The architect of Iraq's war machine, who defected to Jordan last Tuesday, emerged from his hiding place Saturday to call for the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, his father-in-law.
"We will work seriously to change the regime in Iraq," Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Majid told a news conference at King Hussein's heavily guarded palace in Amman, the Jordanian capital."We are calling on the officers of the Iraqi army, the officers of the Republican Guard, the officers of the special guards, the civil servants of the Iraqi state and all the Iraqi society to be ready for this important change," he said through an interpreter.
"I know all the officers of the army and the Republican Guard know what this call means. We will establish new and developed relations with the world and get rid of what is shameful and what caused the backwardness of the society," said the general, who wore a dark business suit and looked relaxed as he spoke.
Majid denied diplomatic reports that he already has been contacted by U.S. military and intelligence officers eager to hear what he has to say about Iraq's nonconventional weapons programs. He said that contacts with foreign governments will come later.
In Washington, the Clinton administration said that the general's news conference remarks "tend to confirm our view that his defection is a potentially significant de-vel-op-ment."
An administration official said the comments "underscore the extent of Saddam's isolation in Iraq" and reinforce the U.S. view that the Iraqi dictator is responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi public.
The general said that he drove with his brother, Saddam Kamel Majid - who is another son-in-law of Saddam Hussein and was head of the leader's presidential guards - their wives and an entourage of aides and officers from Baghdad to the Jordanian border without being stopped or questioned.
He said that he had decided to defect afterfailing to reverse Iraq's decline from within the regime's inner circle. At the time of his defection, Hussein Majid was minister of industry and military industrialization. A distant cousin of Saddam Hussein, he is credited by Western diplomats with building the Iraqi war machine in the 1980s before the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. After Iraq's crushing defeat at the hands of a U.S.-led international coalition in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Hussein Majid was put in charge of rebuilding the nation's shattered infrastructure.
He also had been in charge of Iraq's difficult negotiations with the special U.N. commission charged with clearing Iraq of weapons of mass destruction under the terms of the gulf war cease-fire. Iraq had been hoping that the commission would certify next month that all the nation's nonconventional weapons programs are now dismantled, a move that must come before the Security Council will lift its embargo on Iraq and allow the nation to export oil.
In excerpts of the news conference shown on state-run Jordan Television, Hussein Majid said that units of the elite Republican Guard now have deployed throughout Baghdad. He said he believed that members of his Majid clan will be arrested "at random" and that some will certainly be executed as a result of his defection. The Majid clan, which has for years held key positions in the Iraqi government, has been thought to be locked in a power struggle for months with Saddam Hussein's sons and his half-brothers.
Jordanian television reported that King Hussein met Saturday with Gen. J.H. Binford Peay, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, whose area covers the Middle East, to discuss the Iraqi developments.
Last week, President Clinton said the United States would protect Jordan against any Iraqi retaliation for the king's having granted asylum to the Iraqi defectors. U.S. Marines are to conduct previously scheduled military exercises with Jordanian forces later this month.