Behind Saddam's Shakeup

The surprise ouster on Jan. 7 of longstanding Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Rashid is raising eyebrows in the world oil industry. Officially, Rashid, 64, is being retired on account of age. But his replacement by Samir Aziz Al-Najm, a close aide to Saddam Hussein with long ties to Iraqi intelligence, is being seen as a move to tighten security in the oil sector in advance of war. Some also speculate that Rashid's old links to Iraq's weapons program may have compromised him. And his wife, Rihab Taha, is a top biological weapons specialist.

But there may be another reason. Industry sources say Rashid was behind the cancellation in mid-December of a multibillion-dollar deal with Russia's Lukoil to develop Iraq's huge West Qurna oilfield. That caused him to run afoul of Saddam's son Uday, who was key in getting the deal approved in 1997, say Arab press accounts. Rashid, a former Army general, also tried to put some order in Iraq's oil smuggling, which analysts say has profited the Saddam clan.

Edited by Rose Brady

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