- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Saddam Hussein's hold on power in Iraq remains strong and his military forces can defeat any internal opposition, according to a CIA analysis.

"Saddam maintains a vise grip on the levers of power through a pervasive intelligence and security apparatus and even his reduced military force remains capable of defeating more poorly armed internal opposition groups," the CIA stated in written answers to questions posed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in a February annual threat briefing.

The CIA analysis on Iraq is likely to be unwelcome news for the Bush administration, which has declared one of its chief foreign-policy goals to be the ouster of Saddam's regime. It was produced in April, but not made public until two weeks ago in a little-noticed committee report.

According to the CIA, it is unlikely that someone from Saddam's inner circle of advisers will move against him either through assassination or coup.

"In Baghdad, senior government and military officials view their fortunes as tied to Saddam and their allegiance is probably bolstered by the regime's decade long propaganda campaign against U.N. sanctions and the West, which exalts Saddam as necessary for the survival and integrity of the state," said the report.

U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Times last week that Saddam has recalled the children of Iraqi diplomats overseas to prevent defections. Baghdad then ordered foreign journalists to leave the country after saying U.S. intelligence agencies were attempting to entice diplomats into defecting.

U.S. officials said Saddam has set up a rigid security system to protect him from internal foes. He also is said to distrust major military units, including Republican Guard divisions considered his frontline troops. His key internal-security units are known as the Special Republican Guards.

The report said Saddam's regime over the next year will use a "carrot-and-stick approach" to control main opposition groups, including Shi'ites in southern Iraq and ethnic Kurds in the north.

As for a post-Saddam regime in Iraq, the report said that the nature of a new government in Baghdad will depend on how Saddam "leaves the scene," but notes that any new regime will face significant obstacles to "achieve stability."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called earlier this month for the assassination of Saddam by the Iraqi people, noting that the cost of "one bullet" by an anti-Saddam assassin is far less than sending U.S. forces against him.

Mr. Fleischer said the ouster of Saddam would be "welcome in whatever form."

The CIA analysis stated that if Saddam and his closest advisers are removed from power and internal opponents of the regime join together, "we assess that a centrist, Sunni-led government would be pressed to accept an Iraqi state less centralized than Saddam's."

The various sectarian and ethnic groups in Iraq probably would seek "greater autonomy" from a central government in Baghdad, the report said.

The report said decades of dictatorial rule under Saddam "have deprived Iraqis of the opportunity to building democratic traditions and parliamentary experiences that could help them master the art of consensus building and compromise."

The Bush administration has begun a covert effort in Iraq to mobilize opposition groups as part of its program to unseat Saddam. CIA officers are said to be working in parts of northern Iraq.

President Bush said Oct. 14 that taking military action against Saddam is not his first choice in efforts to prevent Iraq from getting weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush said "the use of the military is my last choice," an indication that an internal coup is preferred.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told reporters Oct. 22 that the Pentagon has plans to train and equip Iraqi opposition forces who could be useful in military or intelligence operations against Saddam.

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