December 22, 1998

                   Signs Finally Emerge of Coup Threat to Saddam Hussein

                   On December 20, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein declared that Iraq
                   had emerged "victorious" after Operation Desert Fox, the 70-hour
                   aerial bombardment of Iraq by the United States and the United
                   Kingdom.  In a speech broadcast on Qatar's Al-Jazira satellite
                   television, Saddam praised Arab people for their "support of Iraq
                   in the face of aggression" but attacked "the weak, the two-faced,
                   the grudge bearers and the traitors."  Saddam has survived the
                   latest round of U.S. led military attacks, aimed ostensibly at
                   his weapons of mass destruction.  However, those attacks
                   apparently had a secondary goal -- supporting a coup attempt
                   launched from within Iraq.  Judging from Saddam's statement and
                   other evidence from within Iraq, the second goal may be bearing

                   Fears of a coup have prompted a large number of purges in Iraq
                   since the end of the 1991 Gulf War.  The commanders of military
                   units have been liquidated many times, with units reorganized for
                   fear that they may rise up against him.  Prior to Desert Fox, the
                   Iraqi military experienced another purge -- one strikingly
                   different for its extent and the accompanying directives.  The
                   Iraqi armed forces are composed of five regular army corps, five
                   "regular" Republican Guard divisions, and one "special"
                   Republican Guard division.  Before Operation Desert Fox, the
                   regular army corps were deployed along Iraq's borders.  This has
                   not changed.  In northern Iraq, the 1st and 5th corps are
                   stationed around the cities of Krkuk and Mosul in order to
                   protect against Turkish incursions and to guard the oilfields of
                   this area from the depredations of Kurdish militias.  The 3rd and
                   4th corps were deployed in southern Iraq along the Kuwaiti and
                   Iranian borders, respectively, to guard these oil rich areas from
                   Shiite opposition groups in south-central Iraq.  The 2nd corps is
                   stationed directly to the east of Baghdad to protect the eastern
                   flank from Iranian incursions directed against Iraq or against
                   Iranian opposition groups based inside Iraq.

                   Shadowing these army corps were divisions of Iraq's elite
                   "regular" Republican Guard divisions.  Since they are the best-
                   paid and best-equipped divisions, the Republican Guard divisions
                   reinforced the regular army corps in case of attack.  But they
                   also served to monitor any corps commander that evidenced even
                   the slightest inclination to march on Baghdad.  This is why the
                   Republican Guard divisions were always physically stationed
                   between the regular army units and Baghdad.  In this way, the
                   regular Republican Guard keeps an eye on any over-zealous
                   commander.  One or two of these regular Republican Guard
                   divisions were always kept around the Shiite areas of Najaf and
                   Karbala, for fear of an Iranian-backed Shiite uprising.

                   The "special" Republican Guard division was stationed in Baghdad
                   proper and operated as a fail-safe mechanism by providing a final
                   line of defense against a coup led by a commander of a regular
                   Republican Guard division.  It also was the key unit that ran the
                   concealment operation for Iraq's weapon's of mass destruction
                   (WMD) operations.  Because of the role of the special Republican
                   Guard, it was the most likely one to have been directly targeted
                   by U.S./British strikes.

                   Immediately in advance of the commencement of Desert Fox, Saddam
                   Hussein issued a number of directives altering this structure.
                   The commanders of the regular army corps were placed under
                   regional commanders who were recruited from among Saddam's
                   closest aides.  And units of the regular Republican Guard were
                   all redeployed to Baghdad and to southern Iraq.

                   The first directive dealt with the command of regular army and
                   naval forces.  It stated that "until further notice, four
                   regional commands shall be established." The first command, the
                   Northern Command, is responsible for the northern half of Iraq
                   and includes the 1st and 5th corps.  The Northern Command was
                   given to Staff General Izzat Ibrahim, the second in command in
                   Iraq, and the person that was allegedly the target of an
                   assassination attempt last month.  The second, the Southern
                   Command, was placed under, a new commander, Staff General Ali-
                   Hasan al-Majid.  The Southern Command controls the area closest
                   to the Iranian and Kuwait borders and has direct control of the
                   Iraqi 3rd and 4th corps and the small Iraqi navy.

