Apr 25, 2007

Baathist Power Struggle

Just now -- when trying to persuade the Shiite leadership of Iraq to reverse Bremer's lunatic 2003 De-Baathification scheme has become an important part of nearly everyone's plan to improve things over there -- the Baathists seem to be having a bit of internecine contretemps.

Iraq's Baath Party, once the machine of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule and now a key player in the country's civil war, has been divided by an internal power struggle pitting one of Hussein's top aides against a former general, U.S. and Iraqi government officials say.

U.S. military and intelligence officials are still debating whether to welcome the power struggle or fear it. But they agree the outcome could strongly influence the course of the Sunni-led insurgency against Iraq's U.S.-backed government.

On one side of the power struggle is Izzat Ibrahim, the highest-ranking member of Hussein's inner circle to evade capture. The king of clubs in the Bush administration's "deck of cards" that depicted the most wanted members of Hussein's regime, Ibrahim was Hussein's chief deputy and has been viewed as a ringleader in the insurgency.

The forces apparently seeking to oust Ibrahim from his leadership of the Baath movement are led by a former general in Hussein's army, Mohammed Yunis Ahmad.

U.S. officials learned of the infighting after a meeting in the northwestern Syrian town of Halab that military and intelligence officials believe involved Baath Party leaders.

The meeting in January, shortly after Hussein's hanging, led to an apparent split in the movement. Some U.S. commanders in Iraq believe that was a welcome development. They see Ibrahim and his followers as intransigent elements of the Hussein regime who are trying to regain control of Iraq. The American commanders hope that Yunis' faction is more willing to seek peace with the country's U.S.-backed government.

Others, including U.S. intelligence officials and some Iraqi officials, are more wary, viewing the internal battle as an attempt to put a new face on a Baath movement that remains a threat.

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