Saddam may survive only 'a few more months'

Baghdad power struggle: Enemies jockey for position as defections leave the Iraqi leader facing defeat

PATRICK COCKBURN

"Uday has done more to overthrow Saddam than all the efforts of the opposition and the Americans in the four years since the Gulf War," said a leading Iraqi dissident about the son of President Saddam Hussein whose erratic violence has torn apart Iraq's ruling family. Suddenly the many enemies of the Iraqi leader, inside and outside the country, believe he is on the verge of losing power.

"Saddam may survive another few months, but not longer," said Yusuf al- Khoi, a long-standing opponent of the regime.

His fall will transform the politics of the Middle East. Iraq is the only Arab oil state big enough to field a powerful army and, once the UN embargo on its oil exports is lifted, have the money to pay for it. Since President Saddam's two sons-in-law fled to Jordan on 8 August, governments throughout the world have been trying to work out what will replace his rule and how the change will affect them.

The most immediate beneficiary will be the US. "The flight of Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel shows that the American policy of tight sanctions has worked," says Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish leader. If President Saddam is overthrown before the US presidential election next year, then President Bill Clinton will be able to point to a foreign policy success to counterbalance failure and frustration in Bosnia.

From the American point of view the ideal outcome would be the overthrow of the Iraqi leader by the Iraqi elite but without a popular uprising. Most probably the new leader would be a professional soldier from the conservative Sunni Muslim heartlands of central Iraq. This would ensure a pro-American Iraq and marginalise the influence of Iran and the Shia Muslims of southern Iraq.

The political convulsion which must follow a change of regime in Iraq will affect all the states in the region. It will allow King Hussein of Jordan, cold-shouldered by the US, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait because of his ambivalent position in the Gulf War, to end his isolation by helping them to get rid of President Saddam.

Senior American diplomats were in Amman last week trying to persuade the king to cut Iraq's lifeline through Jordan by stopping trade and imports of Iraqi oil. The US wants Saudi Arabia to compensate Jordan.

This political realignment is frightening for Iran and its ally, Syria. The Syrians fear that a new axis is emerging in the Middle East, with the US, Jordan and Israel replacing President Saddam with a regime friendly to themselves. This would isolate Syria, putting pressure on Damascus to reach an agreement with Israel over the Golan Heights and to break with Iran. The Iranian government detests President Saddam, but a specialist says: "They think that if the US gets rid of Saddam, they will be the next target."

Could the assumption that President Saddam is going to fall be premature? In the 25 years that he has dominated Iraqi politics he has survived a disastrous decision to invade Iran in 1980, and a similar miscalculation in attacking Kuwait in 1990. Yesterday, Hussein Kamel claimed in Amman that his father-in-law had planned to invade Kuwait and eastern Saudi Arabia this month, but had called off the attacks after the defections.

Iraqi society is deeply fragmented between Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims and the Kurds. President Saddam has always been adept at shifting alliances and relying on terror and money to prevent a military coup or a popular uprising.

But the situation today is different. The oil embargo means he has no money to buy support. Uday has largely gained control of the lucrative smuggling trade through Jordan. Rather than keeping people passive, terror is beginning to spur them into outright opposition.

President Saddam has few options left. He seems ambivalent about whether to opt for terror or conciliation, having recently used both. In May a general from the important Dlaimi tribe, long a supporter of the government, was tortured to death, but the Iraqi leader has also offered an amnesty to deserters and draft evaders and ordered the military to stop cutting off the ears of offenders.

It is all probably too late. The political base of the regime is now too small. Uday has 20,000 men in the so-called Fedayeen Saddam militia, set up this year as a quick reaction force to prevent coups. His brother, Qusai, controls the Jihaz al-Amn al-Khas, the security service which oversees all the other security services. But Uday's propensity for casual murder makes him a serious liability.

Other allies are difficult to find, but the most obvious are in the army. Professional officers have always disliked the promotion of family members like Hussein Kamel and Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin who was Defence Minister until July, and President Saddam is now promoting veteran officers to take their place. The Defence Minister is General Hashem Sultan, who negotiated the Gulf War ceasefire in 1991. The newchief of staff, General Abdel Wahad Shnan al-Rabat, is a Shia Muslim who commanded a corps during the Iran-Iraq war.

President Saddam presumably trusts these men, but he does not have the same close relations with them as he once did with his half-brothers, sons-in-law and cousins.

Iraqis at every level also have noticed that when Hussein Kamel and Saddam Kamel defected, the Iraqi leader's daughters chose their husbands over their father. This has reinforced the sense that President Saddam's palace has come to resemble Hitler's bunker, in which all loyalties dissolve as the people closest to him realise defeat is inevitable and look to their own personal survival.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Customer Support Technician

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Waterlooville based softwa...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot