Short- and long-range planning on Iraq is based on the premise that Saddam Hussein will remain in power for the foreseeable future. Though a reasonable working assumption, some thought should be given to the possibility, however remote, that Saddam could suddenly disappear from the Iraqi scene, and to what the consequences of that might be. This article examines some post-Saddam scenarios and reflects on their implications for Iraq and the international community. The following exercise is necessarily speculative, dealing as it does with an admittedly low probability event: the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. Nevertheless, given the consequences of his passing for the future of Iraq and the region, it is an exercise worth undertaking.
THE PASSING OF SADDAM HUSSEIN
Saddam's rule is a personal dictatorship. He is president and prime minister of the Iraqi Republic, chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, secretary-general of the Arab Baath Socialist Party (ABSP), and secretary-general of the Military Bureau. He is the spider at the center of the web of the Iraqi power structure.
Saddam does not seem about to relinquish the reins of power any time soon. He is sixty-one years old and appears to be in robust health. In a demonstration of his physical prowess, for example, he swam across the Tigris River three times at the third national swimming tournament held at Salah al-Din in September 1997.1 Assuming an average life span, he could remain in power for the next 10-15 years, barring an accident or some other "act of God." However, it is the "acts of man" that would seem to pose the greatest threat to his survival.
Saddam could be removed in any number of ways, five of which are discussed in the section that follows (see Figure 1 for a graphical presentation of these scenarios). It bears repeating that these are extremely low-probability scenarios. Of the five, a military or palace coup seems the most plausible, though even the success of this seems remote, judging from the repeated failures of those attempted in the past. Nevertheless, one cannot a priori dismiss any of these scenarios as utterly impossible.
First - and in no particular order of likelihood - Saddam might fall victim to an impulsive or accidental attack not part of a deliberate bid to seize power, such as a lone assailant bent on revenge or a coalition military strike directed against another target. Granted, it would be difficult for an armed attacker to penetrate the extensive security net surrounding the Iraqi leader. Saddam relies on the Special Security Service (SSS or Amn al-Khass) created at the end of the Iran-Iraq War for his protection. This 5,000-member force is recruited from his home town of Tikrit and two neighboring cities - Hawuija and Samarra - thought to be loyal to him, as well as from tribes such as the Dulaim in western Iraq.2 Control of the force is entrusted to his second son, Qusay, one of only three people who knows his residence and the secret offices between which he shuttles more than once a day.3
Nevertheless, breaching this security shield, though virtually inconceivable, is not impossible, as the December 1996 assassination attempt on Saddam's eldest son, Uday, demonstrated. As well as being responsible for Saddam's safety, the SSS is charged with the security of his immediate family and, in that instance, it failed miserably. According to media reports,4 one Rad al-Hazza5 informed the opposition al-Nahdah ("Revival") Movement that Uday and his entourage would be attending a "girl's party" in the Mansur district of Baghdad. An ambush was set up in which Uday was severely wounded when assassins sprayed his car with bullets. The attack sent shock waves through the SSS and had deadly repercussions for those involved. The Iraqi opposition later reported that five bodyguards accused of colluding with Uday's attackers were executed under his brother Qusay's supervision.6
Alternatively, Saddam may fall victim to a coalition military strike directed against another target, say, a cruise missile strike against a facility he happened to be visiting. Admittedly, the chances of this are slim: the Iraqi leader is a hard man to pin down. During the 1991 Gulf War, the coalition directed 260 of 42,240 air sorties against "leadership" targets or "command and control" facilities; in effect, these were attempts - ultimately unsuccessful - to locate and eliminate Saddam.7 Nonetheless, the possibility cannot be ruled out that Saddam might be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a coalition retaliatory strike.
Another possibility might be a popular uprising, though such a rebellion seems unlikely under current conditions. The General Security Service (GSS) or Secret Police (Amn al-Amm) has terrorized the Iraqi people into submission. This 8,000-member force serves as the "eyes and ears of the regime at the local level" and is charged with rooting out all internal dissent.8 Compounding the fear which paralyzes Iraqi society is the material distress that the people face. Eight-and-ahalf years of sanctions have decimated the middle and lower classes of Iraqi society. Hyperinflation hit an estimated 200 percent in 1997.9 Government workers, whose salaries average 5,000 dinars a month or about $3.30,10 have been forced to take second and third jobs to try to offset the erosion of their living standards. At markets, auction houses, and city street comers, Iraqis hawk their beds, television sets, coffee pots, and other household goods for the cash needed to live. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the population is more concerned with day-to-day survival than with political change. Finally, the chances of coordinated popular action seem remote given that the Iraqi people are divided along factional, religious, and ethnic lines. Even during the March 1991 uprising in the south following Saddam's defeat in the Gulf War, many Shiite tribes stood apart from their rebellious co-religionists while other tribes actively supported the regime.11
Though a popular revolt seems unlikely in the foreseeable future, it cannot be categorically ruled out. The Iraqi people have shown, on occasion, a willingness to challenge the regime. The post-Gulf War rebellion in the north and south is the best but not the only example of this. In May 1995, for instance, protests among the traditionally loyal Sunni Dulaimi clan broke out in ar-Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, after the return of the mutilated corpse of air force General Mohammad Mazlum al-Dulaimi (he had been executed for his role in a January 1995 coup attempt). Some 200 people were reportedly killed in a month of unrest.12 Later, during the February 1998 UNSCOM crisis, elite Republican Guard units were dispatched to critical locations throughout the country. This was, in part, a defensive response to anticipated coalition air strikes and possibly also a reflection of the regime's concern over the Guard's continuing loyalty if it came under sustained air attack.13 However, the dispersal pattern also suggested that Saddam feared a repeat of the March 1991 insurrection following the threatened coalition air strikes and was positioning his forces to prevent any such outbreak. As this incident demonstrates, the regime recognizes that there is little love for it among the Iraqi people. All that it might take is some catalytic event to break their fear and paralysis and spark a popular revolt. What that event might be, however, remains an open question.
