Iraq: What to Expect After Saddam Hussein's Execution
By: Stratfor.comDecember 29, 2006
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Preparations were reportedly under way Dec. 29 for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's execution by hanging. There are conflicting reports about when Hussein might be executed-and even about whether he has been transferred into Iraqi custody-but Iraqi officials have allegedly said he will be executed Dec. 30 at the latest. The prospect of Hussein's execution has led to fears that it will be accompanied by attacks by the former dictator's supporters. The Iraqis have said that they will videotape the execution as proof that the sentence has been carried out and that Hussein is indeed dead. In order to minimize the potential for revenge attacks, the government could delay the release of the video until several days after Hussein hangs.

Since Hussein's capture by U.S. forces in December 2003, his supporters have not waged a single significant campaign of attacks for revenge or attempted to secure his release. Though revenge attacks are possible-and the Sunnis do want to strike at the Shia and the U.S. forces-Hussein's mainly Sunni supporters probably are not capable of increasing their operational tempo and carrying out any more large-scale attacks in a given timeframe than they have over the past month.

Neither Hussein's initial conviction nor the court's upholding of his death sentence galvanized any real loyalist response-which suggests that the proportion of Hussein loyalists within the Sunni insurgency is extremely small. Furthermore, the possibility of a Baath Party resurgence is highly unlikely; the Sunnis must learn to survive amidst the numerically superior, militarily stronger and politically more powerful Shia. The Sunnis may well have concluded that Hussein's martyrdom would add nothing to their current struggle-or even that launching attacks in Hussein's name would be counterproductive.

The speculation over Hussein's execution comes during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which lasts until Jan. 2, 2007. The holiday itself could provide more targets for Hussein loyalists (or any insurgents) to attack, such as crowded markets, religious processions and full mosques. Those loyal to Hussein could try to take credit for attacks against such targets, no matter who carries them out.

When Hussein is executed, U.S. and Iraqi military and civilian officials will prepare for possible attacks from Hussein loyalists and other elements of the Sunni insurgency, especially in Baghdad. Although their capability might be limited, the Baathists have had a long time to plan for Hussein's execution. The day after the court upheld his death sentence, a Baath Party Web site warned th at U.S. interests worldwide would be targeted in retaliation strikes if Hussein is executed, and that his death would make cooperation impossible between the surviving Baathists and the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad.

The most important retaliation strikes Hussein loyalists could launch would be suicide attacks against Shiite mosques or shrines. This would almost certainly lead to reprisal attacks from Shiite militias and death squads. Other vulnerable targets are marketplaces in Shiite neighborhoods in cities such as Baghdad-where multiple ethnic and religious groups are present-and busloads of Shiite pilgrims traveling to their sect's holy sites in An Najaf and Karbala. Iraqi government and security forces could also be targeted.

Despite the threats, there is little potential for Hussein-inspired violence outside of Iraq. The Baathists and other Hussein supporters are only part of the Sunni insurgency, and they have not shown much ability to project power outside of the country. Inside Iraq, areas with Sunni-majority enclaves, ethnically mixed cities and Baghdad are the places where violence is likely to peak.

Celebrations of Hussein's demise in Kurdish and Shiite areas such as Arbil and Basra, and in cities where these groups are mixed with Sunnis, such as Kirkuk, will also be vulnerable. Baghdad, where all the ethnic groups are represented, has the greatest potential for attacks carried out in Hussein's name.

In Baghdad, the U.S. military will be concentrating on force protection-taking steps to protect soldiers and facilities from attack. U.S. and Iraqi forces also will increase security at Iraqi government facilities and important Shiite targets. The main goal for both U.S. and Iraqi forces will be to lock down the city as best they can. One way to do that would be to imitate Operation Together Forward, during which U.S. and Iraqi troops significantly increased their presence in the city. This worked for about three days, after which insurgents returned to their usual level of attacks.

The other way to secure Baghdad would be to take security measures similar to those of Operation Lightning or the precautions put in place for the January 2005 elections. These operations involved an increased Iraqi police and military presence in Baghdad, with U.S. troops staying in their bases but prepared to move quickly in order to help any Iraqi units that encountered stiff opposition. During the elections, there was also a ban on vehicle traffic in the capital, which decreased the threat from suicide car bombers. Whatever plan is adopted, there will be strict curfews in Baghdad following the announcement of Hussein's execution.

If any major attacks are launched against U.S. targets in Iraq during the days following his execution, it does not necessarily mean the operation was planned from the outset as a Hussein memorial. A major attack takes longer to plan and must be carried out when operational conditions dictate, not to coincide with another event. If an attack is ready to be carried out when Hussein's execution is announced, however, the perpetrators could claim it was done in his name.

Although the odds are against a resurgent Baathist movement, Hussein's execution is a significant event, and possible short-term consequences cannot be ruled out. U.S. forces in Iraq will be increasing their defenses, and U.S. civilians and contractors there should do the same.

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