- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

LONDON, Jan. 23 (UPI) — Iraqis, and Arabs in general, believe that the U.S.-run war to oust President Saddam Hussein's regime is imminent despite the return of the U.N. inspectors to search for weapons of mass destruction in line with the latest Security Council resolution.

In a televised speech to mark the 12th anniversary of the 1991 Gulf War — in which he compared President Bush with the 13th century Mongol leader Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan — Saddam said his country has mobilized to confront any U.S.-British attack. But, he said, the situation was different today from when Hulagu swept across his country in 1258, and the U.S. attackers would find Iraq fully prepared.

But it may not prove so different. Few expect the Iraqi army, its fighting capacity reduced to less than half what it was in the 1991 Gulf War, to resist long in case of a large-scale U.S. invasion. Iraq lacks a unified internal front, and, despite public demonstrations of support in the Arab world, is isolated both in that same Arab world and internationally.

Baghdad has strongly denied news reports that Saddam might step down and go into exile to prevent a U.S. war against his country. So Iraqis wait for all hell to break loose, which they believe will happen sometime after Feb. 20, following a final report from the U.N. arms inspectors mission on their findings.

Whatever it says, Washington will insist that Iraq still possessed weapons of mass destruction posing a threat to the United States and the whole region.

Saddam's regime is not expected to resist for long a massive U.S. attack, and the post-Saddam should come suddenly and quickly. But the question is what kind of post-Saddam?

The answer remains unclear, but the possible scenarios put forward by analysts include a U.S. military occupation, an international civilian administration similar to the one operating in Kosovo, a transitional government grouping Iraqi opposition factions, and a military government following an Iraqi army coup d'etat.

The scenario of a U.S. military occupation will not be accepted by the majority of Iraqi opposition groups, including Washington's allies, according to Iraqi political observers. They argue that even Saddam's staunchest enemies will dread the prospect of having their country under foreign occupation for a long time.

One extreme view of some observers is that a U.S. occupation might prove worse than Saddam's regime itself. Iraqis with a sense of history remember that Iraq formed an alliance with Britain against Ottoman rule in 1916, only to end up under British mandate.

At the root of the problem is the fact that even Iraqi opposition groups allied to Washington don't entirely believe U.S. promises to install democracy and a multi-party regime in post-Saddam Iraq. "The United States is motivated by its own private interests to oust Saddam, and it serves our interests to see him out," a political observer said Thursday. "That's the only thing we have in common and we have to thank them for their assistance. But we should not allow them to occupy our country or to rule us,"

He argued that Washington would win the Iraqi people's gratitude and respect if it helps them get rid of Saddam and install democracy without direct military occupation — but this seems unlikely.

Another possible scenario, according to political observers, is a take over by the army in a military coup d'etat that would end Saddam's dictatorship and prevent Iraq's occupation. A majority of Iraqis would back such a scenario, though with reluctance. It would at least prevent a disastrous war with the United States.

The same observers ruled out an Arab administration under the supervision of the Arab League. "It is most naive to expect the Iraqis to accept Arab tutorship to install democracy in Iraq since the Arabs have no clue about democracy," one observer said.

The fourth scenario, namely a transitional government representing Iraqi opposition groups, appears to be the likeliest and most appealing to the Iraqi people. Opposition groups held a congress in London last December, reaffirming their commitment to set up a democratic, parliamentarian and federal system in Iraq to preserve the people's unity and the country's territorial integrity and independence.

But the Iraqi opposition is without proper leadership, marred by internal divisions, and lacking popular backing at home. There are other internal difficulties, too, which makes it inevitable that changes on the ground will have to be implemented by U.S. forces.

Moreover, the Iraqi opposition, largely dependent on Washington, is weakened by the lack of any clear U.S. vision for its future role.

All scenarios are possible, but what is most definite is that any post-Saddam regime will have to be pro-United States, at least during the transitional period that might stretch on for an indefinite period of time.


This is the fourth of a five-part series by United Press International on the crisis in Iraq. The fifth part is to appear tomorrow and will deal with unintended consequences of the war.

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