Iraqi Army Won't Fight for Saddam
Sharif Ali bin al Hussein, the "pretender" to the throne in Iraq and a proponent of constitutional monarchy, is a leading member of the Iraqi National Congress, the main opposition exile group based in London. Sharif Ali, who fled Baghdad at age 2 after his first cousin King Faisal II was assassinated in 1958, is favored by the United States as part of the new regime in Iraq after Saddam Hussein. He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels in London on November 13.
NPQ | What does it mean for Saddam's hold on power if he is disarmed?
SHARIF ALI BIN AL HUSSEIN | If Saddam disarms, it will be almost impossible for him to hold on to power. He has been working on building weapons of mass destruction since the 1970s, spending hundreds of billions of dollars to obtain them and forgoing billions more in oil revenues during the 1990s (because of sanctions) to achieve it in secret. They are integral to his regime.
Saddam regards the acquisition of a nuclear weapon as vital to his survival. It is the great equalizer for him. He knows if he has such a weapon he will be untouchable. If he gives up this weapons card now, he is nothing. He can't exist without it. The entire raison d'etre of his regime is tied up in this pursuit. In short, to disarm him of these weapons is to disarm him of power.
Saddam has chemical and biological weapons. He has a nuclear program. At some point these will be discovered. His risk in being forced to accept the new disarmament regime is that he doesn't know just how much America and its allies know about what he has. There are traps for him.
If he discloses, nobody will believe that is all he has. If he doesn't disclose, maybe there will be evidence to prove he is a liar.
A key issue concerns the right of the UN inspectors to remove scientists and their families from Iraq so they can be questioned without fear. If he says no, that is a powerful trigger for a military attack. Logically, it would seem to me, the first thing the inspectors will want to do is take out the top 100 scientists and say, "What do you have?" What will Saddam do? Will he execute them rather than hand them over?
NPQ | So you are certain war is coming, sooner or later?
SHARIF ALI | Unfortunately, I don't see how Saddam can back off and maintain power. He won't back off and will lead the country into yet another war.
NPQ | One Pentagon scenario is to launch 1,000 airstrikes the first day of an attack, thus frightening the Iraqi army into immediate surrender because they fear "the front'' more than "the rear." Some believe the war will end in two weeks.
Do you share this view of the weakness of Saddam's army and their lack of allegiance to him?
SHARIF ALI | Absolutely, and even more so. There is nobody in the Iraqi military willing to fight and die just to keep Saddam in power. The Iraqi officer corps has been humiliated, tortured, executed, arrested. Their heroes have been murdered. They've been dragged into two disastrous wars and now a third. Nobody in the officer corps has any motivation to protect Saddam with their lives. This is not a war against Iran or to occupy Kuwait. This is a war purely to keep Saddam in power. There is no willingness to do this.
Also, the Iraqi military commanders today are quite aware of the high-tech firepower of the United States. In 1991 during the Gulf War, the officers in the field didn't have a clue what would hit them. Now they know that the US can pick them off from thousands of meters away. They don't know from where or how they are being destroyed. Fifteen tanks will be sitting in a row, then the first two will be obliterated from out of nowhere. The others will just have to sit there not knowing how to escape.
Who are the tank commanders going to fear more: the next missile out of the blue or Saddam? So, the army will collapse. There will be no resistance. Not only is there no will to resist. What we are hearing directly from Iraqi officers is that, given the opportunity, they will actually turn against Saddam.
Their worry, of course, is what will happen to them. They want to know from the US what will happen if they turn against Saddam during battle. Will they still be targeted? This is the message we've been passing on to Washington. And I think the message has gotten through. We've been told that the US will only attack Iraqi units behaving in an aggressive manner toward them.
This campaign will not be along traditional lines—obliterate the enemy army. No. It is going to be a very focused campaign where certain units are targeted—especially the Republican Guards, along with the headquarters and agents of repression—but other units won't be. The army is expected to melt away. This in turn will give an opening for a political uprising.
