In early September, the outlawed Baath party distributed a “hit list” of prominent Iraqi political, military and judicial leaders who were targeted for assassination (al-Watan, October 17). It resurfaced publicly this month and has been widely reported in the Iraqi press. The Baath party document was issued by the “Martyr Qusay Unit” (in reference to Saddam Hussein’s slain son) of the Dhi Qar Special Operations Command and was addressed to the commanders of Baath party special units. The document stated that the communiqué was approved by the secretary general of the party and acting commander-in-chief of the armed forces, a reference to Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri who remains on the most wanted list.
Many individuals on the list were former exiles and internal opposition leaders that survived years of attempted assassinations by Saddam’s regime and became prominent political figures in the new democratic government. First on the list is Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and scion of the prominent al-Hakim family. Al-Hakim has had 12 of his brothers killed at the hands of Saddam. Al-Hakim is also a prime target because he is a strong advocate of federalism and the re-organization of Iraq into three regional, largely ethnic based blocs, a plan which many nationalist Iraqis fear will lead to the break up of the country (Gulf Times, October 28). The list is populated mostly by well-known Shiite leaders in the new government and security services, along with Moqtada al-Sadr and his senior associates.
Secular leaders are not spared. Ayad Allawi, who has survived several assassination attempts by Saddam’s men, is also on the list. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdistan Regional Government leader Massoud Barzani, who put up fierce resistance to Saddam’s regime, are also singled out. Neither does the Baath party list discount their fellow Sunni Arab compatriots who are part of the unity government. Shammar tribal leader Ghazi al-Yawr and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi are also included.
Assassination of opposition leaders was a common tactic of Saddam’s reign and has become a ubiquitous practice within the insurgency. Hundreds of lesser known community leaders, such as teachers, doctors, professors and other intellectuals, have quietly been targeted and killed by insurgents. Targeted assassination has become an extremely effective insurgent tactic. Assassinations undermine the fledgling government by depriving it of its nascent leadership, stifling the new government before it establishes itself and makes its institutions more secure. It hinders the unity government’s efforts to bring people together and persuade them to cooperate in the building of the new Iraq. Citizens cannot feel free to cooperate and participate in a new government if they believe doing so will surely lead to their death. The assassination list undermines ongoing negotiations with Sunni tribal elements and resistance forces that are on the fence about whether to join the new government.
The order called for not only the assassination of the listed individuals, but also their “first, second and third degree relatives.” The instruction to kill “first, second and third degree relatives” is a trademark Saddam tactic. It was a common practice of Saddam during his reign to destroy both his enemy and anyone on his enemy’s side that could exact revenge for their killing. The decision for Iraqis who are considering taking on a leadership role within society not only becomes about whether they personally want to take the risk, but also whether they are willing to put their entire family at risk. Likewise, Shiite militias have also come up with their own hit lists. The cult of assassination has taken hold in Iraq and is an integral tool not only of the Sunni Arab insurgency, but also of renegade Shiite groups.