Saddam Shuffles Military Command Again, Tightens Ring Aorund Regime
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ Saddam Hussein has moved several trusted generals into key positions in a command shuffle that reflects his constant efforts to forestall a coup, informed travelers from Iraq say.
The sources, who include Baghdad-based western diplomats and knowledgeable Iraqis, say there is no sign that Saddam’s regime is in any immediate danger.
But the feeling is that these changes in the hierarchy, the latest in a long line of shuffles over the past 18 months, reflect Saddam’s insecurity more than a year after his Gulf War defeat.
The sources spoke to The Associated Press in Nicosia and Amman, Jordan, on condition of anonymity.
They said the Iraqi leader has ringed Baghdad with three of his five elite Republican Guard divisions to ensure his regime’s security amid the continuing threat of Kurdish and Shiite Muslim unrest.
They said Saddam has named Gen. Hussein Rashid, a former chief of staff and hero of the 1980-88 war against Iran, the commander of the Republican Guard Corps, a pillar of the regime.
Rashid, who was chief of staff throughout Gulf crisis, commanded the Republican Guard in 1984-85 and oversaw its expansion from a brigade-size formation into an army-within-an-army of seven divisions with 120,000 men.
Saddam’s command shuffle is the seventh major reorganization he’s made in his military and political hierarchy since he invaded Kuwait Aug.2, 1990. Rashid is the Guards’ fourth commander in that period.
Kamel Yassin, a member of the ruling Baath Party’s command, has been appointed to oversee party branches and security in the military, the sources reported.
The party’s security apparatus reaches deep within the armed forces and has long acted as an early warning system for Saddam to spot unrest inside the military.
Yassin is Saddam’s brother-in-law and cousin. His brother, Irshid, heads Saddam’s personal security force.
Lt. Gen. Iyad Futiyeh al-Rawi, a highly decorated hero of the war against Iran and a staunch Saddam loyalist, is now chief of staff.
His deputies are Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashim, the former 6th Army Corps commander, and Lt. Gen. Salah Aboud, former commander of the 3rd Corps. Al- Rawi also once commanded the Republican Guard.
These generals are part of the handful of senior military commanders who have survived Saddam’s repeated purges of the military since the end of the 1980-88 war.
Rashid and Yassin are both from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
Most of those in Saddam’s ever-narrowing inner circle are either relatives by blood or marriage or Tikritis whose destiny is irrevocably entwined with the Iraqi leader.
Rashid’s deployment of the Republican Guard divisions that survived last year’s Gulf War indicates Saddam doesn’t want to use his best troops for offensives against the regime’s enemies.
Apart from the defensive ring around Baghdad by three of these divisions, a Guards armored division has been deployed around the disputed oil center of Kirkuk in the north and a second armored division around al-Amarah in the restive, Shiite-dominated south.
Their mission is to block any rebel moves toward the Iraqi capital, or counter any revolts by disgruntled army units, diplomats reported.
Saddam’s strategy appears to be to use regular army divisions and the Popular Army, the Baathist militia, to confront any new uprising in the south.
In the north, reconstituted battalions of pro-government Kurds now form the front-line forces facing the Kurdish rebels’ enclave, the sources said.
The command changes reflect Saddam’s increasing dependence on his family to protect his beleaguered regime.
His two sons, Udai and Qusai, both hold important security posts, along with his three half-brothers and a whole coterie of cousins from the al-Majid, al-Ibrahim and al-Rashid clans from Tikrit.