In theory, the exiled Iraqi opposition could become the vanguard in efforts to eliminate Saddam. Unfortunately, it has yet to display a practical capacity for coordinated and effective action. The Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Dr. Ahmad Chalabi, was an uneasy coalition of some 20 Kurdish, Shia, Sunni, Baathist, communist, and nationalist forces founded in Vienna in June 1992. However, due to political infighting and even armed conflict among its members, many groups have formally withdrawn or frozen their memberships in recent years, while those remaining have been largely inactive.14 The Iraqi National Accord (INA), a largely Sunni organization led by the former Iraqi director of intelligence, Ayad al Alawi, and consisting of many former members of the Baath party, is an even more ineffectual opposition grouping. Middle East specialist Anthony Cordesman succinctly sums up the shortcomings of these opposition groups:
The vainglorious claims of the INC disguise a long history of divisions, ineffectiveness, and uncertain financial integrity. The end result seems to be a small, ineffective secular Shiite group with little meaningful internal support...The INA is almost certainly worse off. It has always been heavily penetrated by Iraqi intelligence, and has probably done more to help Iraqi intelligence target internal dissidents and opposition leaders than mobilize real opposition to Saddam.15
The opposition has also suffered from lukewarm international support. The CIA initially gave the INC $15 million, in part to establish a headquarters in the northern city of Irbil in the protected Kurdish enclave (a toehold which was subsequently lost in the summer of 1996 when Iraqi forces captured the city on behalf of the Kurdistan Democratic party or KDP).16 However, American and international backing fell off over time. In January 1997, the United States withdrew its support for the INC's Hurriyah ("Radio Freedom"), broadcast from an American run medium-wave transmitter in Kuwait.17 Five months later, the INC was forced to halt publication of its newspaper alMutamar due to a lack of international financial support.18 Then, in July 1997, the INA radio station al-Mustaqbal ("the Future") ceased operations in Jordan, apparently on the orders of Jordanian Prime Minister Abd al-Salam al-Majali who was trying to improve the kingdom's relations with Iraq.19
Support for the opposition, at least among some circles in the United States, revived slightly during and after the February 1998 UNSCOM crisis. Recognizing that a sustained air campaign would not bring about Saddam's downfall, these critics advocated greater support for the opposition as an alternative to the Iraqi dictator. For example, the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, a group of some three dozen foreign-policy leaders, including former secretaries of defense Caspar Weinberger and Frank Carlucci and former national security advisers William Clark and Robert C. McFarlane, recommended in a letter to President Clinton that the administration recognize a provisional government headed by the INC and restore a safe haven in the north and south of Iraq from which the provisional government could operate. The group suggested lifting sanctions in these "liberated zones," so that the opposition could support itself with revenues from oil sales, and releasing to it Iraqi assets frozen abroad - an estimated $1.6 billion in Britain and the United States alone.20
Following the (temporary) resolution of the crisis, Congress allocated $5 million to resume broadcasts of Radio Free Iraq and an additional $5 million to finance other opposition activities. To oversee this spending, the State Department submitted a plan of action to Congress - entitled "Support for the democratic Iraqi opposition" - in which it proposed setting up an "Iraq Center" in London as a liaison office to the opposition. The action plan consisted of five elements:
- Organization building - assisting the opposition in training and development of organizational skills.
- Coalition building- sponsoring dialogue groups and meetings among opposition parties with the ultimate aim of convening a general opposition congress.
- Implementing U.N. resolutions - backing the opposition's focus on Iraq's violations of the human rights provisions of Resolution 688 and the oil-for-food program.
- Pluralistic Iraq - supporting conferences and monographs discussing the restoration of the rule of law, reconstruction of the economy, and other matters in a post Saddam Iraq.
- War crimes/crimes against humanity - helping the opposition amass evidence detailing Saddam's war crimes.21
Though the State Department doubted that the exiled opposition groups could topple Saddam even with this assistance, it hoped to at least unite these disparate elements into a credible alternative to his regime.22
Additional support for the opposition was forthcoming after the crisis flared again in August of last year. The House of Representatives passed the "Iraq Liberation Act of 1998" on October 5, authorizing $2 million to assist opposition radio and television broadcasts to Iraq,23 and $97 million for defense articles, defense services, and military education and training to be provided to designated democratic opposition organizations. Though initially skeptical of the legislation, the administration subsequently promised to work with the opposition within the limits of the Act, in keeping with its newly declared aim of seeking a change of government in Baghdad.24
Despite renewed U.S. interest in the opposition "alternative," the support given thus far still falls well short of that needed to topple the Iraqi dictator. More fundamentally, what the opposition needs in addition to increased international support is a charismatic leader who can unite the exiled opposition and win the confidence of the Iraqi people and the internal Sunni governing elite. Saddam's late son-in-law, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Hassan, fancied himself to be such a leader when he called for the overthrow of the regime after his dramatic defection to Jordan in the summer of 1995. The exiled opposition, suspicious of his defection and mindful that he had too much blood on his hands from his years as one of Saddam's key supporters, was reluctant to rally to his standard. Should some other genuinely strong and popular figure emerge, however, the opposition could at last pose a serious threat to Saddam's survival.
A fourth possibility for Saddam's removal is a coalition ground invasion of Iraq. Although repeated air campaigns similar to Operation Desert Fox25 may weaken his control over time, a determined effort to remove him would likely require the invasion and temporary occupation of the country. However, this is far from the administration's current thinking. In a speech given at Stanford University on December 8, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger reiterated the elements of the administration's containment policy:
- Maintain sanctions - exempting food and medicine - against Saddam's regime in order to deny him the resources needed to rebuild his military.
- Support UNSCOM to ensure the destruction of Iraq's WMD arsenal.
- Maintain a credible threat of force to deter Saddam's aggression, and be prepared to act, alone if necessary, to defend U.S. interests.
