Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein's recent groundup of alleged high-level plotters against him was a move to stave off what he perceived as a maneuver to force him out of power by forces representing the county's Shiite majority according to reliable French sources.
The French are practically the only Westerners in a position to get substantial amounts of inside information about what goes on in the secretive Iraqi government.
The account they have reconstructed seems to suggest strongly that the prospect of a Syrian-Iraqi federation may suffer because Hussein saw it as part of the attempt by the Iraqi Shiites to get rid of him.
The French account is based on a detailed analysis of the complex Middle East power game and how it has been subtly affected by the Iranian revolution.
Hussein is a Sunni Moslem. The arrest alleged leader of the plot against him is former vice premier Adwan Hussein Hamdani, a Shitt Moslem, the historic rival of the Sunni branch of Islam.
The French say they have heard that there was a showdown session of the ruling revolutionary command council in Baghdad last month during which the Shiite members demanded to know why the county was being ruled by the Sunni majority.
Ever since the Shiite-led revolution in neighboring Iran, Shiites elsewhere in the Middle East have been asserting themselves. They have traditionally been low on the social scale in the Middle East.
Hussein is said to have reacted angrily at the council meeting that Sunnis are only a minority among the dominant Arabs of Iraq, but that if one counts the large Kurdish minority and the smaller Turkoman people of Iraq, the Sunnis are an overall majority. Both minorities, which have been heavily oppressed in Iraq, are largely Sunni.
Hussein is said to have seen the challenge as final proof of a gigantic Shiite machination against him in which the federation with Syria was the key to eliminating him.
This, the French analysts say, led to Hussein's forcing President Hassan Bakr, one of the most ardent proponents of the union with Syria, to resign his post shortly before the wave of arrests of alleged anti-Hussein plotters.
Bakr had met in mid-June with Syrian President Hafez Assad to work out the sharing of power in the federation. Assad is a member of Syria's ruling Alawite minority, a sect that is linked with the Shiites.
Assad and Bakr are said to have worked out a deal under which the Syrian president would become the president of the new federal Syrian-Iraqi state and Bakr would be made head of the combined ruling parties of the two countries. Both countries are ruled by formerly warring branches of the Baath Arab Socialist Party.
Hussein, whose power base is the Iraqi branch of the Baath, is said to have seen this as an attempt to leave him with nothing to lean on.
The French analysts say tht Hussein reacted with a move deliberately designed to undercut the deal between the two presidents.
Instead of Iraq's Bakr becoming head of the combined Baath, Hussein publicly proposed that the post be given to the founder of the Baath, the aged Michel Aflaq. The founder is a Syrian Christian and a declared enemy of Syrian President Assad. Alaq lives as a political exile in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
Combined with the Shiite demands and the rise of Shiism inspired by the Iranian revolution, the form the federation plan had been taking aroused
Hussein's suspicions that the new militancy of the Shiites in the northern tier of the Middle East was about to cost him his dominant position in the Iraqi political system, according to the French.
The Alawites of Syria have always felt themselves to be a basically threatened minority of about 10 percent in a Syrian population that is mostly Sunni. In the new context created by the Iranian revolution, Hussein apparently feared, the French analysts say, that the Alawites would see the opportunity to strengthen their Shiite connections to broaden their ties with a larger community that could come to their aid.
To avert that, Hussein issued a demand that he knew to be unacceptable to Syria's Assad. Then, he moved against Assad's Iraqi ally, Bakr.Paradoxically, the former Iraqi president is also a Sunni, whose power base was the Sunni-run army. CAPTION: Picture, SADDAM HUSSEIN . . . ordered roundup of former allies