Could a Baath-Ruled Sunni Junta Take over?

Although US President George W. Bush gave Iraqi prime minister Nouri Maliki a rousing vote of support and confidence in at least five different ways after their breakfast meeting in Amman on Thursday, Nov. 30, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that Baghdad insiders were not impressed.

They saw the US president’s accolade for the Shiite prime minister as being marred by his own telling phrase:

“One of Maliki’s criticisms of me is that we’ve been slow to provide him with the tools to stop the violence.”

This withholding of tools is seen by Iraqis as representing the true US attitude towards the Iraqi government. Even if a genuine desire has now developed to “accelerate” the transfer of “military capacity” to the Iraq government, it will be too little and too late to rein in the sectarian rampage.

In any case, many in the Iraqi capital believe the memo in which US national security adviser Stephen Hadley expresses doubts of Maliki’s competence to get a grip on the sectarian violence was deliberately leaked on the day of his scheduled face to face with Bush.

This evidence of Washington’s lack of confidence in the Iraqi prime minister appears to have fueled a scheme, which DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources have got wind of, for a military coup d’etat in Baghdad which some influential circles are floating as the only way to pull the country out of its sectarian bloodbath. This option has not been bruited up front in Washington; not did it rate mention in Amman during the Bush-Maliki summit. But its presence as a possible option – not yet a conspiracy – lurks in some backstage discussions.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington, Baghdad and Gulf report that policy-makers and key advisers have come to recognize that a strong national government is essential for saving Iraq from the sectarian and religious slaughter dragging the country into the abyss, for restoring control and security and for keeping the oil industry out of sectarian hands.


A multi-sectarian ruling council dedicated to Iraq’s integrity


According to some rumors, the hypothetical putsch would establish a revolutionary council built around young-generation officers in the military and security forces, which were established in the last three years. It would be ruled by senior Baathist officers who served under Saddam Hussein.

Iraq’s accelerated descent into chaos has lent the ex-Baathists a certain street glamour, especially among Sunni Arabs, who see them as the only professionals experienced in building barriers against the spread of Iranian influence in Iraq and Baghdad.

The revolutionary council’s members, drawn from the main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities, would share a commitment to the ideal of strong central government in a unified Iraq, an ideal which is compatible with the US interest in a non-partitioned Iraq and the prevention of national oil resources from falling into Kurdish and Shiite hands. Influential figures in all three communities fear the breakup of Iraq would plunge the country into a civil war whose end no one can predict.

While some Iraqi power brokers tend to promote such a coup as the only chance of pacifying Iraq, they appreciate that the step would stand on its head the democracy ideal held fervently by President Bush. On the other hand, it holds the bleak attractiveness of a last resort.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources have assembled some of the salient points of the fledgling scheme:

Even if Maliki is persuaded to step aside, as the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group will reportedly recommend next week, the Shiite-dominated parliament will not vote for a replacement dedicated to purging the Shiite militias and death squads in order to sterilize the Shiite side of the sectarian conflict. These lawmakers will be even more squeamish about electing a Sunni Arab or Kurdish prime minister.

This impasse confronts the Americans with an irony: The only way to extricate Iraq from the Sunni-Shiite civil conflict, which is sinking Iraq’s democracy, is to partially reverse the democratic process – although not all the way. There is no need to junk Iraqi democracy completely – only to put some of its elements on hold for the emergency.

The projected revolutionary council would have to defer to the elected president, the Kurdish Jalal Talabani and his Shiite and Sunni deputies, to win their sanction as a provisional government. It would hold office for a year to two, or for the duration of the emergency.


The Green Zone – an easy target for a putsch


The council could nominate one of its members or a civilian as acting prime minister. He would have to take an oath of loyalty to the president and the council. Parliament would be suspended until the sectarian war, guerrilla insurgency and jihadist terror are subdued and the country stabilized.

Its proponents see no reason why the United States should interfere with the military takeover of power or withhold cooperation so long as the presidential council endorses the revolutionary body as a provisional emergency entity entrusted with restoring security and stability. When that is achieved, the council will call a general election and restore democratic rule.

Iraqi military experts have told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the epicenter of the Iraqi national government, though fortified, is so centralized that it could be overpowered quite quickly by a relatively small number of putschists. Most ministries, ruling institutions and the legislatively assembly are enclosed in the Green Zone. If the security units on duty can be persuaded to look the other way, all these key power points can be seized in a single stroke by a few hundred men.

It is rumored that a group of Iraq security and intelligence officers with access to the Green Zone are already drawing up a plan of assault. Some of the reports reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly from Middle East sources also indicate that a small group of active planners has been bolstered of late by ex-officers of Saddam’s army. They are drawn together by their revulsion from the tit-for-tat butchery tearing through Iraq and see the spiral rising rather than abating.

Some reports speak of former Iraqi Baath officers and soldiers training in Jordan and Gulf emirates and preparing to return home.

At all events, this is the first time a multi-sectarian Iraqi group has shown willingness to pull together for action to grapple with the runaway violence, even at the price of reverting to some of the bad old ways.

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