Raid on Iraq: West still uncertain on Saddam succession

TWO YEARS after the US-led coalition launched their attack on Saddam Hussein, they have still not expressed any firm idea about the kind of government or system they would like to replace the Iraqi leader.

For some time, the conventional wisdom in policy-making bodies in the West was that Iraq was a country which required a strong leader, probably from the army, and probably from the Sunni centre of the country. The political strategy of the Gulf war was to create the circumstances ripe for a coup within the Sunni elite, and to give greater support for popular insurgencies in the Kurdish north or the Shia south.

That support was never in the end forthcoming. For though they wished to help any opposition to President Saddam, they were wary of giving military aid to Kurdish or Shia groups, who may have sectarian interests, despite their protestations of wishing to maintain the unity of the country.

The US administration, however, has been giving increasing support over the the past six months to the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a group of exiled Iraqis from all the different factions: Sunni, Shia and Kurd.

The INC executive committee met in London yesterday for a long scheduled meeting, and its president, Ahmad Chalabi, expressed his full support for the coalition military action. 'In our view any military action must be against Saddam Hussein and not punish the Iraqi people. UN Security Council Resolution 688 separated Saddam Hussein from the Iraqi people and asked Saddam Hussein to stop his repression of the people. We believe the coalition should act to produce a permanent change in the life of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi people must not be left at the mercy of Saddam Hussein now.

'Any action must not be without political follow-up. We believe that the noose should be tightened around Saddam and he should be restricted from repressing the Iraqi people.

'The only way Saddam Hussein can be checked is to remove him.'

Mr Chalabi dismissed the Western prejudices against his movement. 'The view in the West that Iraq is hard to govern, that it needs a strong hand, a dicatator to keep it in check, is an inaccurate assessment of Iraq. There is, in fact, a very large middle-class in Iraq. Throughout our continuing discussions with the US now they support the democratic alternative.'

Mr Chalabi's group, however, is derided by the Syrian government, among others, as out-of-touch has-beens who have little or no influence inside Iraq. Others argue that there is no alternative.

But all those seeking to encourage some form of coup or move on President Saddam from within the core esablishment recognise the obstacles. The Iraqi opposition reported that a commander of the Republican Guards' Medina Brigade and up to 100 officers were executed in June after mounting an unsuccessful coup attempt. The main difficulty facing any potential plotter is that President Saddam has so divided his security establishment, and protected himself with different layers of security, that it is almost impossible for any group to become powerful enough to seize power without another security arm learning about it. So to counter the Republican Guard, he set up another large force, the Special Security Organisation, with massive armoured units and air-defence weapons, which alone is allowed into the Baghdad area.

Since the end of the Gulf war, there have been few real changes in the threats to President Saddam. He has the same friends, the same enemies. He continues to do what he has always done within his close family associates: to balance in positions of power his cousins on his father's side and his half-brothers on his mother's.

Still the most troublesome person potentially is his son Uday, who has a powerful mouthpiece in the Babel newspaper, and a fistful of other honours. Though prominent, however, he has no real power. But despite the impenetrable ring round President Saddam, he is always vulnerable to the assassin's bullet, a possibility which cannot be excluded by a man who has made so many enemies during his career.

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