March 23, 1999

               Conflicting Reports Suggest Interesting Possibilities in Iraq


               Reports of uprisings among Shiites in southern Iraq last week,
               following the arrests of the alleged murderers of a top Shiite
               cleric, beg the question of just how organized and planned is the
               Iraqi Shiite opposition.  Adding to the confusion are conflicting
               reports of the fate of Saddam's top lieutenant in southern Iraq
               and the alleged resumption of back-channel talks between
               Washington and Baghdad.


               * Reported Uprising in Southern Iraq

               Baghdad's March 17 announcement that it has arrested four
               suspects in the assassination of Iraqi Shiite cleric Ayatollah
               Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr has reportedly sparked yet another
               uprising among southern Iraq's Shiite population.  Bayan Jabr,
               the Damascus representative of the Iran-backed Supreme Council
               for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told the Iranian news
               agency IRNA that the Shiite population of Basra rose up on March
               18 in response to the announced arrests and seized government
               offices in the Hayyaniyah, Khamsa Mayl, and Jumhuriyah districts.
               Bayan Jabr claimed that the Iraqi regime responded by attacking
               the districts with mortar fire, tanks, and armored vehicles on
               the night of the 18th-19th.  He added that the bombardment was
               followed by house-to-house fighting between government forces and
               citizens, which resulted in large numbers of deaths and injuries.

               SCIRI and its rival Shiite organization, the Islamic Da'wah
               Party, both denounced the arrests of the four suspects, all
               Shiites, charging that the move is politically motivated to
               divide Shiites in Iraq.  The suspects arrested reportedly
               implicate SCIRI and Iran in Sadr's murder.  The groups insist
               that the Iraqi government is responsible for assassinating Sadr.
               Iraq's Shiite opposition previously claimed that a widespread
               mass uprising following Sadr's February 19 assassination was
               crushed by Iraqi security forces.

               Hamad Bayati, SCIRI's representative in London, repeated the
               allegations to Agence France Presse, and also claimed that Shiite
               opposition forces on March 19 attacked an army unit near Amarah
               and an armored division near Basra.  SCIRI's Voice of Rebellious
               Iraq radio reported on March 20 and 21 that popular uprisings had
               resulted in the opposition's seizure of control of Basra, Kut,
               and Amarah.  The report claimed that citizens in the three cities
               had captured government offices and arrested and executed some 20
               government officials, possibly including Basra's governor-general
               and governor.  Opposition radio claimed that Baath Party official
               "the criminal Sa'dun" was among those killed or wounded in
               fighting around Amarah.  Sa'dun is possibly Baath Party leader in
               Basra and deputy commander for the southern region, Abdul Baqi

               According to the Voice of Rebellious Iraq, resistance fighters
               carried out a "sweeping attack" on the 18th Brigade of the 14th
               Regiment [likely the 18th Brigade of the 14th Division of the 4th
               Corps] in Amarah, as well as the 202nd Armored Battalion.
               Opposition radio also claimed that resistance forces had captured
               15 tanks and artillery pieces in fighting in Hayyaniyah.  Also on
               March 21, the Jordan-based opposition Radio of the Patriotic
               Solidarity of Iraq reported that the central headquarters of
               Iraq's security department in Baghdad had been bombed several
               times in the preceding few days.  Finally, the Abu Dhabi
               newspaper "Al-Ittihad" on March 20 cited an unnamed source from
               the command of SCIRI's Badr Battalions as saying the city of
               Najaf had been surrounded and besieged by Iraqi troops.  Al-
               Ittihad also reported that the Islamic Da'wah Party had confirmed
               SCIRI's reports.

               As is usually the case, the Iraqi Shiite opposition claims can
               not be verified.  Nor can they be completely rejected.  The
               opposition's claimed sweeping gains, including the capture of
               three southern Iraqi cities and the rout of an infantry brigade,
               are most certainly exaggerated.  Yet there may be a grain of
               truth here as well.  Baghdad does not comment on such opposition
               claims, yet on the evening of March 19, state-run television
               broadcast film of peaceful streets in Basra, and Baath Party
               official Abdul Baqi al-Sa'dun announced on television that Saddam
               Hussein had allocated more money for Basra.  The broadcast may be
               coincidental, or it may be an attempt to refute reports of
               violence in Basra.

               Additionally, on March 19, the Iraqi News Agency INA reported
               that nine formations of U.S. and British combat aircraft carried
               out 29 sorties against targets in regions of Basra, Nasiriyah,
               and Amarah.  Baghdad claimed that the aircraft struck public
               service installations and weapons concentrations in southern
               Iraq.  U.S. Central Command issued a statement on March 19 saying
               that U.S. F-16 Falcons and RAF Tornados struck radar and
               communications sites in Shuaybah and Muzalbah, 290 miles and 230
               miles southeast of Baghdad, respectively.  While there is no way
               of linking SCIRI claims with these air-strikes, during and since
               Operation Desert Fox, U.S. air strikes have appeared to be
               coordinated with, or at least paving the way for, opposition
               activities on the ground.

               Though the extent of last week's Shiite uprising in southern Iraq
               remains unclear, circumstances surrounding it raise an important
               question: Just how coordinated is the opposition?  SCIRI is
               already reportedly at odds with the Islamic Da'wah Party.  And
               SCIRI reports claim both that the alleged liberation of Basra,
               Kut, and Amarah occurred through the popular uprising of
               citizens, driven by rage over the handling of the Sadr case, and
               that opposition fighters staged coordinated attacks on Iraqi
               military units.  The question, then, is what can southern Iraq's
               Shiites deliver in terms of an organized military campaign, and
               how much of the opposition in southern Iraq is merely the knee-
               jerk response to Baghdad's less popular maneuvers?

