Iraq crisis: Saddam said to fear mutiny by army

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The Independent Online
Senior British military sources suggested yesterday that President Saddam Hussein was deeply worried about the possibility of a revolt in Iraq and that his army was suffering from a crisis in morale.

Drawing on the latest intelligence reports, military chiefs said that President Saddam had despatched units from his elite Republican Guard to cities in the Shia Muslim heartlands of southern Iraq to quell possible outbreaks of unrest.

They said that the officer corps in the Iraqi army was becoming "increasingly politicised" and that the President was relying more heavily than ever on an inner circle of senior officers from his home region of Tikrit.

"Quite clearly Saddam is worried about the security of the regime," said a senior source. "He is worried about uprisings. Morale is bad within his army and some of his closest circle are unhappy."

Latest intelligence estimates on Iraq's military strength show its fighting capability has diminished considerably since the conflict of 1990-91. The Iraqi army currently consists of some 400,000 troops with 2,200 tanks, approximately half the size of President Saddam's army in the last Gulf war.

Intelligence suggests that President Saddam has 10 long-range Scud-type al-Hussein missiles, which have a range of up to 372 miles. Iraq's anti- aircraft defences have been reconstructed but are regarded as "less comprehensive" than seven years ago. The Iraqi air force is estimated at some 300 combat aircraft, though sources said they were unlikely to be risked against the superior allied airpower but would be protected to maintain Iraq's comparative air strength in the Middle East.

Crucially, military chiefs - who said that British forces in the Gulf were now "ready to go" - do not believe that Iraq would be willing to deploy chemical and biological weapons against the allies.

"That would very clearly show the whole world that they have been making these things and [Saddam] has denied this consistently since before the first Gulf war," said the source. "He is also unsure what would happen ... what the American response would be."

Nevertheless, it was revealed that the Ministry of Defence has sent supplies of vaccines, designed to combat chemical and biological attacks, to the Gulf to be distributed to British forces if necessary.

Military chiefs believe that Iraq has produced warheads capable of delivering chemical weapons, in particular mustard gas.

They also gave more details of the Iraqi biological weapons programme, including evidence that it had attempted to develop tularemia, described as a weaponised rodent disease, 30 times more deadly than anthrax. One source said: "[Saddam's] story could be a very chilling one, because he has some quite terrible weapons."