DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and military sources are in no doubt: Saddam will be as good as dead once his American pursuers get hold of him. They report orders issued to US forces not to hesitate if they catch up with the deposed dictator on the lam, or give him the slightest chance to escape. Once in their sights, Saddam will be gunned down just like his late sons Uday and Qusay.
Half-brother Barzan, however, stands a better chance of surviving capture because of the secret knowledge in his head. Washington is well aware that he is the only person alive who knows where Saddam has stashed his billions. All the same, US troops on the hunt for the intelligence and financial kingpin have been told to put a bullet in his head if he looks like getting away.
With events fluid on the ground, the US administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, is stepping up preparations for the establishment of an Iraqi government to fill the power vacuum that will be left by Saddam’s death.
Neither the administration in Washington nor Bremer and his Baghdad staff is keen to repeat American mistakes from the early days of Baghdad’s fall in mid-April. Some form of interim Iraqi government should have been set up without delay, they now realize. Even bad government would have been preferable to the lawless chaos that swept through the metropolis.
Bremer is now aiming to have an Iraq government formed and submitted for approval to the 25-member governing council by August 15. Prominent Iraqis are busy jockeying for ministerial posts. The trouble is that none, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s experts, is fit to head an Iraqi government and provide the country with effective leadership. Of the nine council members selected to serve as rotating presidents, not one has the presence or authority necessary for the high post of president.
The governing council, which is heavy on Shiite representatives, has no Sunni Arab members. Bremer is planning to introduce Sunnis, but any Arab taking his place on the governing council would lose credibility in his community and be branded as a traitor by Arabs across the Middle East.
Then, too, the Kurdish and the Shiite members have little motivation to carry out Washington’s oft-stated goal of creating a free and democratic Iraqi federation. They will cooperate with the Americans, but only as far as US aims coincide with their own interests. For the most part, they clash. Every council member seeks to establish his own mini-state or fief, independent of any outside entities. However, each ethnic or religious grouping must depend on a US military presence in the country to protect its interests, providing Washington with a form of leverage that can be used to realize the goals the Bush administration has set itself for Iraq. Each faction understands, moreover, that American troops are necessary to avert armed clashes among the rival groupings and that Washington is the sole source of desperately needed financial assistance.
The rival groups might therefore be realistic enough to meet Washington’s expectations for the New Iraq, were it not for three intrinsically divisive elements, wildcards that threaten to split the Iraqi pack three ways, as revealed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources:
The Kurds incline towards independence
The former rivals, Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, are campaigning hard for an independent Kurdistan in oil-rich northern Iraq. Talabani is quoted by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources as recently telling associates: “For all we care, the Shiites can split southern Iraq into as many regions as they want. The same holds true for the Arabs (Sunnis) south of us. The main thing is for the Americans to continue to concentrate their forces north and west of Baghdad.”
In short, Talabani, favors partitioning Iraq along nationalist-religious lines. A shrewd politician, he grasps that US forces are not about to leave soon or drop their plan for a federal government centered in Baghdad. So he makes a show of going along with the American perception when he says: “The Kurds will accept a federal system that lets them control northern Iraq and grants them representation in central government commensurate with their demographic strength.”
Nonetheless, the Kurds have been observed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources taking the first steps towards organizing their administration and military on independent lines.
Saudi-backed Sunnis demand Arab-only government
Although the search for Saddam is still unresolved, Sunni Arab factions egged on, funded and supported by Saudi general intelligence, are bending their efforts towards seizing control of central, western and eastern Iraq, the first step towards ridding Baghdad of American influence.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that, while Washington’s attention was fixed on the role Saudi intelligence and funding played in the 9/11 hijackings, Saudi crown prince Abdullah and his intelligence chiefs focused on a strategic decision to upset American plans for the governing council in Baghdad to prepare elections for a federal government.
Riyadh was put out by discovering the decision by the Shiite-dominated governing council to take Iraq out of the Arab League, stripping Iraq of its Arab identity. The Saudis fear that the council’s next steps could lead to Iraq quitting OPEC in which the oil kingdom is the dominant force.