That is what happened in 1991. The regime just disappeared. But this time, the US will be there to be sure the rebellion is not crushed.
NPQ | Because of the credible threat of imminent American attack, do you see the possibility of a coup before the war begins?
SHARIF ALI | It will be extremely difficult to pull off a coup before a US strike—not impossible but difficult. The officer mentality is this: Since everyone expects an attack, why risk a coup not succeeding now when you can be certain it will succeed once an American strike begins? We'll wait for the Americans.
NPQ | There is great concern that once a strike is imminent or begins, Saddam will turn on the Kurds and Shias in Iraq who would most readily participate in a rebellion, killing thousands of civilians or more. After all, when the US started bombing Serbia, the killings of Muslims in Kosovo escalated. Do you share that fear?
SHARIF ALI | Yes, I do. In trying to figure out how he is going to survive, Saddam is not likely to try to gas US troops or Israel because he knows that will not stop them, but only redouble their determination to destroy him.
Since there is no point in denying that he has weapons of mass destruction once he is caught red-handed, the most logical thing to do from the standpoint of his survival is to use them on Iraqi civilians because he knows that alone may cause the American campaign to pause. Undoubtedly, someone on the UN Security Council will call "cease-fire, cease-fire" to avoid more casualties.
This is a terrible possibility of which Saddam is entirely capable of perpetrating. Our hope is that the officers concerned will just not execute such a command. Iraq is not Kosovo. There is no communal hatred of that kind. The army doesn't want to use gas on the Kurds because it doesn't hate them.
NPQ | The discussion in Washington now is whether there should be a US occupation as in Japan or Germany, or an ‘'interim government'' after Saddam is removed. What is your view?
SHARIF ALI | Military occupation is
unwarranted and unwise. Iraq is not an enemy country. Once Saddam and
his weapons are gone, the military is no threat. Iraq's population does
not need to be dominated and "de-Nazified." Iraq is not Japan
or Germany, but is, in fact, France after World War II—a country
that is being liberated.
It is not like coming into Somalia or Afghanistan, where
there is nothing but rubble. We have 1 million civil servants in Iraq
working every day to run the country. All we need to do is change the
top level by putting in a new interim leadership and the country will
Truly, this occupation idea is inadvisable. In a flash, it will turn the Americans from liberators into occupiers. The best thing is for the Americans, as soon as possible, to withdraw from the urban areas and hand over to the Iraqis the running of their own affairs.
I know people get hung up about a ‘'power vacuum.'' But, really, we're talking about 24–30 people at the ministerial level taking over and running the government for an interim period while we go through the political process of elections, constitutional convention and referendum and so on. The key issue is to ensure a balance between the opposition leaders and groups who are public but outside the country and those who are on the ground inside.
NPQ | Finally, what do you foresee as your own role as constitutional monarch?
SHARIF ALI | In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch would not get involved in the day-to-day running of affairs. The problem with the republics in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, is that whatever political party takes over the government uses the resources of the government to maintain its own power.
A monarchy would break that cycle. It would not be dependent or biased on special interests, but have the confidence and respect of all parties and ethnicities. The role of the monarchy would be as guarantor of the constitution and ensure the independence of national institutions, including the army. It would be protector of civil liberties to be sure that the majority doesn't suppress the minority or vice versa. And it would enable the political parties to engage in a competitive democratic political process without damaging the state.
Governments have a natural shelf life. No matter how good they are, they make mistakes, and it is time for them to go. We need an institution that ensures that when a new government comes in not everybody would be purged and the new cronies brought in.
The role of a high guarantor of national institutions is particularly important in Iraq, which has such a multitude of political parties that no one group is going to be dominant. For the foreseeable future (after Saddam), there is going to be a series of shifting coalitions in parliament. Above that fray, so to speak, there needs to be a national unifying role. That is the function of the monarchy I would hope to see in Iraq's future.