Iraq: October 18, 2000


Iraq appears to have entered an extended period of transition to a new leader, Qusay Hussein, the second son of Saddam. Saddam has spoken openly of the eventual succession of his son, fueling speculation that he is in poor health, although no actual evidence of such ill health is known. Saddam's brief and rambling speech on 17 July, compared to hours-long fiery orations in past years, also fueled talk of his impending death. London-based newspapers have reported that foreign doctors are in Baghdad to treat Saddam for cancer with chemotherapy, but no confirmed details are known. Qusay appears to have gained the upper hand over his older brother, Oday, in a power struggle over the last decade. Qusay is in charge of intelligence operations, and largely controls most of the government agencies except foreign policy. He also commands the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, and the Special Protection Team (which guards top officials). Qusay is said to be in top shape, getting regular exercise and playing sports in public. There is relatively little chance of Iraq collapsing after Saddam dies because Qusay already has a firm grip on power. Baghdad is surrounded by the ultra-elite units of the Special Republican Guard, whose loyalty to the regime is unquestioned. Oday was left in poor health after a 1996 assassination attempt left him partially paralyzed. Oday controls only the state media and his own small security force. Qusay controls a battalion of special forces responsible to monitor the state media. Oday has alienated key members of Saddam's inner circle. He divorced his wife, the daughter of the powerful Izzat Ibrahim (Vice Chairman of the powerful Revolutionary Command Council) and tried to take over as head of the parliament before Saddam put a stop to this move. Oday is said to have attempted suicide when Qusay was officially named as Saddam's successor. Iraq is a defacto dictatorship, and its presidency is a gold mine of corruption. Saddam controls the nation's wealth and ensures that he and his inner circle have anything they want. Iraq has the world's second-largest proven oil reserves, and its potential reserves may be the largest. A palace coup would be driven by a desire to control this wealth. Many in the Ba'ath Party feel that succession should come through the Party structure rather than Saddam's family. Qusay has bought lavish gifts for key party officials to gain their loyalty. There is virtually no chance of a coup by low-level officers due to the intense internal security and the fierce loyalty of the Republican Guard. After Operation Desert Fox in 1998, Iraq's military was reorganized to place the most loyal leaders (Izzat Ibrahim, parliamentary speaker Mohammad al-Zubeidi, Defense Minister Ahmed Sultan, and Staff General Ali Hasan al-Majid) in control over the four military regions. Any of these men could challenge Qusay for power. Equally unlikely is a challenge for power from the Kurdish areas in the north or the Shi'ite areas of the south. Neither Iran nor Turkey would accept an independent Kurdish state on their borders as it would be a base for guerrilla operations in their own Kurdish areas. For Iran to kindle a Shi'ite rebellion would spark a new Iran-Iraq War, and the Gulf Arabs would not accept Iranian control of southern Iraq.--Stephen V Cole 


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