Therefore, the Saudi-US controversy over 28 classified pages of the congressional report covering Saudi complicity in the September 11 attacks may well be dwarfed by the row building up between Washington and Riyadh over Iraq’s future.
The Saudis refuse to hear of any government but one dominated by Arab Sunnis ruling the country. Because they lack the muscle and intelligence assets to force their will on Baghdad, the princes have turned directly to the Sunni Arab tribes with the following initiatives:
1. Persuading Sunni tribal chiefs not to cooperate with US plans – even if Saddam is removed from the equation.
2. Funneling huge sums of money to the tribal leaders and anti-federal factions in the tribes. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources, some of the money may have reached Saddam, Barzan or Ba’athists who may be spending the money to mount guerrilla strikes against American troops.
3. Assigning undercover Saudi agents to setting up a clandestine Saudi network in the Sunni Arab towns and villages where Saddam was king. Their task is to stir up local resistance to the American presence after Saddam is gone. Saudi rings have been planted so far in Tikrit and its environs as well as in Samara, Balad, Falluja, Ramadi and the Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad. They are also active among Arab-Sunni tribes in western and northern Iraq, eastern Syria and Jordan.
Saudi subversive action against American influence and military presence aims at blocking the emergence of the majority Shiite community, which controls the oil fields of southern Iraq, as the dominant power in the land by virtue of its numbers. Riyadh took fright when more than half of the US-appointed governing council members turned out to be Shiites – clerics and politicians. The princes view the rise of a Shiite-dominated federal government in Baghdad as opening the way for a threat that one day Iraqi Shiites will seek to annex Saudia Arabia’s eastern Shiite regions and with them the kingdom’s primary oil fields.
Saudi Arabia’s covert interference in Iraq has prompted a policy reassessment in some US official quarters in Washington and Baghdad. Voices in the Pentagon and the National Security Council have begun calling for expeditious action to pre-empt the Saudi initiative and fill the Sunni Arab vacuum left by the fall of the Baath regime and the projected capture and demise of Saddam Hussein. Those voices hark back to a plan to select an Iraqi Sunni military figure from Saddam’s officer class and set him up as national leader strong enough to correct the current imbalance among Iraq’s main communities and restore social equilibrium.
Backed by Washington, he would have the clout to bring Sunni tribal leaders round to cooperating with the Americans. If the US does not move fast, the Saudis will beat them to it.
Iran stirs up Shiites
Shiite leaders are perfectly candid about their ambition to become the pivotal power in the New Iraq.
However, in the meantime, Iran is attempting to manipulate Iraqi Shiites into serving Iranian national interests, stirring up a Shiite guerrilla war against the Americans as pressure on Washington to come to an understanding over Iran’s nuclear program
(See separate article in this issue).
However, Iran and Saudi Arabia are no longer the only Arab powers fishing in Iranian waters. DEBKA-Net-Weekly now discloses first signs of Egyptian interference. Egypt’s intelligence chief, Genera Omar Suleiman was in Tehran on July 22 to seek the extradition of Egyptian al Qaeda operatives detained in Iraq (as revealed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly's 118, July 25).
While he was there, he presented senior Iranian officials with a detailed plan for political intelligence and economic cooperation between Egypt and Iran in the Shi'ite sectors of southern Iraq. It calls for Egyptian and Iranian agents to seize effective control of these areas, which are rich in oil assets, and to export Iraqi petroleum as a joint Egyptian-Iranian project.
In this way, Egypt would compensate Tehran for information on the Jemaa Islamiya, Egypt’s most dangerous terrorist group, and the extradition of wanted Egyptian Muslim radicals associated with al Qaeda.
It is hard to determine whether the initiative emanates from Cairo alone or Egypt was put up to it by the United States to open up a back-door channel to Tehran. Another prospective sponsor of the Egyptian approach may be Saudi Arabia in a bid to offset American and Iranian influence with Iraqi Shiites
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's experts and sources conclude that Cairo is acting off its own bat without either American or Saudi prior knowledge. In any case, none of this outside meddling portends a smooth passage for Washington’s plans in the new post-Saddam Iraq.