               * Continued Uncertainty Over Ali Hassan al-Majid

               Whether or not the Shiite opposition is primarily expressed
               through uncoordinated uprisings, those seeking to overthrow
               Saddam Hussein must look to other potential opposition forces as
               well.  Stratfor reported on March 11 the alleged assassination of
               Saddam's commander for southern Iraq, General Ali Hassan al-Majid
               [].  Majid was
               reportedly responsible for exposing and executing the Iraqi Army
               officers plotting to overthrow Saddam.  However, his aide,
               Lieutenant General Kamel Sachet al-Janabi, was reportedly
               implicated in a subsequent coup plot and was brutally executed.
               Reports out of Baghdad claim Sachet's mutilated and charred body
               was delivered to his family in a sack bearing the phrase "traitor
               and coward."  Sachet's execution raised the possibility that
               Majid may have been killed for a presumed connection to the plot.

               The fate of Majid is, at best, unclear.  Though he vanished some
               time around March 4, Majid reappeared in Iraqi newspapers and on
               television last week.  The newspaper Al-Iraq reported on March 18
               that Majid met leaders of Basra, telling them Saddam wished to
               reward the heroic city with more and better services.  The
               meeting was reportedly attended by Abdul Baqi al-Sa'dun, General
               Sachet's replacement and allegedly the victim of fighting around
               Amarah at roughly this time.  On March 21, Iraqi television
               broadcast coverage of the same meeting.  While this would seem to
               confirm Majid is still alive and kicking, the tape may have been
               stock footage, something the Voice of Rebellious Iraq insists is
               the case.

               On March 20, opposition radio reported that Ali al-Majid's
               brother, Hashim Hasan al-Majid, led a group of his family,
               including a number of Ali's sons, to Radwaniyah Palace to demand
               that Saddam's son Qusay reveal the fate of the still-missing Ali.
               The two groups allegedly clashed, with Hashim al-Majid and two of
               Ali's sons killed, Qusay wounded in the head, and several of
               Qusay's followers killed.  According to opposition radio, "The
               regime tried to hush up this news, and showed old footage of Ali
               al-Majid visiting Basra Governate."

               IRNA broadcast a somewhat different version of this report on
               March 21, citing Iraqi sources in Damascus as claiming that
               opposition forces attacked Qusay and Ali al-Majid in Kamini in
               southern Iraq, and that the two may have been killed in the
               attack.  As we said, Majid's fate remains very much in question,
               and our report can only reflect the dearth of reliable news out
               of southern Iraq.  At very least, however, these reports are
               intriguing.  At most, chaos may have reached the closest ranks of
               Saddam's supporters.

               * Possible Resumption of Back-Channel U.S.-Iraqi Talks

               Here is where things get really interesting.  According to the
               Paris-based newspaper Al-Watan al-Arabi, "well informed U.S.
               sources" confirm that the U.S. and Iraq have resumed back-channel
               Turkish-mediated talks, sporadically carried out since 1996.  We
               reported on April 22, 1998 on allegations that the U.S. had
               reopened talks with Baghdad aimed at bringing Iraq back into the
               Arab community [].
               At that time, the Jordanian newspaper Al-Bilad cited Iraqi
               opposition forces as reporting that U.S. Assistant Secretary of
               State Robert Pelletreau had met with Qusay Hussein in Ankara.
               The talks were reportedly propelled by a faction in the U.S.
               government that saw Iran and the Iraqi opposition as greater
               threats to U.S. interests than a tame Saddam Hussein.  Pelletreau
               reportedly gave U.S. conditions for normalizing relations with
               Iraq, including the establishment of U.S. bases in southern Iraq
               and the inclusion of U.S. advisors/observers in the Iraqi

               While U.S. demands were rejected at the time, Al-Watan al-Arabi's
               March 19 report indicated that Iraq now feels its situation
               warrants any concession necessary, short of regime change, to
               relieve Iraqi isolation.  And despite U.S. efforts to rally
               support for continued pressure on Iraq, and to unite the Iraqi
               opposition, opinion in Washington reportedly remains divided on
               the elimination of Saddam.  The U.S. is still unsure of the
               reliability of Iraqi opposition forces, should they take power,
               provided they are even capable of taking power.  And support for
               U.S. containment of Iraq appears to be slipping in the Arab
               world.  The opposition may be picking away at Saddam's closest
               aides, finally posing a real threat to the regime, but not only
               is support for Saddam's overthrow slipping among U.S. allies, but
               the opposition looks like potentially as much trouble as Saddam.

               As we mentioned last April, the detail and history of this report
               make it worth a second look.  While U.S. demonization of Saddam
               Hussein appears insurmountable, political spin aside, the
               fundamental political interests on both sides of these alleged
               negotiations support the possible existence of such talks.
               Interestingly, Qusay allegedly recently returned to Iraq from
               Britain, where he was supposedly receiving medical care for
               injuries he sustained in an assassination attempt.  When this
               report came out, we thought it odd to the point of impossibility,
               but if talks are in fact underway, it just might have been true.
               Of course, if we are to believe reports from SCIRI, Qusay may now
               be wounded or dead, casting doubt on the future of already
               dubious talks.  For all the time this Iraqi saga has dragged on,
               one certainly can not call it dull.