Khaddam’s memoirs… Hafez al-Assad considers changing the government in his absence a “joke”… Rifaat threatens “a million dead”

publisher: المجلة AL Majalla

AUTHOR: ابراهيم حميدي

Publishing date: 2024-01-19

Khaddam talks about “the first sign of inheritance” from Assad

In a meeting of the Qatari leadership held at the end of March, the Qatari leadership of the ruling Ba’ath Party decided to dismiss the government of Khalifawi in the absence of President Assad. When the Qatari leadership sent the decision to Assad, he “found it surprising and took it lightly.” The leadership called for a meeting, which took place at the leadership headquarters. Assad started laughing, saying, “What happened in the world?” The Qatari Assistant Secretary, Mohammed Jaber Bajoub, responded, “We were discussing government-related matters, and the discussion led to the proposal of confidence in Comrade Khalifawi, and the leadership voted unanimously.” President Assad then asked General Khalifawi for his opinion, and he replied, “I agree with the decision and cannot continue.”

Khaddam adds: “President Assad remained silent for a moment and turned to me, saying, ‘It seems we have no one else to form the government but you.’ I replied, ‘I apologize for that for the same reasons I apologized in 1971. My presence in the government presidency will create significant problems for you because I will arrest some leaders for their corruption, and this could create complicated conditions. I intended to form an investigative committee with some members of the leadership, including Rifaat Assad.'”

According to Khaddam, Assad said, “I will ask the members of the leadership about their opinion.” He added, “Mohammed Ali al-Halabi, the Speaker of the People’s Council, was sitting next to me and said, ‘Sir, I am ready to form the government.'”

During the period of Muhammad Ali Al-Halabi’s government, paralysis and corruption increased, and in order to protect himself in the new position, Al-Halabi placed himself at the disposal of Colonel Rifaat, who was his final commander.

No objections were raised by any of the leadership members after Assad agreed to appoint him, and his government was formed on March 30, 1978. Khaddam writes in his papers: “In March 1978, I met with Assad, and at that time, the campaign against Rifaat was intense among the Syrians. While discussing the situation, I told him: The campaign against Rifaat is significant, and this campaign weakens the regime. Therefore, we must address Rifaat’s situation.” He responded with agitation: “Rifaat is a thorn in the eyes of the reactionaries.” I replied: “We will see in the future; he might become a thorn in the heart of someone.”

He adds: “Indeed, Rifaat was interfering in state affairs and giving directives to Prime Minister Mohammed Ali al-Halabi, who was not bold enough to resist him. He would comply with his requests, believing that Rifaat had an influence over President Hafez.”

Rifaat al-Assad and Yasser Arafat

And he continues: “It is necessary to mention that during the government of Mohammed Ali al-Halabi, paralysis and corruption increased in the state apparatus and its institutions. In order to protect himself in the new position, he placed himself under the control of Colonel Rifaat, who became the decisive authority over the prime minister.”

As for the second dangerous phenomenon, it is the outbreak of armed violence carried out by some groups of the Muslim Brotherhood following the heinous crime committed by Captain Ibrahim Al-Youssef, an instructor at the Artillery College in Aleppo. He entered the classroom with a machine gun in hand, asked Sunni Muslim, Druze, Isma’ili officers, and Christian students to leave the room, and killed about 40 students belonging to the Alawite sect. This crime shook Syria and sparked a wave of violent anger among Ba’athists, the armed forces, and security agencies. The situation escalated with the involvement of Muslim Brotherhood groups in assassination and bombing operations.

Between December 22, 1979, and January 6, 1980, a Qatari conference for the Ba’ath Party was held. The atmosphere of the conference was tense due to the security conditions resulting from assassinations and bombings carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood on one hand, and the state’s internal disarray on the other. Khaddam says, “It was clear from the first day that the conference was divided into two currents: one led by Colonel Rifaat, who was trying to control the conference and succeed in leading a party-supportive leadership to take control of the party and the reins of the state. The second current was led by most members of the Qatari leadership who were concerned about Rifaat’s behavior and practices. The majority of conference members, both civilians and military, supported them.”

Rifaat al-Assad: Stalin sacrificed ten million people to preserve the Bolshevik revolution, and Syria must also do the same to preserve the Baathist revolution.