                   The third is the Central Euphrates command.  This command
                   included the Shiite districts of south central Iraq and came
                   under the command of Muhammad Hamzah al-Zubayadi, an individual
                   who is not a military figure but a member of the Baath party.
                   The are no units attached to his command.  The reasons for this
                   are clear, as there are no regular army units regularly stationed
                   in that area.  However, at present, two Republican Guard
                   divisions are reportedly in the vicinity and under the direct
                   command of Saddam's son, Quasay Hussein.

                   The last, and perhaps the most important command for the security
                   of the regime, is the Central Region command.  This one controls
                   Baghdad and the surrounding region.  It falls under the direct
                   command of the Iraqi Minister of Defense, Staff General Sultan
                   Hashim Ahmad, with the remaining Iraqi 2nd Corps under his

                   Though none of the regular army units are being physically moved
                   around Iraq, the fact that they are now reassigned under the
                   direct command of the highest-ranking members of the Baath party
                   in Iraq is significant.  This means that Saddam has virtually
                   lost faith in all of his other commanders.  More evidence of this
                   fact lies in the next set of directives.  They state that, "the
                   duties of commanding a region shall be to defend within the
                   boundaries of the geographical area... to confront any foreign
                   aggressors that target Iraq's sovereignty, its independence, and
                   security and to preserve internal security..."  Additionally, the
                   last few directives state that these commanders should receive
                   instructions only from Saddam himself through his special
                   security service, the Fadaiyin, and that Saddam himself will
                   remain in direct control of all air force, army aircraft, and all
                   air defense units.

                   What these directives suggest is that not only may no regular
                   army unit be moved without the approval of Saddam himself, but
                   also they may not take any action without Saddam's approval.
                   This means that even though Saddam has placed his most trusted
                   aides in charge of these units, he has put in place an
                   institutional mechanism, the security service, to control them as
                   well.  Finally, by keeping control over the airforce, he has
                   established yet another fail-safe mechanism, this one to thwart
                   Iraqi tanks rolling on Baghdad.

                   There may be other reasons why Saddam is running scared.  The
                   "Al-Zaman" newspaper in London reported, on December 18, that
                   Saddam Hussein along with his two sons, and the Minister of
                   Defense have been hiding in a bunker in the Karakh district of
                   Baghdad since the initial warnings of an air strike were
                   confirmed.  The next day, "Al Zaman" reported that armed members
                   of the Baath party were being deployed throughout Baghdad and
                   other major Iraqi cities to confront any "unrest or emergencies
                   that might arise."  Also, since the strikes took out virtually
                   all of Iraq's major communications facilities, the Iraqi armed
                   forces have been forced to operate via massagers and mobile radio

                   Why all the paranoia?  There is evidence that the Iraqi
                   opposition has begun to respond positively to increasing U.S.
                   efforts aimed at toppling Saddam.  A rebellion may have already
                   begun.  On December 19, the same day that the 70-hour aerial
                   bombardment of Iraq came to a halt, the London based "Al-Sharq
                   al-Awsat" newspaper reported that armed civilians in southern
                   Iraq were engaged in an uprising against Iraq's special security
                   forces. The newspapers stated that an armed group tried to seize
                   a radio and television station around Salihiya but were repulsed
                   after a three-hour confrontation with Republican Guard forces.
                   The newspaper also spoke of armed clashes around Hibibah and
                   Thawrah districts located southwest of Baghdad. Other reports
                   tell of night-time sabotage of power plants and other
                   infrastructure targets in the south.

