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Abdul Halim Khaddam

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Abdul Halim Khaddam

Abdul Halim Khaddam
عبد الحليم خدام
Vice President of Syria
In office
March 1984 – 6 June 2005
President Hafez al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad
President of Syria
Interim
In office
10 June 2000 – 17 July 2000
Preceded by Hafez al-Assad
Succeeded by Bashar al-Assad
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
1970–1984
Preceded by Mustapha al-Said
Succeeded by Farouk al-Sharaa
Member of the Regional Command of the Syrian Regional Branch
In office
13 November 1970 – 9 June 2005
Personal details
Born (1932-09-15) 15 September 1932
Baniyas, Syria
Political party Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party (until 2006)
National Salvation Front in Syria (2006 onwords)
Religion Islam

Abdul Halim Khaddam (    (Arabic: عبد الحليم خدام‎; born 15 September 1932) is a Syrian politician who was Vice President of Syria from 1984 to 2005. He was one of the few Sunni Muslims to make it to the top of the Alawite-dominated Syrian leadership. He was long known as a loyalist of Hafez Assad, and held a strong position within the Syrian government[1] until he resigned his positions and fled the country in 2005 in protest against certain policies of Hafez's son and successor, Bashar Assad.

Early life and education

Abdul Halim Khaddam was born on 15 September 1932 in Baniyas, Syria.[2] His family was Sunni Muslim with a middle-class origin,[3] and his father was a respected lawyer.[4] Khaddam obtained his elementary and secondary education in Baniyas and then studied law at Damascus University.[3]

Career

Khaddam became a member of the Baath Party when he was just 17 years old.[3] He began his political career as governor of Quneitra after the party came to power in 1963.[3] Then he was appointed governor of Hama and Damascus.[3] His first government portfolio was economy and trade minister in the cabinet formed by then head of Syria, Nureddin al Attasi, in 1969, making him the youngest minister in Syrian political history.[3] Then he was named as an advisor to Hafez Assad.[5] He later served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister from 1970 to 1984.[2] On 7 January 1976, Khaddam argued that Lebanon was part of Syria.[6] During his visit to Tehran in August 1979 following the Iranian Revolution, he publicly stated that the Syrian government backed the revolution before and after the revolutionary process.[7]

He then served as Vice President from 11 March 1984 to 2005.[8][9] He was responsible for political and foreign affairs as Vice President.[10] Khaddam was also chief mediator during the Lebanon Civil War, thus giving him the unofficial titles of "High Commissioner" or "Godfather" of Lebanon.[11]

After the death of Hafez Assad in 2000, a 9-member committee was founded, which was headed by Khaddam, to oversee the transition period.[12] He was appointed by this committee as interim President of Syria on 10 June and he was in office until 17 July 2000 when Bashar Assad was elected as the new president.[2] At the time, there were rumours in Damascus that Khaddam would try to seize power, as he was the constitutional successor to the presidency.

Assassination attempts

Khaddam was slightly injured in an attack in Damascus in December 1976.[13] In October 1977, Khaddam again survived an assassination attempt at the Abu Dhabi International Airport. However, Saif Ghobash, the United Arab Emirates' first Minister of State for Foreign Affairs was killed in the attack instead. The Syrian authorities argued that it had been planned and carried out by Iraq.[5] Khaddam reported that Rifat Assad also tried to kill him.[14]

Alliances

Khaddam was one of the senior officials in Syria who was close to Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.[15][16] Hariri partnered with Khaddam's sons in many businesses and projects in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.[14]

Resignation

As the new President, Bashar Assad, strengthened his grip on the Baathist bureaucracy, Khaddam, and other members of the "old guard" of the government, gradually lost influence. He announced his resignation on 5 June 2005 during the Baath Party conference after publically criticizing the regime's many blunders especially in Lebanon, making him the only high ranking Syrian official to publicly resign office while in Syria and at a Ba'ath Party conference, a move which many inside Syria considered extremely brave because of the potential risks involved. He then went to France with his family in fear for their safety as intelligence reports started coming in of potential assassination plots against him and other members of his family by the Assad regime.[17] That made him the last influential member of the "old guard" to leave the top tier of the government. The announcement came at a point when Bashar Al-Assad had been trying to have his political wings clipped, but still the most powerful Sunni member in an Alawi government. After resigning, he relocated to Paris ostensibly to write his memoirs.[18]

Defection and exile

On 30 December 2005, Khaddam fled Syria.[19] In an interview with Al Arabiya on the same day, Khaddam denounced Assad's many "political blunders" in dealing with Lebanon. He especially attacked Rustum Ghazali, former head of Syrian operations in Lebanon, but defended his predecessor, Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's interior minister. Khaddam also said that former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, to whom Khaddam was considered close, "received many threats" from Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.[20]

The Syrian parliament responded the next day by voting to bring treason charges against him, and the Baath Party expelled him. Following the Khaddam interview, the UN Commission headed by Detlev Mehlis investigating the Hariri murder said it had asked the Syrian authorities to question Bashar Assad and Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa. He met with the UN investigators searching for the Hariri assassination in Paris in January 2006.[21] His accusations against Assad and his inner circle regarding the Hariri assassination also grew more explicit: Khaddam said he believed that Assad ordered Hariri's assassination.

On 14 January 2006, Khaddam announced that he was forming a "government in exile", predicting the end of Assad's government by the end of 2006. Khaddam is the highest ranking Syrian official to have publicly cut his ties with the Syrian government, including Rifaat al-Assad. Khaddam formed the opposition group National Salvation Front in Syria (NSF) in 2006 which supports political transition in Syria.[2] The NSF had its last meeting on 16 September 2007 in Berlin, where some 140 opposition figures attended. On 16 February 2008, Khaddam accused the Syrian government of assassinating a top Hezbollah fugitive, Imad Mughniyeh, "for Israel's sake."[22]

Trial

Khaddam was tried in absentia by a military court in Damascus and sentenced to hard labour for life and to be stripped of his civil rights and prevented from residing in Damascus or Tartus, his native town, in August 2008.[23] The reason for the verdict was "slandering the Syrian leadership and lying before an international tribunal regarding the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri."[23]

Role in the Syrian Civil War

Khaddam is considered an opposition leader to the current Syrian government by the United States and the EU. In an interview on Israel's channel 2 TV, Khaddam acknowledged that he received money and help from the US and the EU in order to overthrow the Syrian government.[24] He maintains strong relations with many senior army generals who have defected from the Syrian regime and has been supporting them to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad.

Personal life

Khaddam is married to Najat Marqabi, who is a member of a rich and well-known Tartous family. She is a Sunni.[25] They have three sons and one daughter.[3] One of his granddaughters is married to Rafik Hariri's son.[26] Khaddam is interested in reading the political works and hunting.[3]

References

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External links

  • Hariri threatened by Syria head, BBC News, 30 December 2005
  • UN asks to meet Syrian president, BBC News, 2 January 2006
  • Former Syrian VP set to form government in exile, Haaretz, 15 January 2006
Political offices
Preceded by
Hafez al-Assad
President of Syria
(Acting President)

June – July 2000
Succeeded by
Bashar al-Assad
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