- Work to keep friends and allies united in pursuit of these goals. 26
He noted that this policy, though successful to date, was not sustainable in the long run. Hence, the administration's decision, first pronounced by President Clinton on November 15, to not only contain Saddam but to "oppose" him - a euphemism for seeking his overthrow. A major commitment of U.S. forces toward this end, however, does not appear to be an option at present. While the administration will work "with Congress to strengthen our political support [author's emphasis] to make the opposition a more effective voice for the aspirations of the Iraqi people," Berger warned that "we should be careful about implying commitments before we are clear about their full risks and costs."27
Nor would a major military intervention in Iraq gain international support. After eight years of troubles, the world community is suffering from "Iraq crisis fatigue." It was only with a great deal of effort that the administration was able to cobble together the facade of a coalition military force with which to confront Saddam during the February 1998 crisis. It did not even try to include token forces from other allies, apart from the British, in Operation Desert Fox. If the international community has shown itself increasingly reluctant to muster the forces necessary for limited punitive strikes, how much more difficult would it be to generate support for full-scale invasion? Nevertheless, in a speculative exercise such as this, one cannot completely dismiss this scenario. The United States and the international community demonstrated during the 1991 Gulf War that they can take firm action in response to flagrant Iraqi aggression. Though the possibility is exceedingly remote, the United States and its allies may mobilize themselves to resolve the "Saddam problem" once and for all should he be so foolish as to commit some particularly heinous crime against his own people or pose some intolerable threat to his neighbors.
Of all the ways by which Saddam might be eliminated, a coup d'etat seems to be the most plausible under current circumstances, though even the success of this seems remote. While not inconceivable, it is doubtful that an individual or group in his inner circle would engineer the Iraqi dictator's removal. The core of the military, party, and government elite are family and tribal members originating from the town of Tikrit in Baghdad province. Indeed, the pervasiveness of the "Tikriti mafia" in ruling circles is such that the rural vernacular of that region has become the new "power language" in Iraq.28 The fates of these family and tribal associates are inextricably linked to Saddam's. They are unlikely to tum on him for fear that, once he is gone, his successors would kill them for their part in the regime's many crimes.29 Should their loyalty be in doubt, however, Saddam has amply demonstrated in the past that he would not hesitate to eliminate them quickly and ruthlessly. To cite only a few recent examples, unconfirmed reports in early February 1995 said that 68 air force officers had been dismissed, arrested, or executed for scheming to overthrow Saddam in January of that year.30 Opposition sources reported in mid-August 1996 that 120-200 senior military officers had been executed, accused of plotting a coup earlier that summer.31 Finally, in late September 1997, the opposition revealed that 14 members of the military intelligence unit, special forces, and police had been executed for their alleged roles in a plan to assassinate Saddam when he visited one of his homes near Tikrit.33 Whether these and other purges have come in response to actual or fabricated intrigues to remove Saddam, he has certainly used them to effect in order to cull those individuals of questionable loyalty from his leadership circle.
Among those who have so far survived his purges, Saddam encourages divisions and rivalries to prevent a united front from rising in opposition to his rule. Moreover, he indulges his minions' greed, shielding them from the effects of sanctions and allowing them to amass fortunes through black market dealings. The net effect of this "carrot and stick" approach - the pay offs and purges - has been to foster an outward deference and a professed loyalty to Saddam among those in his inner circle. Nevertheless, the possibility cannot be ruled out that overweening ambition among the mafiosi that surround Saddam might prompt one or more of them to act against him if the opportunity arises. Promises from the international community to quickly reintegrate Iraq under a successor regime might further encourage such action.
Under any circumstances, a coup d'etat would be risky. To succeed, a challenger would need to control some elements of the security forces, both to execute the coup and to consolidate his authority afterward. Few individuals in the leadership are well placed in this respect. Saddam controls the key intelligence and security agencies, such as Military Intelligence (Estilchabarat), the General Security Service (GSS), and the Military Security Service (MSS or Amn al Aslcariyya),33 through the Office of the Presidential Palace. Members of the security services are recruited from his own tribe - the Al-bu Nasir - and other loyal tribes such as the Jubur and the Ubayd,34 and are well rewarded in order to guarantee their allegiance.
Saddam also continually shuffles senior military, party, and government officials from post to post to prevent any individual from developing a personal power base from which to launch a challenge to his leadership. This "shuffling" policy even extends to his sons. In the summer of 1997, for example, he replaced his second son, Qusay, as head of the Special Republican Guard with Maj. Gen. Kamal Mustafa al-Tikriti, a member of his extended family35 noted for loyal service to the Iraqi leader. Despite this, Qusay, as commander-in-chief of the Special Security Service (SSS) and the Republican Guard, remains the second most powerful individual in Iraq after Saddam. Indeed, he may be the one best positioned to overthrow his father. To date, there is no evidence to indicate that he harbors such intentions, though he would likely have been "retired" the moment he showed any such inclination. Moreover, he seems to lack firm support among senior Iraqi military leaders; his replacement as head of the Special Republican Guard was thought to have come, in part, in response to grumblings among senior officers unhappy at serving under the militarily inexperienced 32-year old.36 On the other hand, one should not completely discount the possibility that he might make a bid for power if conditions were right. If he is his father's son, patricide may not be inconceivable.
SCENARIOS AND IMPLICATIONS
However Saddam is removed from power, the transition period is bound to be chaotic. Few of the conditions thought to be necessary for a relatively smooth shift from authoritarian to democratic government are present. First and foremost, Iraq has no tradition for the peaceful hand-over of power. Since General Bakr Sidqi overthrew the pan Arab Sunni government of Yasin al Hashimi in the Arab world's first modern era military coup on October 29, 1936, coup d'etats rather than elections have been the only means for regime change in Iraq. Secondly, the Baathist regime has fettered or destroyed any independent institutions of civil society that might have guided the transition towards democracy. As discussed above, economic sanctions have pauperized the Iraqi middle class, a group that many consider the essential bedrock of democratic change. And, finally, Saddam's ruthless purges have eliminated most potential leadership candidates both inside and outside the regime. The absence of these facilitating conditions suggests that the transition period is very unlikely to be orderly or to move in a democratic direction.
