Attack May Spark Coup In Iraq, Say U.S. Analysts

(Washington Post) Walter Pincus - Senior intelligence experts have reached a consensus that Saddam Hussein would likely be ousted in a coup led by members of his inner circle in the final days or hours before U.S. forces launch a major ground attack. Faced with an imminent, overwhelming U.S. assault and the choice of either being Hussein's successors or being imprisoned or killed in the fighting, top-ranking officers and senior officials would take the chance to eliminate the Iraqi leader. Earlier this year, President Bush directed the CIA to undertake a comprehensive covert program to topple the Iraqi leader. In June, CIA Director George Tenet briefed Bush and senior cabinet members that the newly authorized covert plan had only a small chance of working unless it was accompanied by outside military action, or at least by convincing the Iraqis that overwhelming military action was imminent. Iraqi officers "will have to be certain the Americans are coming with overwhelming force before they move," said one top government analyst. Said a former senior Clinton administration official, citing a failed CIA attempt employing Iraqi senior officers to eliminate Hussein in 1996: "It always has been the view of [the] intelligence community that there was a low chance of success in the absence of the sound of [military] footsteps in Baghdad." The assessment that a coup in Baghdad would be possible, if not probable, may have helped shape some of the administration's thinking about a post-Hussein Iraq, leading many CIA and State Department officials, for example, to oppose recognition of the leaders of prominent Iraqi exile groups. A military-led coup could help keep Iraq together and avoid moves toward separation by its three major ethnic groups: the Shiite majority, Kurdish groups in the north, and the Sunni minority that has dominated the country in recent times. A coup also would leave many of Iraq's upper- and middle-level bureaucrats in place, limiting the need for major rebuilding of the government.

2002-10-09 00:00:00

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