World

WHO FOLLOWS SADDAM?

BARRY CAME February 23 1998
World

WHO FOLLOWS SADDAM?

BARRY CAME February 23 1998

WHO FOLLOWS SADDAM?

BARRY CAME

He is, by near-universal agreement, the root of the problem. Even those who oppose a direct military assault against Iraq acknowledge that the best resolution of the crisis would be the fall of Saddam Hussein—dead or alive. Yet there has been precious little debate about what would likely follow the disappearance of Iraq’s long-ruling, utterly ruthless dictator. And therein lies the heart of the dilemma facing U.S. President Bill Clinton. “When Saddam goes, as he inevitably must, he will leave behind a power vacuum at the top in Iraq,” says veteran Iraqi opposition politician Laith Kubba in his self-imposed exile in London. “It is a recipe for chaos.”

The fundamental problem is the com-

plete lack of any even modestly organized alternatives to Saddam, either within Iraq or among the million-strong Iraqi exile community. Iraq’s strongman has proven to be brutally efficient in eliminating potential threats during his three decades in power. He is, after all, the man who once fatally shot his own defence minister for daring to disagree with him during a cabinet meeting. Both Iraqi exiles and foreign diplomats with recent experience in Baghdad report that he is so suspicious that he no longer sees his two daughters, who are under house arrest after Saddam ordered the 1996 murder of their husbands for defecting to Jordan. Even his two favored sons—Uday and Qusay—are said to be kept away from the network of clandestine concrete bunkers Saddam has been haunting ever since he provoked the latest confrontation with the United States.

Saddam may have good reason to regard his sons with a wary eye. The London-based Iraqi exile community has been rife with rumors for many months about a struggle for power between the two over the eventual succession. At the moment, Qusay, in charge of Iraq’s all-pervasive state security system, seems to have the upper hand, if only because Uday is still recovering from wounds he sustained last year when he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. “If Saddam’s end is finally engineered from within his own inner circle,” says Sabbah Mukhtar, another leading member of the London exiles, "it will lkikely involve one or the other of his sons.”

Neither is likely to prove much less bloodthirsty than their father. Qusay was the architect of the recent, infamous “cleansing” of Iraq’s prison system, which saw the execution of all 12,000 inmates serving sentences of more than 15 years. Uday is believed to be behind the murders last month of eight Iraqis in Amman, cold-bloodedly shot to death during a dinner party in the Jordanian capital. Those killings, in fact, signalled another ongoing power struggle between Uday and a third contender for Saddam’s mantle, Barzan al-Takriti. Formerly Iraq’s ambassador to Switzerland, he is Saddam’s half-brother and his daughter is one of Uday’s former wives. “Barzan is someone to be watched,” says opposition politician Kubba. "He has been positioning himself as an alternative, probably with at least some support from the Americans.”

Definitely out of the picture is the London-based Iraqi National Congress. Led by former banker Ahmad Chalabi, the INC was once a broad coalition of 19 Iraqi opposition groups, formed in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. Exile leaders say it was lavishly funded, to the tune of $450,000 per month, by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. It disintegrated, however, in 1996, primarily because the CIA attempted to turn it into an intelligence-gathering operation in northern Iraq. Washington now is believed to be behind the recent formation of the Jordanian-based AI Wafaq (Reconciliation), consisting mainly of former Iraqi military officers and prominent members of the once influential Iraqi Baath party, the two pillars of the Iraqi ruling structure. “The Americans think they are the only two groups powerful enough to overthrow Saddam,” says Kubba. “It’s probably true. But don’t count on it.”