More likely, several competing power centers would emerge in the immediate post-Saddam confusion, with no one group strong enough to quickly impose its rule throughout the country. Governmental and security structures and institutions already at odds with each other37 are likely to fragment as different parts align themselves, willingly or otherwise, with various contenders. Tribal chiefs, who have received money and arms from the regime in return for helping to maintain order in the countryside,38 would likely ally their private militias with one or another faction while guarding their local interests from encroachment by their neighbors. In effect, the country could become an Iraqistan where warlords holding sway over particular areas or institutions continually vie for power.
Such a chaotic transition period would pose many difficulties for the international community. For instance, a critical concern would be what residual WMD capability remained in Iraq and who among the warlords controlled it. Iraq is currently suspected of maintaining a small stockpile of chemical and biological weapons as well as a small force of SCUD-type missiles.39 Under the confused conditions of the transition, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate this residual capability or to keep weapons-related and dual-use facilities under long-term monitoring and control, assuming, of course, that Saddam eventually allows some form of international inspection and monitoring regime to be re-established in Iraq.40
More than loss of control, there would be the danger that this WMD capability might actually be used in the factional fighting. Certainly, this scenario would by no means be a given. Any faction contemplating such drastic action would have to be mindful of possible WMD retaliatory strikes from its enemies, a dangerous prospect especially if it did not have adequate decontamination or defensive capabilities of its own. Moreover, the international community would undoubtedly condemn whatever faction used WMD and withhold or withdraw the political, financial, and material support that could make the difference in a faction's bid for supreme power.41 However, if some group did decide to use the WMD under its control despite these disadvantages, it is more likely to use chemical rather than biological weapons. Because of their delayed effects, susceptibility to wind and weather conditions, and lack of persistence in the attack area, biological weapons are of limited use on the battlefield; they are better suited for deep operational and strategic missions.42 Chemical weapons, on the other hand, can be delivered over limited ranges, their incapacitating effects are more immediate, and they persist for longer periods in the attack area.43 Moreover, these weapons may be more readily available for use. An October 1998 UNSCOM report stated that the disposition of 550 155-mm chemical rounds could not be determined. This discrepancy assumed greater importance in light of the results of chemical sampling of 12 mustard-filled shells recovered from a former chemical weapons storage facility conducted earlier in the year. The analysis showed that the purity of the mustard ranged from 94 to 97 percent even after seven years of exposure to the weather.44 This suggests that these munitions could be stored for decades without serious loss of quality. Finally, the Iraqi military has extensive operational experience with such weapons, having used chemical weapons both against its eastern neighbor during the Iran-Iraq War and against its own Kurdish population. This could be a reservoir of experience upon which contending factions might draw, especially if the armed forces themselves have fractured during the transition period.
The breakdown in authority in Iraq would also likely precipitate a humanitarian crisis as Iraqi civilians fled the confusion and violence. This would impose a heavy burden on Iraq's neighbors as large numbers of refugees flooded across their frontiers. During and after the failed March 1991 uprising in the north, for example, some 250,000 Kurdish refugees fled to Turkey,45 costing the Turkish government some $1.5 million per day to support them.46 At the same time, over a million Kurds fled to Iran; Iranian President Rafsanjani estimated the cost to his country to maintain these refugees at $500 million per month.47 While certainly taxing in the short term, the financial and social costs to the host countries could become particularly onerous if the refugees settle down for the long term, as has been the case with Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.
In response to the refugee threat, Iraq's neighbors might set up security zones on the Iraqi side of the border in order to create buffers shielding their frontiers. According to an Istanbul-based Kanai-7 Television report during the February 1998 UNSCOM crisis, Turkey was prepared to initiate Operation Shield in the event of an American attack on Iraq. Once the attack began, some 50,000 troops48 were ready to set up a buffer zone 15 km wide and some 240 km long on the Iraqi side of the border in order to prevent an influx of refugees as happened in 1991. Tent cities and camps would have been set up in Iraq to meet the refugees' needs.49
As well as the plight of those fleeing Iraq, neighboring states would likely be concerned with the welfare of ethnic kinsmen or co-religionists still in that country, possibly prompting their direct intervention should they be threatened. For example, Turkey might feel compelled, however reluctantly, to intervene on behalf of the roughly 200,000 Turkomen in northern Iraq should an independent Kurdistan emerge there following Saddam's overthrow, and the Turkomen be faced with the same fate as the Muslims facing the Serbs in Bosnia Herzegovina.50
Intervention from neighboring states could also come about as they try to root out the sanctuaries from which opposition groups conduct their guerrilla and propaganda campaigns. The Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq, for example, already operates two bases in the provinces of Kut and Diyala, near Baghdad, against which Iran periodically launches punitive air strikes. The Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) maintains bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, prompting several Turkish military offensives since the fall of 1992 in a thus far futile effort to wipe them out.51 A complete breakdown in authority in Iraq could provide these and other opposition groups with greater freedom of action against that country's neighbors, provoking violent counteraction in response.
The motivation for neighbors to interfere directly or indirectly in Iraq's affairs during the transition period may not be entirely defensive in nature. The fluid situation in that country could present them with the opportunity to extend their influence in Iraq through support for factions with whom their interests coincide. There is, in fact, a long tradition of outside support for Iraqi factions. In Iraqi Kurdistan, for example, Iran provided ammunition, arms, artillery support, and a small number of advisers to help the PUK in its October 1996 counteroffensive to retrieve territory lost to a Baghdad-supported drive by the KDP the previous month. Turkey has also forged alliances with Iraq's Kurds, most recently with the KDP, to assist in its fight with the PKK.52 However, there would be risks associated with meddling in factional conflicts. Too much support for their Kurdish clients' demands for limited autonomy within a territorially-intact post Saddam Iraq, for example, could further inflame similar aspirations among the Kurds in Iran and Turkey.53 Alternatively, their meddling could lead to friction between neighboring states, especially if they are supporting competing groups.