                   In an interview with "al-Sharq al-Awsat", also on December 19,
                   Hamid al-Bayyati, the representative of the Supreme Council for
                   the Islamic revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) reported that he had
                   received information that Iraq is making changes to its forces in
                   order to protect regime from a popular uprising.  SCIRI is one of
                   the most powerful opposition groups in Iraq and is made up of
                   pro-Iranian Shiites from the southern Iraqi districts.  Bayyati
                   reported that, in order to quell any popular uprising in southern
                   Iraq, Republican Guard forces have been withdrawn from Mosul in
                   northern Iraq and deployed to Baghdad.  He mentioned as well that
                   another Republican Guard division took up positions on the main
                   road between Baghdad and Basra.

                   This gives further credence to the fact that Saddam is worried
                   about a rebellion or invasion in the south.  Additionally, the
                   Republican Guard division that moved south from Mosul likely took
                   the place of the special Republican Guard division that guarded
                   Baghdad and appears to have been targeted by the air strikes.
                   This would mean that not only are there are no elite Iraqi forces
                   to check either Turkish incursions into northern Iraq or Kurdish
                   dissident groups, but Saddam is now leaving the 1st and 5th corps
                   without Republican Guard watchdogs.  By moving yet another
                   Republican Guard division to the south of Baghdad, this one from
                   the border with Iran, Saddam leaves the 2nd corps unchecked and
                   the Iranian border without elite reinforcements.  Redeploying
                   troops to maximize internal security has undermined the logic of
                   Iraq's national security.  With Iraq's communication
                   infrastructure bombed out and the Republican Guard pulled back to
                   Baghdad, Saddam has opened a window of opportunity for any
                   dissident officers in the 1st, 2nd, and 5th corps.

                   Essentially, Iraqi is left with its elite units stationed around
                   Baghdad and southern Iraq.  While the idea of a land invasion of
                   Iraq aimed at removing Saddam has been broached in the U.S.
                   before, this is obviously not an option considering the political
                   climate in Washington.  Bombing in advance of impeachment
                   hearings is one thing, but an invasion is another altogether.
                   However, another possibility, a Shiite uprising, may not be too
                   far off.  After all, in the same December 19 report, Bayyati also
                   mentioned that Iraqi forces were already shelling Shiites in the
                   Amarah and Najaf administrative districts in southern Iraq.

                   There was also a report in "Al Hayat" on December 17 that Ali Aqa
                   Mohammadi, the Iranian security official in charge of Iraqi
                   affairs, was actively pursuing contacts with Iraqi opposition
                   groups and may have also met with officials from the British
                   government to discuss the situation.  "Al- Hayat" cited a source
                   as saying that Mohammadi wanted to ascertain what role the Iraqi
                   opposition, more specifically, the Iranian–backed SCIRI, would
                   play in any efforts to topple Saddam.  The source also quoted him
                   as saying, "if the Americans are serious about removing Saddam,
                   then Tehran would not object" and that Iran "is watching the
                   situation in Iraq with interest and will adopt a more effective
                   policy now that it has decided to support the change."  However,
                   it must be noted that the U.S. would not welcome an Iraq in which
                   Iranian interests were dominant, nor do the Iranians want a post-
                   insurrection Iraq dominated by the United States.  During the
                   recent talks between Iranian Vice President Hasan Habibi, Syrian
                   officials and Iraqi opposition figures in Damascus, Habibie
                   explicitly warned against the dangers of a U.S. effort to topple

                   To sum up the situation, air strikes, no matter how intense,
                   cannot topple Saddam in the absence of an on-the-ground invasion
                   or an armed insurrection.  However, it seems that the air strikes
                   may have sufficiently degraded Saddam's power, particularly his
                   communications infrastructure and his special Republican Guard
                   unit, such that the SCIRI has been enticed to act on its own.
                   There is a small window of opportunity for the Iraqi opposition.
                   Saddam appears to be off balance.  With Iranian and U.S. backing,
                   the opposition may have a chance to strike.  Yet the U.S. and
                   Iran are still only allied in their opposition to Saddam, and
                   remain at odds over what comes next.  The Iraqi opposition
                   remains divided, and has failed previously to pose a credible
                   threat to Saddam.  Unless someone moves quickly, Saddam will soon
                   reestablish his footing.