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Iraq - Unrest's Global Intelligence Update - 7 September 2000

What in the world is going on?

The Balkan Crime Problem

Continued Border Tensions Between Thailand and Laos

Uzbekistan Profits from Sino-Russian Rivalry

Unrest Expected Amid Rumors of Saddam's Ill Health


Saddam Hussein may have cancer. The Iraqi president's health is
difficult to determine, but the effects on Iraqi domestic policy are
straightforward. Rumors about Hussein's health are historically
followed by internal unrest, and increased powers for his heir apparent
Qusai Hussein.   


The Middle East is abuzz with rumors that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein 
suffers from lymphatic cancer. He isreportedly under the care of French, 
German and Swiss doctors in a villa-turned-hospital outside of Baghdad. 
Hussein's son Qusai is heading a family committee that would run the 
country if his father is unable. 

The state of Hussein's health is difficult to verify but the
consequences of the rumor are much more simple. Hussein's physical
state immediately affects activities of any potential opposition. If
history is any guide, we can expect a purge and a power transfer to
follow in the next few months.  

The Iraqi opposition broke the cancer story in July, and the London-based 
Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat revived it, along with additional information from an anonymous Iraqi
doctor in a Sept. 3 report. This isn't the first time Hussein has been
linked with the disease  his health has been in question for the last
five years.
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The cancer rumors first emerged in January 1996, and Hussein himself
denied their veracity. Again, the cancer was described as lymphatic.
The story flared for a week or two, but Hussein continued to live, and
the story died down. 

But events suggest that others consider Hussein weak. A month after the 
cancer announcement a top Iraqi defector returned to Baghdad. Hussein 
Kamal Hassan - the architect of the Iraqi arms program - returned from 
self-exile in Jordan, only to be executed within a week of his arrival.
His death marked the start of a small purge of his family members by 
Hussein's forces. 

Hussein then increased preparations for his succession. In March 1996, 
he placed his son Qusai the head of a special security body charged 
with protecting the president. 

For more on the Iraq, see:

Two years later, in October 1998, Israeli television reported new rumors 
that Hussein was ill. Again, the Iraqi president proclaimed his health, 
but moved quickly to stabilize the situation. This gave more power to his 
heir apparent Qusai, who then oversaw a massive crackdown against the 
Shia opposition in southern Iraq. Iraqi opposition reported hundreds of 
arrests in November and December 1998, and some 150 executions. 

In both cases, the political unrest that followed rumors of Hussein's poor
health was suppressed and Qusai gained more power. It is possible that 
Hussein is using these rumors as a means to trick his opponents into 
revealing themselves. More likely, his opponents took advantage of a real 
concern about Hussein's health, but were beaten back.   

The recent rumors have some merit. Hussein lost his father and a sibling 
to cancer, according to the Toronto Star. And the president gave only a 
short speech on the July 17 anniversary of the Ba'ath party revolution, 
rather than the multi-hour orations of the past. Hussein's speech was 
rambling, almost mystical, as he compared the revolution to "the smile 
of a baby, the prayer of a hermit and rain falling on parched land," 
according to The Times. 

We expect to see another bout of political unrest, either from within 
Hussein's inner circle or from the opposition within Iraq. This too, 
will be suppressed, as will more power transfer to Qusai, the next 
leader of Iraq.


For more on the Middle East & Africa, see:

(c) 2000 Stratfor, Inc.

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