Iraqi Overthrow of Hussein Attractive for U.S., but Unrealistic
Jordan Trying To Neutralize Threats Ahead of U.S. WarSTRATFOR * 25 September 2002 *
Washington is facing a dilemma about whether to depend on factions of the Iraqi army to rise up and overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In the end the United States will launch a conventional war while using Iraqi opposition members as an auxiliary force, which likely will cause Iraqi citizens to rally around Hussein in defending their country from invasion.
The U.S. war against Iraq when it comes will trigger instability throughout the Middle East and will be especially unsettling for Baghdad's Arab neighbors. Jordan, for one, will come under pressure from many corners.
Former Iraqi Gen. Nizar al-Khazraji, the chief of staff in Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War and now in exile in Denmark, recently warned that a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would spell a "very dark future for all," while saying that the Iraqi army is the best hope for bringing down Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the BBC reports.
Washington would prefer for both military and political reasons that the Iraqis themselves overthrow Hussein. But, unsure about the success and consequences of such a scenario, the Bush administration instead will proceed with a conventional war-fighting strategy. Iraq's armed opposition will be used as an auxiliary force, while the possibility that the country's army will topple Hussein during the war will remain the best, but still uncertain, hope to finish the battle quickly.
However, an invasion by U.S. forces also is likely to cause many Iraqis to rally around Hussein, leaving no easy solution and a big, messy war ahead, with all of the U.S. might on one side and millions of Iraqis on the other.
If officials in the Iraqi army got rid of Hussein, it certainly would save Washington a lot of trouble, including serious military casualties. The Iraqi option would reap significant geopolitical benefits, too. Without the need for extensive U.S. air power or major deployments of U.S. forces, the backlash against Washington in the Muslim world would be avoided, and the U.S. relationship with its Arab allies would be preserved.
There also would be a much lower risk of damage to oil infrastructure in the region due to collateral damage caused by U.S. bombing and desperate acts of destruction by Hussein if he feels he is close to losing the battle.
However, the Bush administration is not likely to give the Iraqi opposition a chance. The likelihood of a successful revolt by Iraqi exiles and soldiers without the direct support of U.S. forces is low. Al-Khazraji volunteered to lead a rebel army into the country consisting of a couple of thousand or so former Iraqi officers who defected abroad and who would command several thousand Sunni Iraqi emigrants in the best-case scenario.
Iraqi Kurd and Shiite populations both oppose the Sunni-minority government Hussein represents, but this long has been the case, and Hussein is still in power. They are unlikely to join the ranks of an opposition army. Moreover, Kurds accuse al-Khazraji and virtually all other Iraqi officers, be they in exile or still in the country, of war crimes committed against them for decades. So al-Khazraji would have to rely only on Iraqi Sunni emigrants.
This would leave him with a force not nearly big enough to defeat the Iraqi army. The likelihood of mass desertions from the army once the general's army crosses the border is extremely low, while the probability that just one brigade of Iraqi Republican Guard Corps will crash the armed opposition within days is very high.
A rebellion against Hussein by active-duty officers is the best hope for al-Khazraji and Washington. While in exile Al-Khazraji preserved ideal links with some current Iraqi commanders who could rebel either on their own or in conjunction with the opposition army as it makes a thrust from the borders. However, the total control that Hussein and his security apparatus exercise over the armed forces drastically decreases the chances of successfully organizing an armed coup.
Furthermore, Hussein has replaced the army's senior- and middle- officer corps several times since al-Khazraji emigrated. Whatever ties he had most likely are broken, and there are few that remain who wish to risk their lives for such a precarious plan.
Washington also must think about the consequences of this option. Even if the Bush administration manages to get all disunited anti- Hussein opposition groups to act at the same time, their forces would not be strong enough to defeat Iraq's military machine. But even if a military coup against Hussein were to succeed, this most likely would force an ethic civil war in the country.
Kurds would fight for their independence and never bow to a new Sunni government in Baghdad, especially if there are no U.S. forces supporting the new regime. The Shiites, Iraq's religious majority, also would secede and probably start a war for control of all Arab- populated areas of Iraq.
So, in order to secure the complete success of its Iraq plans, the United States is likely to go ahead with its own massive attack while also using Iraqi armed opposition forces.
However, according to a detailed military plan the Pentagon presented to U.S. President George W. Bush, it seems that the ousting of Hussein by Iraqi army commanders is seen as the only practical solution to the question of how to take Baghdad and successfully finish the war without major casualties, the New York Times recently reported. London's The Daily Telegraph also reported Sept. 24 that Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, plans not to target Iraqi army soldiers specifically in the hope that they will defect.
But in defending Baghdad, Hussein will use only his most loyal units, such as Republican Guards brigades. Although some Iraqi commanders may well entertain thoughts of dealing with Hussein when the U.S. bombs fall, these officers would not get an opportunity to get close enough to him to attack. Moreover, they would not even know where he and his inner circle were located at that point. So although desertions of whole units are possible, the overthrowing of Hussein by Iraqi officers is much less likely.
Although U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice recently said that the United States wishes to be seen as "liberators" promoting "democratization or the march of freedom in the Muslim world," the rest of the Arab world is unlikely to see it that way, especially during an Iraq war.
Many Iraqis support Hussein more out of fear than love, but they also have little love for the United States. They blame Washington for the enormous hardships suffered during the U.S.-imposed sanctions regime, including as alleged by U.S. and international human rights groups hundreds of thousands dead from starvation due to blockades and many civilian casualties as a result of U.S. bombings.
When the war starts, Iraqi soldiers and the populace will see American forces as invaders and occupants, and many will rally around Hussein as the only leader capable of offering an organized and strong resistance to "foreign oppressors."
