Iraq crisis: MPs told Saddam can survive attack

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A SECRET defence briefing told MPs that Saddam Hussein was unlikely to be toppled because of an allied bombing attack on his weapons of mass destruction.

Intelligence chiefs at the Ministry of Defence yesterday told the MPs that President Saddam had lived through one attempted coup a year, and defence experts believed he was likely survive any further attempt to overthrow him after more bombing. Morale among the ordinary soldiers in Saddam's army was said to be low, but he was protected by an elite corps within the crack Republican Guard.

The briefing was given to a joint meeting of two Commons select committees for defence and foreign affairs to reassure the MPs that civilian casualties would be kept to a minimum. They were told the targets would not be in heavily populated areas but would be buildings or technology used in the production of weapons of mass destruction in the presidential palaces, which President Saddam had refused fully to open to Unscom, the United Nations team of weapons inspectors.

The MPs were also assured that there would be no threat to the Royal Air Force from President Saddam's air force. The Iraqi leader's entire force of fighter aircraft is still in Iran, where they fled before the Gulf war. All but two of his ballistic scud missiles have been detected and destroyed by UN arms inspectors, MPs were told.

Senior sources at Westminster said that they were expecting attacks next week, unless President Saddam backed down.