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Former Iraqi General Under House Arrest in Denmark - 2002-11-21

A former senior Iraqi military general, who defected and sought asylum in Denmark, has been placed under house arrest, after announcing he wanted to return to Iraq to lead an effort to topple Saddam Hussein. Danish authorities are investigating war crimes charges against the former general, including the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds.

The former Iraqi military chief of staff, General Nizar al-Khazraji, is under house arrest in the town of Soroe, 90 kilometers west of Copenhagen. He was ordered to surrender his passport, after a court hearing, where prosecutors charged that he bears responsibility for the gassing of thousands of Kurdish civilians at the town of Halabja in 1988.

The former general, who commanded Iraqi forces during the Iran-Iraq war, told the court the war crimes allegations are part of a campaign by Iraqi agents to discredit him. He says he will appeal the court's ruling.

Danish prosecutors have been looking into the case for more than a year. They filed the charges after learning that Mr. al-Khazraji was applying for permission to travel to Saudi Arabia, from where he hoped to go to the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. He has said that once inside Iraq, he would link up with dissident forces, and lead a coup attempt against Saddam Hussein.

The general was hailed as a hero in the war with Iran in the 1980s, and commanded the Iraqi military's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But soon after that, President Saddam Hussein fired him. He fled with his family to Jordan in 1996, and arrived in Denmark seeking asylum in 1999.

Iraqi opposition forces say Mr. al-Khazraji's arrest is a serious setback to their efforts to build a credible opposition to Saddam Hussein's rule. A senior opposition figure told reporters the former general was one of the few people with enough respect within the Iraqi army to lead a successful uprising.

The Saudi-owned newspaper al-Hayat quoted opposition sources as saying other former and current Iraqi army officers see Mr. al-Hazraji as their favored candidate.

But in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation this year, the former general said he has no interest in heading a post-Saddam government in Iraq. He said: "I am a military man. I prefer to stay on that side."