For more than 20 years, layers of security and a network of spies and informers have kept Saddam Hussein securely in power and safe from assassination. On more than a dozen occasions, the Iraqi president has brutally put down anyone who tried to kill or dethrone him. But after his rout last week, Hussein’s days finally seemed numbered. In the Tigris River city of Basra on Saturday, according to U.S. intelligence, there was “chaos” as returning troops and civilians took to the streets in protest against Hussein. Earlier, there was an unconfirmed report in the French daily newspaper Le Monde that Hussein had applied for refuge in Algeria.
In Washington, President George Bush reiterated his hope that the Iraqi people would overthrow Hussein. Still, many analysts said that there was no obvious alternative. Shaul
Bakhash, a Middle East scholar at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., commented: “In a way, it is a good thing that Hussein is left to confront the problems of construction and account to the Iraqi people for what he has done.”
Enormous: The problems were enormous. Experts estimated that the restoration of Iraq’s communications, power, water and other essential public services would take years and cost tens of billions of dollars. But after a generation of brutal Arab Baathist Socialist Party rule, the exiled Iraqi opposition is badly fragmented, without any internal power base. Meanwhile, the Americans had to tread cautiously. Any regime backed by Washington was “almost sure to fail,” said an administration official who requested anonymity. Under those circumstances, the only alternative to continued rule by Hussein, by other members of his ruling Revolutionary Command Council or by the army seemed to be anarchy. And that, said
many observers, might tempt Iraq’s neighbors Turkey and Iran to seize coveted border areas and create new regional instability.
In the past few weeks, two main centres of opposition to Hussein’s regime have developed outside Iraq— one in Damascus, the Syrian capital, and the other in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. The Damascus group, backed by Syria and Iran and calling itself the Joint Action Committee, appears to be better organized. But it is a shaky Caution of 17 widely disparate parties, including Shiite fundamentalists, Communists, Kurdish nationalists, pan-Arabists and Western-style democrats. They appear mainly to have in common a loathing of Hussein. A rival group backed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia appeared more likely to win favor in Washington. But its appeal to Iraqis is narrower because it consists largely of wealthy businessmen, exiled army officers and tribal elders.
Recently, the Saudi government tried unsuccessfully to forge links between the Riyadh and Damascus groups. Another attempt could come
next week, when representatives of all Iraqi opposition factions are scheduled to meet in Beirut to discuss options and tactics. But even if they agree to join forces, analysts rate their prospects of success as dim. Said Rosemary Hollis, a Middle East expert at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute: “The problem with all these groups is that there are so many of them and they are all outside the country.” Uprising: Many observers say that the most likely people to overthrow Hussein are his people. Abdullah Jaber al-Badran, a Kuwaiti student who had travelled to Basra to get food for his family, told the Financial Times of London that there had been a popular uprising against Hussein. “The people cheered and shouted, ‘Saddam is finished,’ ” he said. Robert Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia who is now a Middle East expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that “there is absolutely no way to predict who will take over from Saddam Hussein, but most likely it will be the military person who gets to kill him.” Other analysts speculated that even if the military did take over, they were too discredited to be able to hold on to power for long. Eric Hooglund, an editor of the Washington-based Middle East Report, said that “the senior leaders of the Baathist party would be the most natural to take over.” He cautioned, however, that they were likely to be just as conspiratorial and repressive as Hussein, and unlikely to be “friendly and forgiving” towards members of the victorious coalition. But, added Hooglund, with most of the military in tatters, they could not pose a threat to regional security in the foreseeable future.
Among the possible internal successors noted by Middle East experts: • Taha Yassin Ramadan, Iraq’s first deputy prime minister, who is almost as feared as Hussein himself. He habitually carries a pearlhandled revolver in his belt and has used it against critics of the regime.
• Hussein Kamel al-Majid, Hussein’s cousin and son-in-law. His star has risen at the expense of Ramadan’s in the past two years, and Iraq expert Amatzia Baram of Haifa University calls him “the single most important person after Saddam.” As minister of industry, he oversaw Iraq’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs and, said Baram, is “just as much of a tyrant as Saddam.”
• Ali Hassan al-Majid, another cousin of Hussein’s, who is minister of internal security. Said Baram: “All the atrocities committed in Kuwait are his responsibility.
He is also the man who authorized the poison-gas attack on the Iraqi Kurds in 1988.”
• Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam Hussein’s half brother, who was in charge of internal security until 1984. In that capacity, he allegedly ordered the execution of hundreds of Shiite and Communist members of the opposition. He later became the country’s ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
• Saadoun Hammadi, Iraq’s deputy prime minister. A member of the country’s 55-percent Shiite majority, he is reportedly more widely travelled than any other member of the ruling clique, and he earned a doctorate in agrarian economy at the University of Wisconsin. Said the Middle East Report's Hooglund: “He is quite polished and much more sophisti-
cated about international affairs than other senior members of the Baathist party.”
• Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, who speaks fluent English and is a member of Iraq’s Christian minority. He has the same kind of polish as Hammadi, but he is closely tied to Hussein.
In general, most analysts express little respect for even the more moderate members of
the Revolutionary Command Council. Reviewing the list of possible internal candidates for power in Baghdad, Ofra Bengio of Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies concluded: “They are all culprits, all little Saddam Husseins.” Whether Hussein is quickly overthrown or hangs on to power for the moment, the Bush administration is clearly determined to prevent Iraq from re-arming. Using its vast oil reve-
nues and financial aid from other Arab countries, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Iraq purchased $34.2 billion worth of arms from abroad between 1984 and 1988. More than half of that total came from the Soviet Union, which was Iraq’s closest ally until the Gulf crisis erupted last August. Baghdad’s secondbiggest arms supplier was France, which sold the Iraqi regime more than $3.5 billion worth of warplanes and missiles over the four-year period. China ranked third, with sales of $3.2 billion. The U.S. administration, clearly hoping to prevent the resumption of such trade, has announced that it will press for a continuation of the UN arms embargo against Baghdad, an attitude that is supported by Canada.
Priorities: In any case, whoever rules postwar Iraq will have more immediate priorities than re-armament. The country will need every cent of its huge potential oil revenues simply to restore such essential services as light, heat, water, sewage, roads, bridges and basic health care. As well, Kuwait has demanded massive reparations under the terms of UN Security Council resolutions. As a result, it seems unlikely that any government in Baghdad, whether headed by Hussein or not, will be able to reassert Iraqi influence over its neighbors for a long time to come.
JOHN BIERMAN with ANDREW PHILLIPS in London, MALCOLM GRAY in Moscow, ERIC SILVER in Jerusalem, WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington and MARY NEMETH in Toronto
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.