to confirm this, but he was the first from the 1979 setup victims who gave his own testimony. Before him, Salih Omar Al Ali, an opponent of Saddam, and used to be one of the closest assistants to former Iraqi president Ahmed Hasan Al Baker, reiterated on a number of occasions in interviews on different Arabic and international channels and newspapers that the notorious 1979 meeting was nothing but a mass-assassination operation, designed and skillfully crafted by Saddam’s criminal mind to wipe out the last big obstacle from his way to successfully take control over Iraq and its resources. Another witness of that event recently interviewed was Hamid Al Joboury who confirmed on al Jazeera channel that fact.
I would say: Those men were smarter than Saddam politically and militarily, for that, the only way was to stab them in the back. By that, Saddam came out of this and for years to come unchallenged.