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Stratfor report on Iraq

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Global Intelligence Update
March 23, 1999

Conflicting Reports Suggest Interesting Possibilities in Iraq


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.


* 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 

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 
[].  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 []. 
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 

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.


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