“He was a great person as far as morals and principles. It is strange that many of his characteristics were the opposite of Saddam’s. I regard him similarly to how many other officers view him. During the war, I came across Khairallah in many situations. Let us begin at the beginning of his career as a commander of a tank battalion, and then commander of the 10th Armored Brigade. He had noble characteristics: high morals, strong professionalism, and a military spirit. His soldiers and officers love him. He was a role model for other commanders. Although he was Saddam’s brother-in-law and took advantage of his position to help many, he never took advantage of his relationship with Saddam in a way that compromised his moral principles. He respected the people above him and below him.
The problem arose when he was appointed to be minister of defense in 1977 with the rank of colonel. The situation was strange because the minister of defense is a political position. He could have been pensioned off with his colonel’s rank and then appointed as minister of defense as a civilian. As a minister of defense with his colonel’s rank, he was the deputy commander of the armed forces with command over other generals including those with much higher than colonel.
The first incident happened when Khairallah visited the III Corps in Basra in 1977. When he paid his visit, the commander of the III Corps, Lieutenant General Adnan al-Shawi, was a three-star general. Al-Shawi was in a bit of a dilemma here. Normally an officer would go out to the aircraft and greet the high-ranking officials, such as a the minister of defense, with a salute. Al-Shawi found it hard to salute a man with a lower rank. Since he was a good officer, respectful of military rank, he decided not to greet Khairallah outside, but instead to remain in his office. The new minister of defense arrived and was greeted by a staff officer. Khairallah asked, ‘Where is the corps commander?’ The staff officer replied, ‘The commander is in his office, but is too embarrassed to come out to greet you.’ So the minister of defense walked back to his aircraft and returned to Baghdad. He raised this issue with his political superiors. Bakr was the president then; Saddam was the vice president. For Saddam, this incident was a direct challenge to the military chain-of-command. Bakr, who had been a general, understood that this was a difficult situation for the corps commander to handle. The decision was made to pension off Lieutenant General Adnan al-Shawi, because he had not greeted the minister of defense, while Khairallah was immediately promoted to four-star general.
Adnan Khairallah was loved by the Iraqi Army and was considered a safety valve of sorts. Most officers did not really care about his competence as a general officer- it was his personality they loved. In most armies the chief of staff of the army is the real person in charge. Because Shanshal, who was a four-star general, was the chief of staff of the army and a four-star general, he and the other senior generals didn’t really care that much when Khairallah was promoted. They just wanted the minister of defense to protect the army from Ba’ath politics. Because Khairallah was a solider, he could understand the generals.
However, it became clear during the Iran-Iraq War that Adnan lacked the capacity for strategic thinking. The concepts at the division level are really important at the strategic level of command, but they were no subsitute for a strategic vision. Adnan was the understanding type. He could listen to suggestions and consultations. In this regard, compared to Hussein Kamel, Adnan was a prince. He saved many commanders who had political problems with Saddam. Each command has both hawks and doves. Khairallah was a dove. With all his good characteristics, it is not surprising that everyone in the army loved and respected him. They felt he was a safety valve for the army and the only individual who could protect them from Saddam, because Saddam listened to Khairallah.
I remember talking with Qusay just after the 1991 war, I said, ‘If your uncle Adnan Khairallah had been here, Kuwait would not have happened.’ Although it was a harsh thing to say, Qusay nodded in agreement. Khairallah died on 5 May 1989. He was with his family on a trip to northern Iraq. He left the family there and returned on a German aircraft. The plane crashed in a storm south of Arbil. They now call this area al-Adnanir. The army and the majority of the people were saddened when he died. There have been only two occasions when the Iraqi people have been deeply moved: when King Faisal died in April 1939; and when General Adnan Khairallah died in May 1989. There have been comparisons of these two beloved personalities.
Saddam truly loved Adnan Khairallah, which supports suspicions that Hussein Kamel was involved. Adnan was loved by Saddam, and Kamel wanted to control Saddam. According to Adnan Khairallah’s doctor, Brigadier General Omar al-Kubaysi, a week to ten days before his death, Adnan was not feling well and wanted to rest at home. General al-Kubaysi told me, ‘I went to check on General Khairallah to make sure he was okay. I examined him while he was lying in a bed. I told him, as a friend and a doctor, that in my opinion he was faking it, and there was nothing wrong with him. I thought he was acting like a soldier faking an injury so he could take some time off. Adnan answered back by pointing to a picture behind him of Saddam Hussein, with the head of Hussein Kamel behind him in the picture. Adnan said, ‘I am truly sick.’ I asked him the reason for his sickness; I asked, ‘Saddam?’ He said, ‘No, it is the person behind Saddam.’ ‘Hussein Kamel?’ Adnan replied, ‘This is your future minister.’ If this story is true, it proves that Hussein Kamel was behind Adnan’s death.”
(Source: https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/146268/Saddams%20Generals.pdf )