Answers emerge about Iraqi defiance of "no-fly" zones

                   Saddam Hussein chaired a meeting of Iraq's leadership on January
                   4, devoted to reviewing the status of the Iraqi army in the
                   aftermath of Operation Desert Fox, the U.S. and British air
                   strikes on Iraq in December.  After the meeting, Saddam vowed to
                   continue to resist allied patrols of "no-fly" zones in northern
                   and southern Iraq. This is a reassertion of similar commitments
                   made by Iraq last week to shoot down any enemy plane entering its
                   airspace, which culminated in at least two incidents in which
                   allied planes were fired upon by Iraqi missile batteries in the
                   no-fly zones. Many have speculated that this is simply another
                   tactic by the Baghdad regime to engage the U.S. in a protracted
                   campaign of confrontation aimed at forcing a reduction or
                   elimination of economic sanctions against Iraq. However, it
                   appears now that Iraqi defiance of the no-fly zones was in
                   response to the protection those zones provided to forces hostile
                   to, and preparing to confront, the Iraqi regime.

                   The London-based "Al-Hayat" newspaper reported on January 1 that
                   allied air cover was a driving force behind a failed coup by some
                   commanders of the Iraqi 3rd Army Corps in southern Iraq during
                   Desert Fox.  The newspaper stated that senior commanders of the
                   3rd Iraqi Army Corps stationed around the southern Iraqi city of
                   Basra were "preparing military action against the regime during
                   the U.S. missile strikes," while U.S. forces tied down the
                   Republican Guards, Special Security Services, and Saddam's
                   personal guard in the area.

                   In addition, the rebellious forces reportedly had the support of
                   a neighboring Arab state.  A Ba'ath party official, who declined
                   to give his identity, said that the units were prompted into
                   action by the fact that they were "deployed under U.S.-British
                   air cover and air support, as well as under ground and logistical
                   support from an Arab state neighboring Iraq."  If "neighboring"
                   Iraq means bordering Iraq, that would suggest that either Jordan,
                   Syria, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia were involved in the coup plot as
                   well.  Kuwait, which hosts U.S. forces and is only 50 kilometers
                   from Basra, would appear to be the most likely party.

                   Despite U.S. air cover and ground support from the "neighboring
                   Arab state," the attempted coup by 3rd Corps officers evidently
                   failed.  The same Ba'ath official told Al-Hayat that a move by "a
                   group within the army with the aim of breaching security" was
                   "encircled and its elements were eliminated".  Nine
                   "infiltrators" were arrested for their roles as intermediaries
                   between the intelligence services of the neighboring Arab state
                   and the Iraqi coup plotters.  Also two, presumably brigade-level,
                   commanders of the 3rd corps, Brigadier General Ali Ma'ruf al-
                   Sa'idi and Lieutenant Colonel Sabah Dhiyab al-Khalidi, were
                   arrested and executed by special order of the Ba'ath party
                   regional commander, Al Hasan al-Majid, who had been appointed
                   just prior to the U.S. led strikes.

                   While the 3rd Corp's coup attempt apparently failed (perhaps
                   uncovered even before Desert Fox, judging by the Ba'ath party and
                   military shuffling that occurred) it still provided a good reason
                   for Iraq to challenge the no-fly zones.  If one coup plot could
                   form under U.S. air cover, others could follow.  The imposition
                   of the no-fly zones in 1991 and 1992 to protect Iraq's Kurdish
                   and Shiite Moslem populations left Saddam with only the
                   Republican Guard and the other Iraqi security services to counter
                   any adventurous regular army commander. Previously, he could call
                   upon his air force to halt the advance of Iraqi tanks rolling on

                   After U.S. missiles wiped out the command infrastructure of the
                   Republican Guard and other special security forces, Saddam's
                   control was reduced to nearly zero.  With no check in place, the
                   3rd Corps attempted to exploit the situation.  Further impetus
                   may have been provided by the fact that, while U.S. warplanes
                   were bombarding other Iraqi military targets, other aircraft were
                   reportedly tasked with dropping thousands of propaganda leaflets
                   over Iraqi troop positions around Basra (the same units belonging
                   to the 3rd Corps), warning them against any retaliatory moves
                   against Kuwait. The leaflets instructed Iraqi soldiers to "stay
                   where you are, stay put, do not threaten anyone and you won't be
                   hurt."  More than a simple warning, these leaflets may have been
                   an explicit signal or at least a reassuring nudge to 3rd Corps
                   commanders that the U.S. was on their side.

