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On Point

Is a Coup Possible in Iraq?

by Austin Bay
October 8, 2002

The American president delivers a blistering speech promising an all-out assault on Iraq -- and economic aid in the aftermath. The American opposition leader, at times a doubting dove but always a calculating politician, announces from the well of the Senate that the president will have a definitive national mandate for war.

Suggestive reports circulate. The Pentagon is massing armor in Kuwait and training troops in Jordan. Odd little wire stories mention U.S. and Turkish special operations forces at "abandoned airfields" in northern Iraq. TV squawk shows host retired colonels who draw arrows on the screen representing "multiple axises of advance." Upscale Iraqi refugees, now called defectors, accede to interviews with left-wing British journalists.

Beyond the world of speculation and hot rhetoric, hot lead delivers its own explicit message. U.S.-led airstrikes not only blast radar sites, but the town of Tikrit, hometurf of Saddam's ruling elite, sees its electric power and water systems destroyed, its government offices smashed by precision munitions and local "palaces" reduced to dust.

Aggressive diplomacy, saber-rattling information, selective but harsh military action? Yes, and joined for a purpose.

Consider it a script for inducing a Baghdad coup. Except this isn't Hollywood, where deception is paper mache and Barbra Streisand quoting faux Shakespeare. In this script, deception relies on demonstrated, unquestionable intent and proven, violent capability.

To students of strategy, all warfare is psychological operations. Whether the means are bullets or bluster, war is an attack on an opponent's will to resist. The targets of this psy-ops campaign are Saddam's henchmen and fellow gangsters, the regime's human support structure that has the means and opportunity to remove Saddam.

Psy ops gives this inner circle the third element necessary for a coup, an immediate motive. Think of it as their personal "exit strategy." Imminent U.S. action translates into loss of Swiss bank accounts as well as loss of life.

Unless, of course, you do Uncle Sam a favor, and aiding a "ballot by Beretta" earns plotters post-Saddam consideration.

A successful coup has always been Washington's aim. Internal Iraqi action means the war does not escalate. U.S. troops are not at risk. Iraqi infrastructure remains intact. Iraqi civilians (Saddam's chief victims) are liberated with less bloodshed.

Saddam's a master at thwarting coups. CIA-sponsored covert action has a miserable record. However, open source indicators suggest the odds of a successful internal revolt or covert action may be improving.



  • Republican Guard morale has declined.

  • Members of Saddam's own tribal clan have been contacting Iraqi dissidents, with a view to saving their own necks.

  • Allied aircraft are dropping leaflets promising the destruction of anyone resisting allied attacks. The leaflets end with, "You could be next." B-52 attacks on regime enforcement units like the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard would amplify that message.

  • U.S. intent is clear. That's vital. Coup plotters must be certain Western leaders are resolved to decisive military action. Few doubt President Bush has the gumption -- and that perception is critical. Leftist appeaseniks are doing their bit. Convinced Bush is a gung-ho warmongering Texas Republican cowboy, their peace march megaphones reinforce the notion "he's gonna pull the trigger." God bless occasionally useful idiots.

With the exception of the attacks on Tikrit and Saddam's palaces, the diplomatic and military moves in this column's first paragraphs are occurring. When Tikrit is bombed, watch out. The real cue for a coup, however, will be a concerted military ground move.

Would a coup solve all problems? Of course not. Post-Saddam Iraq under any circumstances will be fractured and fractious. However, Saddam won't be replaced by another Saddam. The new crew in Baghdad must rely on the United States for aid and support. That comes at the price of destroying weapons of mass destruction, the raison d'etre for war.

Is a coup d'etat at this late date a Bush administration pipe dream? Arguably, the United States is attempting to take psy-ops to a new level, but with Iraqi morale already rotten, orchestrating diplomatic, information and military power to induce an anti-Saddam coup has a real chance of succeeding.

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