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

Senior intelligence experts inside and outside government have reached a consensus that Iraqi President 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 or a group of military and other senior officials would take the chance to eliminate the Iraqi leader, several senior administration officials and intelligence experts said in recent interviews.

On the surface, this sounds nice. If we rattle our saber loud enough, Saddam's lieutenants will overthrow him, we won't have to actually launch any missiles, and everybody will be happy (except Saddam, of course). But there are a few problems with this scenario, beyond the question of how likely this type of coup really is (since there have been plenty of reports lately suggesting Saddam wouldn't go easily). First, would this type of coup really constitute effective "regime change" of the type the administration wants? There are few guarantees that Saddam's top officials would be much less evil than their former master. Following the coup the American military would back off, as would UN arms inspectors, in order to let the "new" regime get settled in and to avoid making it look like a Western puppet government. But then they could go ahead and be as recalcitrant as Saddam, and we'd be back in the same situation.

Second, it would be dangerous for the military to plan on a coup, because that would be disastrous if it failed. Counting on Iraqis to overthrow Saddam could lead military planners to not commit sufficient forces to the operation, and to avoid serious planning of how to run Iraq after Saddam's fall. Neither of those things are needed if Iraqis do all the dirty work and have a government already set up. But they're vital if Saddam proves resilient and the US has to take matters into its own hands.


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