Some observers have speculated that neighboring states might go beyond interference in Iraq's transitional travails to annex. those regions to which they supposedly could lay claim based on ethnic, religious, or historic ties. Iran, for example, could try to annex the southern, predominantly Shiite parts of Iraq while Turkey might press its historic claims to the former Ottoman province of Mosul in northern Iraq. Little credence should be given to either of these possibilities. Iran, for one, has never laid claim to southern Iraq, despite the predominance of its coreligionists in that region and the location there of the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala. Nor, for their part, have the Iraqi Shiites shown any inclination to unite with their religious brothers in Iran. As for Turkey, the father of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk, renounced all Turkish claims to Mosul province with the conclusion of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and the June 5, 1926 agreement between Turkey, Great Britain, and Iraq. It is highly unlikely that the secular and military elite in Turkey would betray Ataturk's legacy by reviving irredentist claims to the former Ottoman province.54 Moreover, in practical terms, it is doubtful that Ankara would want to add another five million Iraqi Kurds to the troublesome twelve million already in Turkey. Quite simply, for both Iran and Turkey, annexation would be a drastic move - inviting strong international opposition - that would not seem to be in the national interest of either country. Nor would it be necessary. They could far more easily exercise influence in Iraq through the manipulation of allied factions than through direct territorial control.
How are others in the international community likely to respond to the transition period? Whatever remained of the coalition would be loath to intervene directly in the chaos - except possibly to assist in humanitarian operations - fearing that it would become trapped in a quagmire. Moreover, intervention might bring the coalition into conflict with neighboring states supporting factions hostile to it. The international community, working through the U.N. Security Council and the good offices of the U.N. secretary-general, might try to stabilize the situation by attempting to broker a political compromise among the competing warlords. However, it is more likely that the world would be more immediately concerned with conflict management and containment rather than conflict resolution.
If no resolution to the transitional struggle was forthcoming, this could, in theory at least, lead to the Balkanization of the country as the various warlords sought formal independence for their de facto autonomous regions. This does not seem very likely, however. Fearing the regional repercussions of a breakup, Iraq's neighbors and the international community have repeatedly stated their firm commitment to that country's territorial integrity.
Rather than the breakup of the country, the hope of the international community would be for a successor to emerge who could unite the country quickly and with a minimum of bloodshed. It would be a bonus if this new Iraqi leader was someone with whom the international community could easily work, that is, someone who would respect human rights, institute democratic reforms, and cooperate fully in implementing all U.N. Security Council resolutions. While such an Iraqi Gorbachev may be lurking in the shadows of Saddam's circle of advisers, this seems highly unlikely. The men surrounding Saddam are as ruthless and brutal as their leader, as their survival in the deadly game of Iraqi politics attests. Indeed, a January 1995 CIA assessment presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee said that Saddam's successor would likely be influenced by the same "political culture" as the dictator, including a profound faith in Iraq's historical greatness and suspicion of the West. 55 Even if a liberal democrat were to take up the reins of power, it is doubtful whether he would survive for long. Given the political ethos of the survivors of the previous regime, his liberal tendencies would likely be interpreted as weakness, thereby encouraging them to challenge his grip on power.56
Instead of introducing a novel program of liberal reform, it is more likely that the new leadership would adopt many of Saddam's policies and practices. Domestically, his successor would likely move to crush all remaining opposition in order to secure his hold on power. Internationally, he could follow one of two strategies. In the tradition of his predecessor, a Saddam II could refuse to cooperate with the U.N. and its agencies or could threaten Iraq's neighbors. A possible motivation for such a belligerent stance could be the classic need to create an external crisis in order to divert attention from internal problems and rally the people and security forces around the new leader. This, however, would be a risky strategy. Such defiance could provoke a punishing coalition military response that might lead to his downfall.
It seems more likely that Saddam's successor would be a friendly dictator, more forthcoming- although grudgingly so - than his predecessor on matters of concern to the international community such as eliminating that country's residual WMD capabilities and living in peace with its neighbors. More troubling, though, the friendly dictator would probably still rely on the Baathist party and military/security structures in order to consolidate his hold on power. This could pose a dilemma for the international community. On the one hand, it could condemn the new leadership and punish it for the mistreatment of its own people. However, this could result in the new leader's downfall and the coming to power of men who are equally brutal but have no interest in cooperating with the international community on any matter, domestic or foreign. On the other hand, the world could tum a blind eye to all but the most egregious oppression inside Iraq and focus instead on Baghdad's cooperative international approach in the hope that, over time, it could encourage the new leader to moderate his domestic policies as his position became more secure.
More than likely, though, Iraq's less confrontational stance on some issues would come as welcome relief after dealing with Saddam Hussein. Frustrated by recurring crises and eager to resume profitable economic relations with Iraq, the world would likely move to reintegrate Iraq into the regional and international systems. In particular, France and Russia, with major economic interests in Iraq, could be expected to lead the charge to this end. The French oil companies Elf Aquitaine and Total, for example, have negotiated contracts with Iraq worth up to $30 billion to develop the huge Majnoon and Nahr Umar fields in the southern part of the country, while Russia's largest oil company, LUKoil, and its partners Zarubezhneft and Mashino import signed a contract in March 1996 to develop 7-8 billion barrels of reserves in the southern Qurna field.57
Given the likely ruthless nature of the regime, the rush to rehabilitate Iraq might be tempered somewhat until the new leadership had proved itself to be more or less nonthreatening. The international community might tolerate a little more ambiguity and uncertainty when it comes to accounting for Iraq's residual WMD capabilities than it did when dealing with Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, international inspections or, at a minimum, long-term monitoring and verification would probably continue - assuming that Baghdad backs down at some point from its current refusal to allow arms inspectors to return - and sanctions remain in place at least for a time. The Security Council might agree, though, to interim measures designed to provide the new leader with a "light at the end of the tunnel." Humanitarian assistance under the "oil-for-food" resolutions might also be increased to - if not already at - the limit of Iraq's oil production capacity58 in order to ease the material suffering of the Iraqi people, possibly with less stringent U.N. monitoring of the proceeds.