                   In the December 22 Global Intelligence Update, we outlined
                   evidence indicating a strong potential for a coup attempt in Iraq
                   (  We predicted
                   that any attempt would most likely emerge from the Shi'ite
                   population centers in southern Iraq, to which at least two
                   Republican Guard divisions had been relocated. Indeed, the Ba'ath
                   official cited by Al-Hayat mentioned that, "the Iraqi government
                   distributed a special memorandum on the security situation in
                   Baghdad and other Iraqi cities in respect to "scattered incidents
                   carried out by some suspect elements during the days of U.S.-
                   British aggression".  This appears to confirm the reports of the
                   Shi'ite uprisings that we mentioned in that GIU. However, there
                   was apparently more underway than sporadic sabotage in Najaf, and
                   U.S. air strikes and air cover in the no-fly zones were clearly

                   With the no-fly zones now explicitly connected to U.S. efforts to
                   overthrow Saddam, the Iraqi leader's decision to defy those zones
                   is undoubtedly more than just part of a tit for tat with the U.S.
                   It is critical to Saddam's efforts to quell whatever other coup
                   attempts and insurrections may be forming in the absence of
                   strong internal security forces.  Saddam still directly controls
                   the air defense forces and small Iraqi air force, even though he
                   delegated authority for the rest of Iraq's armed forces,
                   immediately prior to Desert Fox, to his most trusted aids.
                   Presumably, he regards the air force as his final line of defense
                   against another attempted coup.  However, this is possible only
                   if he can use his missiles to diminish the presence of allied air
                   power over Iraqi territory.  Otherwise, the superiority of allied
                   air power renders the Iraqi air force useless.  This may be the
                   logic behind the Iraqi missile challenge to the no-fly zones.

                   Even more pressing than a coup attempt from within his own
                   military, Saddam still faces opposition from other groups within
                   and outside of Iraq. With the support of the U.S., the various
                   Kurdish factions in northern Iraq are reportedly uniting (though
                   this process has been long-running and erratic at best). And, as
                   we reported in our last GIU, the Shiites in southern Iraq are
                   also attempting to exploit the current situation. Nevertheless,
                   Iraq has the resources to quash uprisings by the Kurds or the
                   Shiites, or even a coup initiated by one or another of the
                   regular Iraqi army corps, and it is unlikely that these mutually
                   antagonistic elements could launch a coordinated uprising.

                   In our last GIU we indicated that Saddam had ordered a major
                   restructuring of the Iraqi military under regional commands. On
                   December 18, General Izzat Ibrahim, vice-chairman of Iraq's
                   ruling Revolution Command Council and Commander in Chief of the
                   Northern Iraq Regional Command, sent a letter to Saddam Hussein
                   stating that "we have instructed the armed forces to restrict
                   their mission to the protection of the borders of the homeland."
                   This evidence suggests that Iraq's capability to thwart external
                   aggression has been severely diminished. It is significant that
                   the Turkish army continues applying pressure on Iraq by
                   maintaining between 10,000 and 25,000 troops just inside the
                   border of northern Iraq, ostensibly to fight off the remnants of
                   the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels still left in Iraq.
                   Iran, though attempting to enhance its influence with Arabic
                   countries, is faced with a harsh economic crisis that may be
                   partially solved through another military gambit directed at
                   Iraq.  What is unclear is whether the U.S. is willing to see Iraq
                   dismembered as a byproduct of its desire to topple Saddam.

                   Saddam managed to halt a coup attempt around Basra. We still do
                   not know what other coup attempts were thwarted or what others
                   are still in the works.  What we do know is that Operation Desert
                   Fox had a greater impact on Iraq's internal politics than
                   previously thought.  Iraq's move thus far has been to strike out
                   at the no-fly zones. The U.S., while vowing to retaliate against
                   Iraqi defiance, is countering with a draw down in forces.  It is
                   thereby playing down Baghdad's latest initiative, but at what
                   cost to the internal opposition to Saddam's regime?  The question
                   is, what next?

                   Saddam has decentralized authority over the Iraqi military
                   thereby inviting each "feudal" military leader to check the power
                   of the others. This stratagem may serve to thwart a coup, but it
                   is not a particularly prudent national security policy. By
                   dividing these forces regionally, they become a less coherent,
                   less mobile, and less interactive fighting force. Saddam may be
                   gambling with the fact that the political dynamics of neighboring
                   states bar aggression against Iraqi territory.
                   This remains to be seen.