Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

America's New Iraqi Order: Promising Democracy While Protecting Abusers

By Julie Flint in Beirut (ICR No. 15, 17-April-03)

Misha’an Juburi declared himself governor of the northern oil city of Mosul on Tuesday with the apparent blessing of the US forces who entered the city last week. Reporters in Mosul said Juburi had been “installed” by the United States, and US troops protected him as he came under attack from angry townspeople after making a speech promising democracy.

The grab for power by Juburi, a man rejected by many even within his own tribe, caused two days of protests in Mosul that claimed at least 17 lives. Col. Andrew Frick, the most senior US officer in the city, said trouble began after demonstrators opened fire on American soldiers. But a doctor in Mosul hospital quoted wounded civilians as saying Juburi urged US Marines to open fire on a crowd that had attacked and overturned his car.

As the situation ran out of control, both sides agree that Marines fired on the protestors and escorted Juburi to safety in city hall.

The emergence of Juburi, who defected from the regime in 1992, has raised serious concerns about the quality of the democracy that may emerge in Iraq under US auspices. He was booed at a meeting of opposition leaders in London last December together with two other high-ranking defectors who are seeking a place in the post-Saddam sun: former military intelligence chief Wafik Samara’i and journalist Sa’ad Bazzaz, a former press advisor to Saddam.

Juburi’s closest - virtually his only – friend in the Iraqi opposition is the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani, whose fighters entered Mosul with the Americans after Saddam’s forces withdrew. Some speculate that this support is Barzani’s way of making amends for a KDP attack on the Juburi family that killed 15 members of Misha’an’s family including his father and several uncles in the mid-’60s.

A native of Mosul province, Juburi was initially a member of Saddam’s personal guard but later joined his motorcycle escort. In 1991, he led an army unit that participated in the suppression of the popular uprising in southern Iraq following Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. He formed a close relationship with the president’s homicidal older son, Odey Saddam Hussein, and after his defection to the liberated Kurdish region of northern Iraq reportedly made a fortune by trading with money amassed during his friendship with Odey. Some Iraqi exiles believe his relationship with Odey continued even after his defection.

“Misha’an Juburi is one of the butchers,” claimed Ghanem Jawad, head of the human rights department of the London based KHOEI Foundation, a Shia Philanthropic organisation. “People are very afraid of him. In 1992, soon after his defection, he told a meeting of Iraqi opposition Leaders in Salaheddine in Northern Iraq: ‘I am a Sunni, head of a powerfull Sunni Tribe. We have killed thousands and thousands of Shia.’ He thought this was a way of impressing his importance on the opposition.”

Iraqi journalist Kamran Karadaghi said Juburi was unable to visit his native village, Shirqat, because of the hatred his own people nurtured toward him. “He is the most corrupt person I have ever known,” he said.

In Baghdad on Thursday, the US Marine Corps distanced itself from two Iraqis claiming to have been elected by local leaders as mayor of Baghdad and interim governor. Public affairs officer Captain Joe Plenzler said: “The US government has not appointed anyone." There was no corresponding denial from US officials in Mosul.

The much-trumpeted opposition meeting in Nasiriya, which was attended by both Garner and White House envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, adjourned for 10 days on its opening day amid many questions about its purpose and place in America’s post-war plans for Iraq. A wide range of Shia groups boycotted the meeting and thousands of Shias demonstrated against peacefully against it because of its American sponsorship.

The United States and Britain have already been accused by some Iraqis of manifesting a bias towards Sunnis, the foundation of Saddam’s regime, in their earliest dealings in post-Saddam Iraq. Although the Arab world has a Sunni majority - and Sunni regimes allied to the West have expressed concern about any change that weakens the Sunni position in Iraq - the majority of Iraq’s population is Shia.

The Nasiriya conference brought exiled activists together with some 75 community leaders from a number of religious, political and tribal groups. Attendance was by US invitation only and appeared heavily tilted towards US-based exiles. Some London-based exiles had to go under their own steam and pay their own way.

“Overall the Nasiriya conference was very poorly organised, with a few people from near-leadership ranks and many unknowns,” said Ali Allawi, a London-based banker and opposition independent. “The issue is the interconnectedness of such a conference with the interim authority the Americans are planning. If Nasiriya was just one of series of small conferences, OK: they had to do something to create the impression that things are going forward. But if was an influential meeting, then it was not well organised and not well represented.”

Julie Flint is Iraqi Crisis Report Co-ordinating Editor and former IWPR trustee.

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