The Arab world would likely welcome Iraq's reintegration into the regional system, especially if it no longer seemed to pose a threat to its neighbors, a condition upon which Kuwait, for obvious reasons, would likely be most insistent. The considerations most likely to determine their attitude would be geopolitical, in particular the perceived need for Iraq to help counterbalance Iran on the one hand and the emerging Israel-Turkey axis on the other. Its repressive domestic policies would probably not be a major concern for other Arab states.
The United States would likely remain watchful despite the professed cooperative approach of the new Iraqi leadership. Additional military forces in the region might stand down if for no other reason than to save money and lessen the wear and-tear on personnel and equipment.59 However, it would likely maintain the wherewithal to rapidly reconstitute these forces if necessary to restrain or punish Iraq. Similarly, the northern and southern no-fly zones, if still in existence, would likely be maintained as the United States could not assume, at least initially, that the threat to the Kurds and Shia had disappeared. However, assuming a more cooperative attitude on the part of Baghdad, there would probably not be any direct challenge to air patrols in the zones as has happened in the aftermath of Operation Desert Fox.60 Iraqi air defense fighters would likely stay out of the zones and SAM batteries would not lock radars onto patrolling aircraft.
While at the same time taking these precautionary measures, the United States would probably cautiously approve of Iraq's rehabilitation. It would undoubtedly insist that the new Iraqi regime accept certain minimum conditions for returning to the international fold. These might include, for example, limited autonomy for the Kurds, full cooperation with whatever international inspection organization might be operating in Iraq at the time and clarification of any remaining ambiguities regarding Iraq's WMD programs, recognition of Kuwaiti independence and an accounting of missing Kuwaitis, and support for the Middle East peace process. In return for the new regime's acquiescence to these conditions, Washington would likely provide humanitarian and "democracy transition" assistance, and convene Iraq's foreign creditors in order to restructure the crushing debt-load incurred under Saddam's rule.61 It could also offer to end U.N. supervision of the oil-for-food program or support a selective or complete elimination of the sanctions regime.
After the frustration of dealing with Saddam Hussein, few in the international community would shed a tear at his demise. Many believe, in fact, that the world's problems with Iraq would be over if only Saddam would disappear from the scene. Unfortunately, this does not seem likely any time soon. While one cannot rule out the possibility that he might be removed in a coup d'etat or by some other means, this remains more a hope than a firm expectation. Even if his demise was pending, however, the simple truth remains:
The Iraq problem will not die with Saddam Hussein.
During the transition period, the situation in Iraq is likely to be confused, to say the least, as competing factions vie for power. This would present several risks for the international community:
- Instability within Iraq and possible spillover of factional fighting into neighboring countries.
- Loss of whatever international oversight remained of Iraq's WMD capabilities and the potential use of residual capabilities in the fighting.
- Internal and external movements of refugees fleeing the chaos in Iraq.
- Interference and intervention of other countries in the factional contest.
Even if one faction were eventually to emerge triumphant, the post-transition period would still pose challenges for the international community:
- Continued repression of the Iraqi people by an authoritarian successor regime.
- Grudging Iraqi cooperation, at best, on matters of concern to the international community.
- Rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq.
Certainly, the difficulties confronted during the transition and post-transition periods would be different from those faced currently. Nevertheless, given the geostrategic importance of Iraq, the international community will likely remain engaged with the Iraq problem for some time to come.
1 "Saddam Hussein Swims Across the Tigris Three Times," BBC Monitoring Summary of World Broadcasts Part 4 - The Middle East, September 18, 1997, p. 10.
2 Anthony H. Cordesman, Key Targets in Iraq (Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1998), p. 5. Sec also, Iraqi National Congress, The Structure of the Amn Al Khass or Special Security Organisation (SSO), 1998 [http://www.inc.org.ulc/ssostructure.html].
3 "Source Says Saddam's Son Qusay Now Seen as 'Strongest' After Saddam," BBC Monitoring Summary of World Broadcasts: Part 4 - The Middle East, February 21, 1997, p. 14.
4 "Opposition 'Source' Gives Details of Attack on President's Son Uday," BBC Monitoring Summary of World Broadcasts: Part 4 - The Middle East, January 25, 1997, pp. 12-13.
5 Al-Hazza apparently cooperated in the assassination attempt in revenge for the execution of his uncle Umar al-Hazza in 1986, an officer who had the temerity to criticize Saddam and hold him responsible for Iraq's defeat during Iran's Faw offensive [Ibid].
6 "Five of Uday's Bodyguards Reportedly Executed," BBC Monitoring Summary of World Broadcasts: Part 4 - The Middle East, February 26, 1997, p. 8. In August 1998, the Iraqi General Directorate of Security announced the arrest of the two men who had shot Uday [Leon Barkho, "Iraq Captures Saddam's Son Attacker," Associated Press, August 3, 1998]. The Islamic Daawa party, another organization claiming responsibility for the attack, dismissed the claim, saying that the attackers and their accomplices were all "safe and free" [Edith M. Lederer, "Iraqi Party Denies Capture Report," Associated Press, August 5, 1998.]
7 Anthony H. Cordesman, Iraq.· What Force Can and Cannot Accomplish Against Saddam Hussein (Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1998), p. 2.
8 Sean Boyne, "Inside Iraq's Security Network- Part Two," Jane's Intelligence Review, August 1997, p. 367.
9 Country Profile: Iraq 1997-98 (London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 1997), p. 14.
10 Eileen Alt Powel, "Iraqis Cope Amid Trade Sanctions," Associated Press, March 12, 1998.
11 Amatzia Baram, "Neo-tribalism in Iraq: Saddam Hussein's Tribal Policies 1991-96," International Journal of Middle East Studies 29, 1997, p. 8.
12 Keesing’s Record of World Events, Vol. 41, no. 6, July 24, 1995, p. 40620.
13 I am indebted to Dr. Judith Yaphe, Visiting Senior Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Fort McNair, D.C. for this latter point.
14 Ghassan al-Atiyyah, "The Options of Iraq and the U.S. 'Beyond Containment,"' originally published in the August 1998 edition of al-Malaf al-Iraqi ("Iraq File") and reprinted in Mideast Mirror, July 30, 1998.
