Iraqi Leader Vulnerable but Still in Control
By Walter Pincus
President Saddam Hussein's control over Iraq remains strong but an attack on his son last December "underscores the constant possibility of a sudden and violent change of regime in Iraq," according to a CIA report sent to Congress last June and released yesterday by the Senate intelligence committee.
Although the Baghdad regime has blamed Iranian agents for the attempted assassination of the Iraqi leader's son, Uday, which left him unable to walk, the agency said "a regime insider may have been involved in the operation" which also showed that Saddam Hussein's security services, "while still pervasive and powerful are not invulnerable."
Overall, CIA analysts said the Iraqi leader faced continued threats from a steady exodus of high-level defectors and "widespread frustration and resentment from within his own family and inner circle." One group claiming credit for the assassination attempt against Uday said it acted in retaliation for the execution of a former general in the Iraqi ruler's inner circle who came from Saddam Hussein's Tikriti clan.
"The incident demonstrates that the regime's existence depends on the ability of its security services to fend off the host of disaffected Iraqis," the report said.
Nonetheless, "Iraqi elites are held in line by their fear of the security services and uncertainty over what might happen to them if Saddam were overthrown," according to unclassified answers to a series of questions on Iraq posed by the committee following CIA Director George J. Tenet's testimony last February on current and projected national security threats to the United States.
The report was prepared before the current confrontation between Iraq and the United Nations over access for U.N. arms inspectors to sites suspected of forming part of Saddam Hussein's program to build weapons of mass destruction.
If Saddam Hussein were overthrown or assassinated, CIA analysts wrote, his successor "most likely . . . would be Arab Sunni military leaders who probably would share some of Saddam's policies and outlook." And although these new leaders "would favor a militarily strong Iraq," CIA analysts "believe there would be powerful incentives for a successor regime to moderate Iraq's behavior so that it could rejoin the international community in good standing."
The fall of Saddam Hussein "could lead to a period of anarchy in Iraq," according to the CIA, but would not necessarily cause the country to disintegrate, as some commentators have suggested. Most groups opposing Saddam Hussein, such as the Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south, "share a sense of Iraqi nationhood and would recognize the economic and security benefits of a united Iraq," according to the CIA analysts.
Saddam Hussein's incursion into Kurdish territory in northern Iraq last year has led to increased trade and "modestly increased" Baghdad's influence in the area. The two Kurdish groups that continue to maintain militias there have not ended their rivalry and thus their opposition to Saddam Hussein, at one time supported by the CIA, has been "inhibited," according to agency analysts.
In the south, the Iraqi leadership has rotated army forces in response to hit-and-run attack by a few thousand Shia guerrillas who "have maintained a low-level insurgency against the regime," the report said.
Saddam Hussein's army is half the size it was when it invaded Kuwait in 1990 and its capabilities have continued to diminish "marginally" over the past four years "due to the effects of the arms embargo and economic sanctions."
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