History is full of examples of citizens uniting even behind dictators against foreign invaders. For example, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Russians and people in other then-Soviet nations, even the people the Soviet security apparatus had repressed before the war, rallied solidly behind Joseph Stalin. Those who collaborated with the invading Germans got killed by guerrillas. The Iraqi officers who would rebel against Hussein during a U.S.-Iraq war also could be considered traitors by many in the country and treated accordingly.
All of this suggests that there is no easy option available for the United States. There will be mass desertions by the Iraqis, but it is unrealistic to hope that the whole Iraqi army or the 29-million- strong population will switch sides and give American forces the kind of welcome they received in Paris in 1944. This realization is probably the most serious reason why preparations for this war by both the Bush administration and the Pentagon are taking so much time and effort and so many turns.
Once a U.S. war against Iraq starts, many Middle Eastern governments will be under enormous pressure, especially Jordan. Facing problems concerning its oil supply, political opposition and potential infiltration by Iraqi agents, the tiny kingdom will maneuver in the coming days to neutralize potential threats. Although it is too early to say what the outcome will be, the opposition likely will respond with its own efforts to counter the government.
A key pressure point, and one that will define Jordan's relationship with its neighbors, is the country's oil supply. Right now Jordan depends heavily upon cheap Iraqi oil. Baghdad provides the kingdom with an estimated 102,000 barrels of oil per day, about half of it for free, reports the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration. Replacing those supplies during a U.S. war against Iraq could cost the Jordanian government as much as $50,000 a day, according to some estimates.
The New York-based daily Newsday, quoting Western diplomats and Jordanian officials, recently reported that the United States has agreed to replace Jordan's oil supplies from Iraq in exchange for permission for U.S. forces to use the country as a base for conducting operations in western Iraq. Striking such a deal with Washington, however, could put the government into a difficult position domestically.
Opposition groups led by the Islamic Action Front (IAF) the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood have strongly opposed Jordanian cooperation with the U.S. military against Iraq. In late August and early September, American Marines conducted exercises with the Jordanian military, which the IAF loudly criticized. The government was forced to announce repeatedly when the U.S. troops were departing in order to counter rumors that they were building bases in Jordan's eastern desert.
The monarchy's relationship with its political opposition has worsened over the last few months. In mid-August, King Abdullah II announced that parliamentary elections would be postponed until early 2003. The king had already twice put off the polls since the 80-seat parliament was dissolved in June 2001 at the end of its four-year mandate.
Legally, Abdullah has up to two years to postpone elections, and doing so right now makes sense, since campaign politicking would likely stir up tensions among the country's competing political and ethnic factions and increase the likelihood of instability. But by locking the opposition out of political participation, Abdullah risks alienating and radicalizing a constituency otherwise willing to play by the rules both formal and informal for retaining seats in the legislature.
Indeed, there are already signs that the IAF is trying to both counter government pressure and find its own pressure point against the regime. In mid-September, the Islamist party launched an anti- corruption drive, calling on Jordanian citizens to file complaints of corruption and violations of the law by members of political parties and public officials with its own anti-corruption committee. The campaign mimics a similar anti-corruption drive conducted by the government and run by Jordan's General Intelligence Department, United Press International reports.
The IAF's plan may be to gather information about public officials and their backroom political dealings in a bid to blackmail the government. The IAF is expected to win a significant number of seats in the parliamentary elections when they are finally held and it may hope that possessing sensitive information about government dealings will give it the lever it needs to fend off a possible government intervention should it win a majority of seats. Gathering intelligence, however, may also bring the IAF into direct conflict with Jordan's intelligence agency.
The power struggle between the government and opposition groups like the IAF will be played out over the coming months. As Amman positions itself to withstand the instability triggered by a U.S. military campaign against Iraq, and perhaps eventually a regime change in Baghdad, the political opposition will be seeking measures including possibly leveling charges at the government of corruption and collusion with American forces in order to take advantage of the coming instability and strengthen its own position in Jordanian politics.
The key audience that both sides will play to is the Palestinians, who account for about half of Jordan's 5 million people and are highly politicized. Though some are Jordanian citizens, many are refugees resulting from Israel's seizure of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and they continue to oppose Israel.
During the first Persian Gulf War between Iraq and the United States, Jordan backed Iraq. Iraq lobbed Scud missiles at Israel, and President Saddam Hussein repeatedly condemned the Jewish state. This won him widespread support among the Palestinian diaspora in Jordan. All the indicators suggest that Amman has switched sides now and in a second campaign would back Washington. But this position will be highly unpopular among the country's Palestinians, who oppose the United States because of its close support for Israel. Stirring up tensions among the Palestinians would be an easy way for an opponent of the government to create instability in Jordan. According to the United Nations, there are 1.6 million Palestinian refugees in Israel, and more than 280,000 of these live in refugee camps.
Finally, there is the possibility that Baghdad or groups like al Qaeda may try to instigate political upheaval in Jordan as a way to undercut the U.S. military operations there. There is a small Iraqi expatriate population (about 100,000 people) living in the kingdom, and there is concern among both the Jordanian and Western governments that Iraqi government agents may be mixed in with the community. Also, militants linked to al Qaeda have been arrested in Jordan in the past, and though no evidence in recent days has pointed to the existence of cells there, it's a possibility that Amman will need to consider.
King Abdullah apparently has tried and failed to dissuade the Bush administration from launching a war against Baghdad. Knowing that the conflict is inevitable, Abdullah now will begin preparing for the fallout.
Whether the Hashemite monarchy can survive will be a key question for Jordan, Iraq and U.S. military planners. At this stage, Abdullah appears secure and capable of working with the United States. He does, however, have a number of opponents arrayed against him that will try to exploit the war next door to take down, or at the very least neuter, the monarchy.
John Wilmerding, Convener and List Manager
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