15 Anthony H. Cordesman, Living With Saddam: Reshaping US Strategy in the Middle East (Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1998), p. 6.
16 Frank Smyth, "Fresh Approach Needed in Seeking Saddam's Demise," Jane's Intelligence Review, May 1998, p. 24.
18 "Ahmad Chalabi's Opposition Paper Stops Publication for 'Financial Reasons,'" BBC Monitoring Summary of World Broadcasts: Part 4 - The Middle East, June 19, 1997, p. 15.
19 "Jordan-based Iraqi Opposition Radio Closes Down," BBC Monitoring Summary of World Broadcasts Part 4- The Middle East, July 8, 1997, p. 11.
20 Laura Myers, "Foreign Policy Experts Push to Oust Saddam," Associated Press, February 20, 1998.
21 Al-Atiyyah, "The Options of Iraq and the U.S. 'Beyond Containment."'
23 In early November, Radio Free Iraq began broadcasting a daily 45-minute program to Iraq from Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty studios located in Prague. Iraqi officials, claiming to be unconcerned with the broadcasts, said they would not bother to jam them. (Leon Barkho, "Iraq Won't Jam U.S.-Backed Broadcasts," Associated Press, December l, 1998.)
24 Tom Raum, "Clinton Wants New Iraqi Government," Associated Press, November 16, 1998.
25 On December 16, U.S. and British forces opened a 70-hour air offensive involving 650 aircraft missions and 425 cruise missile strikes against some 100 targets in Iraq, including weapons production facilities, SAM batteries and air defense sites, airfields, command and control facilities, Republican Guard barracks, and presidential palaces. The declared aim of the four-day operation was to degrade Iraq's WMD capabilities and its ability to threaten its neighbors. However, the strikes were also intended to weaken the pillars of control - such as the Republican Guard - upon which the regime depends for survival.
26 "Speech by National Security Adviser Samuel Berger, Stanford University, December 8, 1998" [http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/EOP/NSC/html/speeches/stanford.html].
28 Baram, "Neo-tribalism in Iraq," p. 2 l.
29 Sarnir al-Khalil, Republic of Fear: The Inside Story of Saddam’s Iraq (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990), pp. 70-72.
30 Keesing's Record of World Events, vol. 41 no. 2, March 24, 1995, p. 40432.
31 Keesing's Record of World Events. vol. 42 no. 10, November 22, 1996, p. 41343.
32 Country Report: Iraq - 4th Quarter 1997 (London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 1997), pp. 7-8.
33 For a discussion of Iraq's security agencies, see Sean Boyne, "Inside Iraq's Security Network- Part One," Jane's Intelligence Review, July 1997, pp. 312-314; and, Boyne, "Inside Iraq's Security Network - Part Two," pp. 365-367
14 For example, 50,000 young men from the Jubur alone were enlisted for the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard in the early 1980s. These elite units act as Saddam's praetorian guard to defend him against coup attempts [Baram, "Neo-tribalism in Iraq," p. 5].
35 He is married to the sister of Hussein Kamal Hassan, Saddam's deceased son-in-law, and is the brother of Jamal Mustafa, another son-in-law of the leader.
36 "Qusai Hussein Reportedly Replaced," Associated Press, August 14, 1997.
37 Opposition sources report that agencies such as the Special Security Service, the General Intelligence Directorate, Military Intelligence and the General Security Service arc reluctant to share information, sources or resources with each other. They claim that "if Saddam asks the NSC [the National Security Council) to conduct a particular investigation...the agencies involved will compete vigorously against each other to produce the best result and may even try to sabotage each other's efforts" [Boyne, "Inside Iraq's Security Network - Part One," p. 313]. It is doubtful that these agencies would suddenly begin to cooperate and coordinate their efforts with Saddam's strong hand no longer holding the reins.
38 Since the March 1991 Shiite intifada in the south, Saddam has relied increasingly on the tribes to provide daily low-level security in the countryside - for example, to apprehend army deserters and prevent guerilla infiltration - in order to relieve some of the demands on his thinly-spread forces. He has channelled money and arms to the tribes, resulting in the emergence of private militias in the countryside. Certainly, these are not strong enough to challenge the military or security services, but they are well enough armed to engage local rivals in deadly battles. For example, a major confrontation erupted between two tribes near al-Hayy, south of Kut, over a land dispute. A multi-tribe battle reportedly followed in which howitzers were used, leaving 266 dead and 422 wounded (Baram, "Neo-tribalism in Iraq," pp. 18).
39 According to the sixth report of the executive chairman on the activities of the Special Commission (UNSCOM), remnants of some 50 proscribed conventional missile warheads have not been recovered. No pieces of seven indigenously produced training missiles, allegedly unilaterally destroyed in 1991, have been recovered. No evidence of 550 mustard-filled shells that Iraq claims were lost shortly after the Gulf war has been found. The accounting for some 500 R-400 aerial bombs - filled with either chemical or biological warfare agents- has not been possible. Iraq claims to have produced only 3.9 tonnes in total of the chemical warfare agent VX. UNSCOM believes that it was able to produce this agent in quantity, but cannot verify precisely how much was produced. Moreover, Iraq denies that it had weaponized VX, a claim that was undercut when the analysis of 46 fragments of special missile warheads at a U.S. laboratory in the spring of 1998 revealed VX degradation products. UNSCOM has not been able to verify the production and destruction of 21 declared biological weapons missile warheads filled with anthrax and botulinum toxin. It cannot validate Iraq's account of the drop tank and aerosol generator projects for dissemination of biological weapons agents. Nor can it confirm the material balance of biological weapons bulk agents or growth media [U.N., United Nations Special Commission, Report of the Executive Chairman on the Activities of the Special Commission Established by the Secretary-General Pursuant to Paragraph 9 (b)(i) of Resolution 687 (1991) (S/1998/920), October 6, 1998, pp. 6-11].
