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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 02:28 GMT
Saudi 'plan to topple Saddam'
Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz
Prince Abdullah is said to have discussed the plan
Arab leaders are planning a coup to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, says a report in Time magazine.

Saudi Arabia is reported to be behind the plot which proposes encouraging Iraqi generals to overthrow Saddam and his inner circle.

The aim is to avoid a United States-led war with Iraq which could spark other wars in the region.

If there is amnesty for the rest of the government, Saddam will be checkmated

Diplomat
The Saudi idea requires a United Nations resolution declaring an amnesty for the Iraqi officials if they got rid of Saddam, Western and diplomatic sources are quoted as saying.

Such an amnesty would extend to all but 100 or 120 of the most senior ruling Baath Party officials, including his sons, close relatives and others who have long formed part of the ruling circle.

It would be offered immediately prior to the outbreak of war as a signal to Saddam's generals that the time had arrived to save their own skins with a UN-guaranteed amnesty.

'Give diplomacy a chance'

"If there is amnesty for the rest of the government, Saddam will be checkmated," a diplomat says.

Saddam at cabinet meeting
Saddam's inner circle is thought to be targeted
Saudi Arabia is reported to be actively canvassing support for the initiative.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and the Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul flew to Riyadh this week to discuss the plan with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the magazine said.

"The concept is if you have a decision by the UN to go to war, give a chance for diplomacy to work before you go to war," the Saudi leader told Time.

Chaos fears

The initiative marks a change in policy for the Saudis whose official position is still against a regime change in Baghdad.

According to Time, concerns for the region's stability prompted the Saudi initiative.

Kurdish rebels in Iraq
War on Iraq could spark ethnic conflict

"Riyadh fears that war in Iraq could lead to chaos, civil war among ethnic factions and military incursions by neighbours like Turkey and Iran," says the magazine.

The coup is seen as offering a better chance of maintaining order and preserving state institutions necessary for providing public services such as security, health care, electricity and water.

The Saudi initiative apparently envisions a reformed Iraqi regime including some representatives of the exile community but composed mainly of the "remnants of the outgoing system".

Diplomats are quoted as saying Arab leaders are also motivated by the fear that the US may lack the stomach for nation-building in a turbulent post-Saddam Iraq.

"If things go wrong, the troops will get back on their ships and leave. We in the region will be left with the consequences," says an Arab diplomat.

Some Arab diplomats are reported to be expecting resistance from the Bush administration, which could have reason to fear that the Saudi initiative is little more than an Arab tactic to buy Saddam more time.

"Politically, there would be nothing better for President Bush than to remove Saddam and disarm Iraq without firing a shot," a Western diplomat is quoted as saying.


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