A few years ago, the death of Algerian Foreign Minister Mohammed Seddiq Benyahia, whose plane was downed in a Kurdish area between Iraq, Iran and Turkey 36 years ago was brought up.
It was revealed that it was a deliberate accident and that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was the culprit. The source of this information was Salah Goudjil, the former Algerian Minister of Transportation, and more importantly the man who headed the Algerian commission investigating Benyahia’s death.
The biggest shock however was when Khaled Nezzar, the former Minister of Defense and the army’s strong man for a long period of time, confirmed this information few days ago.
It’s been three decades and a half since that accident and many relevant parties are no longer in the scene as they have passed away; therefore, there is no reason to doubt the new story.
Retired general Nezzar does not only implicate Saddam but also accuses then-Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid that he ordered everyone to keep silent and conceal the dangerous information that indicates the involvement of the Iraqi authorities.
The military did not like President Bendjedid as they saw him responsible for failure and chaos. He was forced out of office in the beginning of the 1990s when he permitted extremist Islamists' political activity, and which was accompanied with the rise of jihadists like Belhadj.
Benyahia’s plane was also transporting 14 others who also died after the jet was targeted a while after departing Iraqi borders. According to the head of the Algerian investigation commission, they found the remains of the missile which blew up the plane in the debris.
The missile is manufactured by Russia and its serial number was tracked to Iraqi forces’ purchases. The available information was enough to state that someone in Iraq launched the missile and downed the plane.
Why would Saddam kill the mediator, whose mediation he accepted, to end the war between Iraq and Iran in 1982?Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Of course there is the hypothesis that it was an unintentional accident and that the missile was fired by mistake. However, Saddam’s discourtesy did not give the Algerians the chance to ask questions and investigate. When Saddam visited Algeria a while after the accident, the authorities did not dare open this topic with him under the excuse that he was a guest in their country.
Then the transportation minister was dispatched to Baghdad but he too did not dare discuss the topic with Saddam. He only handed him the file of the investigation into the case and which indicated that Iraq is accused of killing the minister. All what Saddam told the minister was: “You have to improve relations with Iraq.” It’s as if he’s threatening: “Yes, I killed him!”
A passion for violence?
The more important question is why would Saddam kill the mediator, whose mediation he accepted, to end the war between Iraq and Iran in 1982? At the time, it was less than two years since the war, which lasted for eight years, erupted. He suspiciously looked at Algeria. It was Algeria that accomplished the border dispute agreement with the Shah’s government in the 1970’s, the agreement which Saddam ripped apart when he turned against Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and declared war on Iran after the Shah’s collapse and after Khomeini assumed power.
Saddam saw that Algeria was the only mediator that succeeded in convincing the Iranians to release the American embassy hostages. Despite that, Saddam did not have to kill Benyahia as he could have just rejected his mediation. However, those who know the former Iraqi president know that this is his fingerprint and method of delivering messages to his rivals.
Saddam was famous for his passion for violence. He killed hundreds of his friends, relatives, fellow tribe members and others from his city Tikrit and thousands others. He killed his cousin and defense Minister Adnan Khairallah in a plane crash, his sons-in-law and Baghdad’s governor. Saddam had honored Baghdad’s governor with the Order of the Two Rivers before killing him few months later. He also killed many of his ministers and comrades from the party’s leadership on the grounds of different accusations. He was a terrifying figure to governments and individuals.
However things did not go according to Saddam’s plans and wishes. Few months after Benyahia’s plane was downed, he began losing battles with the Iranians who managed to restore areas they’ve lost and who also entered South Iraq.
Back then, Saddam reiterated his calls to end the war, urged mediations and announced his readiness for a reconciliation and for going back to the Algerian agreement which he tore apart. The war, however, lasted for another six years after murdering the mediator Benyahia.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed