Sources: Iraq Agrees To Full Compliance With Inspectors
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, reputed to be a personal friend of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, made a lightning visit to Baghdad on Feb. 23. The purpose and results of the meeting are shrouded in secrecy, apart from a statement by Moscow that Hussein was asked -- and agreed -- to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.
Reliable Stratfor sources within the Russian government say Hussein indeed has promised to cooperate with the inspectors' demands--including that Baghdad scrap its al Samoud 2 missile program by March 1, an announcement that sources expect to be forthcoming within days.
The importance of the meeting stretches much further, however. Sources say the Iraqi leader has agreed to a proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin -- previously discussed between Russian, French and German leaders -- that Baghdad formally invite U.N. peacekeepers within the next 10 days or so to back up weapons inspectors. This, sources say, would show the world that Iraq will be unconditionally disarmed under strict and fully enforceable U.N. deadlines, with peacekeepers staying on in Iraq until the task is complete.
Sources also say that Hussein has asked Putin to deliver a secret offer to U.S. and British energy giants, inviting them back to Iraq as major industry players roughly 30 years after they were ousted from the country. The companies could return to Iraq immediately if Washington calls off its planned invasion.
On Feb. 24, Vladimir Voloshin -- the head of Russia's presidential administration -- left Moscow for Washington, where he is likely to deliver that message to President George W. Bush. The choice of Voloshin as a diplomatic envoy is highly unusual, because he focuses on managing Russia's internal affairs and has never been dispatched in this way before.
Voloshin also will brief U.S. leaders on other aspects of the discussion between Primakov and Hussein. The ultimate goal of this visit is to persuade the Bush administration that Iraq will be disarmed to such a point that it not only will be unable to threaten U.S. and Israeli forces for years to come, but would be unable to resist a U.S. invasion if Washington deems it necessary to attack Iraq in the future. If Washington is at least partly receptive to this message and to Hussein's promises, a second meeting between Primakov and Hussein likely will result.
If intelligence from Stratfor sources is correct, the Bush administration could save face by claiming that Iraq's true disarmament was reached only through U.S. military pressure. Putin already has called British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac to convey details of the Primakov meeting. Sources say Chirac was enthusiastic about the proposal, and that Blair has also reacted favorably. But the fate of the proposal rests with Washington.
The Bush administration's reaction at this point is far from clear. The proposal would not achieve Washington's two main goals in Iraq: regime change and a new base for U.S. forces in the Middle East. However, as the costs of war continue to pile up, the Russian proposal could be considered a face-saving exit for Washington.
The ultimate decision likely will come down to Bush administration advisers -- including former U.S. President George H.W. Bush -- who will weigh the risks involved for the current president's re-election plans and the U.S. geopolitical stance as a whole. At this point, we believe the Bush administration will reject Hussein's overtures and Putin's proposal. But there will be more to the story: Last minute-attempts to block or promote the war will continue within the U.N. Security Council and possibly involving a second trip by Primakov to Baghdad.