40 Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan announced on December 19, that UNSCOM inspectors would not be allowed to return to Iraq. This intensified divisions in the Security Council over the future of the Special Commission and its chairman as well as over the sanctions regime.
41 I am indebted to Capt. Steve Maddison, Canadian Department of National Defence, for drawing my attention to the downside of WMD use in factional fighting.
42 Jonathan B. Tucker, "The Biological Weapons Threat," Current History, April 1997, pp. 170-171.
44 U.N., United Nations Special Commission, Report of the Executive Chairman on the Activities of the Special Commission Established by the Secretary-General Pursuant to Paragraph 9 (b) (i) of Resolution 687 (1991) (S/1998/920), October 6, 1998, p. 8.
45 Estimate given in a April 2, 1991 appeal from Turkish President Ozal to the U.N. Security Council requesting emergency assistance for Kurdish refugees along the Iraqi-Turkish border. Six days later, the governor of the south-cast region in Turkey estimated the number of refugees at 400,000 [Keesing's Record of World Events, vol. 37, no. 4, April 1991, p. 38128].
46 Mahmut Bali Aykan. "Turkey's Policy in Northern Iraq, 1991-95," Middle £astern Studies 32, October 1996, pp. 345-346.
47 Keesing’s Record of World Events, vol. 37, no. 4, April 1991, p. 38128
48 It was not clear from the report whether this would have been in addition to the estimated 5,000 Turkish troops that currently operate on a more or less continuous basis in northern Iraq.
49 "Turkey Ready for Buffer Zone Against Possible Influx of Refugees from Iraq," BBC Monitoring Summary of World Broadcasts. Part 4-The Middle East, February 11, 1998, p. 14
50 Aykan, "Turkey's Policy in Northern Iraq," p. 353.
51 As part of the U.S.-brokered reconciliation agreement signed in Washington on September 17, 1998, the leaders of the two principal Iraqi Kurdish factions - Masoud Barzani of the KDP and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) - agreed 10 prevent the PKK from operating in the northern enclave.
52 This alliance came under strain recently when, in mid-April of last year, elite Turkish military forces abducted a senior PKK leader, Semdin Sakik, from Dohouk in northern Iraq; Sakik had surrendered to the KDP in March. Speaking on behalf of the KDP, Necirvan Barzani, nephew and son-in-law of the KDP leader, condemned the act as a "theft which will seriously harm the current warm relations and intensive cooperation between Turkey and the Kurdistan Democracy Party" ["Necirvan Barzani on Sakik Operation: Was It Worth Ruining Our Relations?" Turkish Daily News, April 16, 1998].
53 Once again, I thank Dr. Judith Yaphe for drawing my attention to this risk of spill-over, one to which, as she rightly points out, Iraq's neighbors would undoubtedly be extremely sensitive.
54 In the spring of last year, Iraq accused Turkish President Suleyman Demirel of renewing his country's claims to jurisdiction over Mosul Province in remarks made at the War Staff Colleges in Istanbul on May 16. An Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman commented "[w]e were surprised by these remarks by the Turkish president, which are not in harmony with the aforesaid principles [of good neighbourliness, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-interference in each other's domestic affairs, and the historical, religious and cultural ties between the peoples of the two countries] nor with historical facts" ["Iraqi spokesman criticizes Turkish president's remarks on Mosul," BBC Monitoring Summary of World Broadcasts: Part 4 - The Middle East, May 19, 1998, p. 5]. However, a careful reading of the president's speech reveals that, contrary to the Iraqi interpretation, he was not asserting title to the region but, rather, was expressing his country's frustration with the power vacuum there that allows the PKK to use it as a base from which to kill Turkish soldiers and civilians [Suleyman Demirel, Speech to the War Staff Colleges, Istanbul. May 16, 1998 (translated)].
55 Ragheed al-Solh, "More than Meets the Eye to the U.S. Sanctions Policy Against Iraq," Mideast Mirror, December 3, 1997.
56 I am indebted to Dr. Ben Lombardi, Directorate of Strategic Analysis, Canadian Department of National Defence, for this insight.
57 Leon Barkho, "France, Russia Awaiting Iraqi Oil," Associated Press, February 7, 1998.
58 U.N. Security Council Resolution l 153, passed unanimously on February 20, 1998, increased the limit for Iraqi oil exports to $5.256 billion every 180 days. At the end of December, Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh rejected any extension of the oil-for-food program, and said that Iraq would require some 400 U.N. monitors to leave the country [Louis Meixler, "Iraq Won't Extend Oil-Food Program," Associated Press, December 28, 1998]. He later qualified his remarks, saying that Iraq had no immediate plans to expel the monitors. However, he repeated Baghdad's position that the program was only a temporary measure, and that sanctions should be lifted [Louis Meixler, "Iraq Backs Off Oil-Food Rejection," Associated Press, December 28, 1998).
59 Two carriers and over 40 other ships, 350 aircraft, and some 29,900 troops were directly involved in Operation Desert Fox. This force was reduced to one carrier and more than 24 other ships, 200 aircraft and 20,000 troops at year's end [Laura Myers, "U.S. Reduces Persian Gulf Force," Associated Press, December 31, 1998]. Since the end of the Gulf War, the estimated cost for the periodic buildup of U.S. forces over and above the normal annual cost of maintaining forces in the region is approximately $7 billion [David Briscoe, "U.S. Attack on Iraq Costs $500 Mil," Associated Press, December 19, 1998].
60 On December 26, Vice President Ramadan told Qatar's al-Jazeera television that Iraq would fire on coalition aircraft patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones. The United States responded that it would "vigorously" enforce the zones. In the ensuing two weeks, American warplanes fired on hostile Iraqi air defense batteries on three separate occasions, and engaged several Iraqi aircraft penetrating the southern zone, the first air-to-air confrontation in six years; no Iraqi planes were hit, though one crashed after it apparently ran out of fuel [Robert Burns, "U.S., Iraqi Planes in Dogfight," Associated Press, January 5, 1998].
61 U.S., Congress, House, Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, H.R. 4655, 105th Cong., 2nd sess., 1998.