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Stratfor Intelligence Services -- Helping businesses make better, more informed decisions every day. http://www.stratfor.com/services __________________________________ STRATFOR's Global Intelligence Update March 23, 1999 Conflicting Reports Suggest Interesting Possibilities in Iraq Summary: 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. Analysis: * 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 al-Sa'dun. 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 [http://www.stratfor.com/services/giu/031199.asp]. 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 [http://www.stratfor.com/services/giu/042298.asp]. 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 military. 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. ___________________________________________________ To receive free daily Global Intelligence Updates, sign up on the web at: http://www.stratfor.com/services/giu/subscribe.asp or send your name, organization, position, mailing address, phone number, and e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org ___________________________________________________ STRATFOR, Inc. 504 Lavaca, Suite 1100 Austin, TX 78701 Phone: 512-583-5000 Fax: 512-583-5025 Internet: http://www.stratfor.com/ Email: email@example.com -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email firstname.lastname@example.org, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html