Adnan Khairallah (Arabic: عدنان خير الله طلفاح; died 4 May 1989), was Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law (Sajida Talfah's brother and Khairallah Talfah's son) and cousin. He held several titles and was a member of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council. He also served as the Defence Minister of Iraq from 1979 to his death, having been appointed days after Saddam Hussein succeeded to the Presidency. He died in 1989 in a helicopter crash that was officially labeled an accident. The circumstances surrounding his death, including his disputes with Saddam and rumors of a potential coup have led some to believe Khairallah was assassinated under orders from Saddam.
Early life and education
Khairallah was born in Tikrit in 1939, the son of Khairallah Talfah, an Arab nationalist officer in the Iraqi Army who was later involved in the 1941 Iraqi coup d'état and the ensuing Anglo-Iraqi War. His father was also the maternal uncle of Saddam Hussein, whom would later marry Khairallah's sister, Sajida Talfah. Khairallah attended the Baghdad Military College and the Staff College, and later graduated with a degree from the Baghdad University School of Law and Politics in 1975.
Khairallah joined the Iraqi branch of the Ba'ath Party in 1956. He was arrested in 1959 following an unsuccessful attempt by the party to assassinate then Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim. Khairallah would later go on to play a role in the 1963 and 1968 coups that brought the Ba'ath party to power.
In 1977 Khairallah was appointed as the new Minister of Defence, taking over from Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, then Iraqi President and Secretary of the Iraqi Regional Command of the Ba'ath Party. He was also appointed as Minister of State, and held membership of both the Ba'ath Party Regional Command, and the Revolutionary Command Council; the primary decision making body in Iraq. In 1979 he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister.
Khairallah served as Iraqi Minister of Defence throughout the Iran-Iraq War, and was appointed Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, second only to Saddam Hussein. In this position he played a crucial role in rebuilding and modernizing the Iraqi military.
Rift with Saddam
In November 1988 Uday Hussein, Khairallah's nephew, was arrested under orders from Saddam Hussein following an incident where Uday was accused of killing an officer who was one of Saddam's presidential bodyguards named Kamel Hana Gegeo. The scandal caused a rift in the family, with Uday's mother and Khairallah's sister, Sajida, appealing to Khairallah for help. Khairallah then disappeared from public life, amid reports of unrest in the army, a potential coup, and the arrest of several military officers, prompting speculation of the involvement of Khairallah in a coup attempt against Saddam.
Khairallah later resurfaced in early 1989 when video footage was released showing Khairallah, Sajida, and Saddam on a fishing holiday near Basra. Following his resurfacing Khairallah returned to his regular duties as Defence Minister.
Death and aftermath
On 7 May 1989 Saddam Hussein announced that Khairallah had died three days earlier, on 4 May, when a helicopter he was travelling on crashed. Khairallah had been travelling from Baghdad to Northern Iraq to inspect army positions when he diverted his flight to meet several members of the Presidential family who were in the mountain resort of Sarsang, near to Mosul. Whilst en route his helicopter, along with two escorting helicopters, were caught in a sandstorm. The two escorting helicopters and one person travelling on Khairallah's helicopter survived.
When announcing Khairallah's death, Saddam referred to him as one of the distinguished war heroes and a sparkling star in Iraq's sky. Baghdad Radio announced that Khairallah would be given a state funeral and buried in his hometown of Tikrit. A statue was also erected in Baghdad in his memory.
Although labeled an accident there was speculation his death was caused due to the detonation of four explosive charges of the helicopter he was in. Hussein Kamel al-Majid was accused of playing a part in orchestrating his death.
Adnan Khairallah's statue in Baghdad 2003.
Although a relative of Saddam's, he remains a popular figure and a square named in his honour exists to this day in the al-Karkh area of Baghdad where a statue of him still stands, unlike statues of other members of the previous government, which have all been removed following the fall of Baghdad in 2003.
Re-evaluation of his actions caused removal of the statue in 2009.