And he adds, “Rifaat al-Assad tried to exploit the issue of confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood to garner support from conference members, while the other side adopted the campaign against corruption in the state and against the corrupt individuals, exposing how the country’s resources were plundered and protected by certain power centers in the state, with the intended target being Colonel Rifaat al-Assad. During the conference, I spoke for over three hours, highlighting major flaws in the system and the evasion of responsibility. I focused on the issue of the green and red lights attributed to the President of the Republic. I also addressed the economic crisis in the country and the absence of an economic project, as well as the unauthorized interventions from certain quarters.”

In this Ba’ath Party conference, Rifaat declared that the time had come to “respond forcefully” and called on everyone to pledge absolute loyalty. He was quoted saying, “Stalin sacrificed ten million people to preserve the Bolshevik revolution, and Syria should do the same to preserve the Ba’athist revolution.” Rifaat threatened to “fight a hundred wars, destroy a million fortresses, and sacrifice a million martyrs” to maintain the regime. The crackdown on the uprising occurred between 1979 and 1982, reaching its peak with the shelling of Hama in February 1982. In 1983, he sent his “paratroopers” to Damascus with orders to unveil women in the streets, a move met with sharp criticism that even led his brother to publicly condemn it.

One of Abdul Halim Khaddam's documents

The discussions continued for several days as the date for the election of the Qatari leadership approached. Assad formed a committee consisting of Khaddam, Al-Ahmar, and Colonel Rifaat to nominate a list that included the names of proposed individuals to be members of the Qatari leadership. Khaddam states, “The committee met twice, and Colonel Rifaat presented suggestions that included new names and removed some names from the leadership who did not align with him. We rejected the list and presented a list with names we believed were qualified for Qatari leadership membership, which he rejected. President Assad invited me and asked what we had reached, and I told him: We disagreed. President Hafez then said: In that case, I will put forward the list. The next day, he met with me and informed me of the names, and I found a number of them with no party background and loyal to Rifaat. I tried to convince him, but he gave me specifications for each of them that had no connection to the reality of these individuals.”

In the conference meeting, the names of the Central Committee members were announced, and two hours later, the names of the Qatari leadership were revealed, including six members associated with Colonel Rifaat. It was evident that President Hafez supported his brother.

On the second day after the conference concluded, the Qatari leadership held a meeting to form the new government. While most members of the leadership leaned towards appointing Mahmoud al-Ayyoubi, the leadership was surprised when, after the session was opened, President Assad proposed the name of Abdel Raouf al-Kasm as a candidate for the Prime Minister’s position. In reality, there was no voting on the nomination, and the leadership considered Dr. Kasm’s nomination a decision made by President Hafez, with no one inclined to object.

On January 14, 1980, Abdel Raouf al-Kasm formed his first government and continued as the head of the cabinet until January 1, 1987.

In 1982, Al-Assad surprised the regional leadership of the “Baath Party” by asking each member to write on a piece of paper the name of the person nominated for the position of vice president, and “he thought that the majority would be with his brother. But he took the papers and no longer talked about appointing a vice president.”

The first indication of inheritance

Khaddam says, “The dangerous phenomenon was evident, inheritance. Before the convening of the Arab Summit scheduled to take place in Amman in November 1980, Assad invited me to his home to discuss our participation in the conference. After a discussion where we reviewed the positives and negatives, we agreed not to participate. It is noteworthy that we had participated in the preparatory conference for the summit ministers a few days earlier. One of the reasons for non-participation was the highly tense situation between us and Jordan due to their support for the Muslim Brotherhood group in Syria. Members of this group were infiltrating from Jordan to carry out assassinations and bombings. Additionally, there were intense conflicts between us and Iraq, whose government was also supporting the Brotherhood with training, weapons, and funds.”

And he adds, “After we finished the discussion, Assad spoke about life and death and the fate of the country if he were to be involved in a sudden accident. Therefore, he decided to appoint a vice president to avoid a power vacuum and ensure continuity. It was clear to me that he meant appointing his brother Rifaat, with whom he had very close ties and strong support, especially within the armed forces and the party. I took the initiative to tell him: My advice is not to proceed with that because an inevitable power struggle will occur between you and the vice president you appoint. If you are concerned about continuity, the constitution and the party are the guarantees for the regime’s continuity. At that point, he did not comment or take any action.”

In 1982, Assad surprised the Qatari leadership in the Ba’ath Party by asking each member to write on a piece of paper the name of their nominee for the position of vice president. He “believed that the majority would be in favor of his brother. However, he took the papers and did not mention the appointment of a vice president again.”