August 22, 2002 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 106

Iraq Opposition Officers Connect with a Hashemite Prince to Replace Saddam

August 22, 2002 | By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli*
Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 106

On July 14, 2002, the Iraqi media commemorated the demise of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq 44 years ago. The last Hashemite king in Iraq was 23 year-old King Faisal II who was assassinated at the hands of army officers led by General Abd Al-Karim Qassim who carried out the military coup of 1958.

Under the auspices of the Iraqi National Congress (the main Iraqi opposition in exile), a group of about 70 former Iraqi army officers met in London on July 12, 2002 to chart the course for overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime and installing a new regime dedicated to freedom, democracy, and political competitiveness. The meeting of the Iraqi officers would have gone less noticed were it not for the unexpected appearance of Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, the late King Hussein's brother and the uncle of the Jordanian monarch, King Abdallah. In the words of one newspaper, Hassan "stole the show when he entered, ringed by TV cameras."[1 Another paper characterized his presence at the conference as "the large vocal bomb."[3] An Iraqi newspaper issued in London considered Hassan's appearance as subject to many interpretations no least of which was advancing "special interests of those present, as well as those of the United States which stands behind them."[3]

Prince Hassan was the highest ranking Arab official attending the officers' meeting. In his remarks Hassan insisted that his presence must be viewed as that of "an observer" with extensive friendships and family relationships with those present "including our cousin Al-Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein." [Who is the leader of the constitutional monarchy faction within the Iraqi opposition in exile.] Prince Hassan underscored the need for "enriching the struggle" against Saddam's regime, particularly by the Arabs and Kurds. He went on to emphasize that "we belong to the Shi'ites … and they belong to us." He then told the army officers: "The security we seek is not the security of the rifle, but as Allah has said, 'feed them from hunger and secure them from fear.'"[4] In short, the prince appealed to all significant segments of Iraqi society-the army officers, mostly Sunnis, the majority of Shi'ites who dominate southern Iraq, and the Kurds who dominate the north of the country (the two regions where most of the huge Iraqi reservoir of oil and natural gas are found).

Jordan denied any prior knowledge of Prince Hassan's participation at the officers' conference, and even denounced "the scenario" which concerns the return of the Hashemite family to Iraq.[5] King Abdallah characterized his uncle's participation at the Iraqi officers' meeting as "a grave mistake."[6] Being the beneficiary of Saddam Hussein's largesse toward Jordan in the form of free and/or subsidized oil, Jordan has sought, at least in public, to distant itself from any anti-Saddam coalition.

Others were not convinced by Jordan's denials. Writing in the Saudi London-based Arabic daily, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, editor, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, characterized Prince Hassan's participation as an expression of Jordan's displeasure with the recent Iraqi opening toward Syria and the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, and its diminishing relations with the sole neighbor that opened its door to Iraq during the Gulf War and subsequent crises. "If Iraq wants to ignore Jordan," Al-Rashed said, "Jordan will ignore Iraq or at least send it a message." [7]

The Parallel with Afghanistan
Prince Hassan's appearance before the Iraqi officers perhaps goes beyond an expression of Jordanian displeasure toward Iraq's growing economic and commercial dealings with Syria and the Gulf countries. Prince Hassan may aspire to see the restoration of the Hashemites to Iraq, and his aspiration may not be entirely unrealistic. After all, writes Mehdi Mustapha, "Who could have imagined that the exiled Afghanis in the West would return to govern Afghanistan after 40 years? Who has heard of Zaher Shah and Hamid Karzai, and why can't this be replicated in Iraq?"[8] In a recent debate on the Qatari, Al-Jazeera television channel, the question of Hassan, serving as the Karzai of Iraq was mentioned but not enriched by a serious debate. [9]

Commenting on the same issue, a Kuwaiti writer, Muhammad Al-Rumaihi, says there is no longer a big difference between monarchical and republican regimes in the Middle East. The old notion that a republic is preferable to a monarchy has been weakened. After 50 years of rule, some republics seem to turn into hereditary republics, or are capable of doing so [Syria is a primary example]. In short, the author concludes, "the establishment of a multi-party constitutional monarchy characterized by high transparency" is one of the reasonable alternatives to the Iraq of tomorrow. "It is an inexpensive alternative," says Al-Rumaihi, "if measured by the high cost that Iraq might pay in the event of civil wars, factional disputes, and confessional clashes." [10]

The restoration of the Iraqi monarchy might appear attractive to the United States which leads the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein. The doomed Hashemite kingdom in Iraq and the current surviving one in Jordan can boast of a consistent record of accommodating U.S. interests in the area, and there is no reason to believe this record will be blemished if Hassan were to become the new king of Iraq. [11] In addition, given the enormous sufferings of the Iraqi people after 30 years of Saddam Hussein's despotic regime, the majority of Iraqi people might consider a return of the Hashemite monarchy as an acceptable relief to their plight.

In fact, some Iraqi opposition writers are reminding their readers that the first two decades of the first Hashemite king in Iraq, King Faisal I, [Hassan's great uncle] were characterized by a civilian government, a civilian constitution, and a civilian judiciary before a period of decline which set in with the ascendancy of the army officers to power. [12]

The Strategic Significance of Re-establishing the Hashemite Kingdom in Iraq
If the Iraqi leadership in the post-Saddam regime, with the tacit support and endorsement of the United States, were to invite Prince Hassan to re-establish the monarchy in Iraq, the move will have a far-reaching strategic significance in the Middle East. First, a Hashemite Iraq, with its enormous oil and natural gas wealth, with an educated population, and a traditionally vibrant middle class will serve as a countervailing balance to the dominance of Saudi Arabia in the area and in the oil world. It is interesting that the Saudi newspaper, Al-Okaz, found it necessary not only to denounce Hassan's participation at the meeting but also to remind its readers that Prince Hassan appeared at the meeting "arm-in-arm" with one of the Iraqi opposition leaders, Dr. Ahmad al-Chalabi who was sentenced in Jordan for embezzling the Petra Bank.[13] Second, Syria will be squeezed between two Hashemite regimes from the east and from the south, not to mention the less than friendly neighbors on the north and west. [14]

In the words of, Dr. Ahmad Al-Chalabi: "…a strong and democratic Iraqi state in alliance with the United States will have intellectual influence in this area and will create an internal challenge to the Middle Eastern countries … a democratic Iraq will have a positive influence on the whole area."

*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.

[1] Mukul Devichand, "Unlikely Rebels," Al-Ahram Weekly On-Line, 18-24 July 2002.

[2] Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, "The London Conference: Is it a propaganda war?" Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, July 15, 2002.

[3] Al-Zaman, July 17, 2002.

[4] Al-Hayat, July 14, 2002.

[5] Loc. Cit.

[6] Al-Hayat, July 30, 2002.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, July 15, 2002.

[8] Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, July 20, 2002.

[9], August 8, 2002.

[10] Al-Hayat, July 24, 2002.

[11] The long-standing association of the Hashemite family with the West and Israel was underscored in the Al-Jazeera debate referred to in footnote 9 by As’ad Abu-Khalil, identified as professor of political science at the University of California.

[12] See, for example, Hassan Al-'Alawi, "The State of Constitution and Parliament," Al-Mu’atamar, July 6-12, 2002.

[13] Al-Okaz, July 18, 2002.

[14] Al-Mua’tamar, July 13-19, 2002.

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