FALLUJAH, Iraq — The general chosen to lead a security force for Fallujah is a former Iraqi Republican Guard who headed Saddam Hussein’s infantry and has strong family ties to the besieged city, according to relatives and former colleagues.
Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh, 49, led up to 1,100 Iraqis as they began taking up positions Friday from U.S. Marines in southeastern Fallujah. He shook hands with Marine commanders at a post on the southeastern entry to the city, 35 miles west of Baghdad.
The Marines have conducted a monthlong siege of the city of 200,000 to pressure anti-American fighters to give up their heavy weapons.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. military spokesman, offered no details about Saleh’s background but said the Marines had screened the former general and had full confidence in him. Officials of the U.S.-led coalition also said they had not information on Salah’s history.
However, a former Iraqi general, Mohammed al-Askari, said Saleh served in Iraq’s elite Republican Guards in the 1980s and later commanded the 38th Infantry Division of the Iraqi army.
He was then promoted to head all of the Iraqi army’s infantry forces, al-Askari said. His last posting was as a division commander in the al-Quds (Jerusalem) army, which was initially founded to liberate Jerusalem but grew into a vast paramilitary force.
In that capacity, he spent the war last year assigned to a military base in Ramadi, just west of Fallujah, according to Haroun Mohammed, an Iraqi journalist based in London.
Saleh also has deep roots in Fallujah. Another London-based Iraqi journalist, Osama al-Fahaly, said Saleh is a Fallujah native and belongs to the Mohammadi tribe, the town’s largest, and is a close relative of the tribe’s leader. Fallujah natives reached in neighboring Jordan confirmed Saleh is a well-known figure in the clan.
One relative of Saleh’s, who spoke in Jordan on condition of anonymity, said Saleh attended the Iraqi military academy in Baghdad and distinguished himself as a quiet and stable personality. He graduated in 1989 from a special academy for high-ranking officers, the man said.
The man said Saleh was a member of Saddam’s Baath Party – as was every member of the Iraqi army – but was never seen as a political figure and never rose in the party ranks.
He said Saleh was well-liked by the soldiers and officers who worked with him.