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China: Update. Additional information about the coup rumors surfaced in open source reporting today. This included internet postings of images of military vehicle movements and the replacement by Premier Wen of the Minister of Public Security, which probably would have required strong support. All public security officials nationwide reportedly were instructed to perform study sessions, the updated euphemism for re-education and re-indoctrination.

Comment: The reports of gunfire and military vehicle movements are not confirmed, but something unusual appears to have unsettled parts of Beijing between 14 and 20 March, after the removal of Bo Xilai. The most commonly cited explanation is that the Minister of Public Security, Zhou Yongkang, was connected to or supportive of Bo and was purged, but resisted, requiring paramilitary support.

Whatever the underlying facts, the descriptions in the web reports and the analyses of knowledgeable observers belie China's international image of a mature orderly state, governed by sober-minded technocrats.

The web-reports project an image of the same old gut-fighting Chinese Communist Party politicians, but a lot wealthier, better armed and somewhat younger. The leadership apparently remains as faction-ridden as in earlier times, with any one faction still as willing to use force to destroy its rivals as has been the case for the past 60 years. It is still struggling with orthodoxy and obedience issues, requiring paramilitary forces to ensure compliance to "smooth" leadership change within the Party, all under the veneer of a modern-looking government.

Iraq:  President of the Kurdish Autonomous Region Massud Barzani said in a speech on 20 March that the partnership that built a national unity government formed at a meeting he had hosted was now "completely non-existent and has become meaningless."

Barzani accused Prime Minister al Maliki of aspiring to tyranny. He said, "There is an attempt to establish a one-million-strong army whose loyalty is only to a single person." He claimed that al Maliki and the government were "waiting to get F-16 combat planes to examine its chances again with the peshmerga (Kurdish militia)." Barzani's reference is to the government order for 36 F-16a from the United States.

Barzani asked, "Where in the world can the same person be the prime minister, the chief of staff of the armed forces, the minister of defense, the minister of interior, the chief of intelligence and the head of the national security council?" The prime minister has yet to appoint permanent ministers of defense and interior, more than two years after parliamentary elections

Barzani said that he was committed to an alliance with Iraq's majority Shiites, but not with one involving al Maliki. "We are committed to our alliance with the Shiites but not with this group of people who have monopolized power and with their policies have even marginalized other Shiites….It is time to say enough is enough. The current status of affairs is unacceptable to us and I call on all Iraqi political leaders to urgently try to find a solution. Otherwise, we will return to our people and will decide on whatever course of action that our people deem appropriate."

Comment: The underlying issue is that Barzani judges that the al Maliki government intends to rescind Kurdish autonomy at some point in the near future, including control of oil in Iraqi Kurdistan and denial of Kurdish claims to land areas in the north that had been Kurdish but which Saddam populated with Arabs.

The central government in Baghdad and Kurdish regional authorities are locked in lengthy disputes over oil contracts with foreign oil firms and ownership of territory near Kirkuk, the northern oil hub. The Kurdistan region has signed some 40 contracts with international companies on a production-sharing basis without seeking the approval of the central government's oil ministry.

The national oil ministry, meanwhile, has awarded energy contracts to international companies on the basis of a per-barrel service fee. It also has refused to sign deals with any firm that has agreed a contract with Kurdistan.

Barzani's remarks depict al Maliki as a Shiite-version of Saddam Hussein, backed by Iran. Searches of the internet failed to produce independent corroboration of the charge that Maliki intends to form a million-man force answerable to him. That was the size of the Iraq Army under Saddam. The other allegations against al Maliki, however, essentially are correct.

The implications of Barzani's allegations are that Kurdistan must declare its independence or prepare for another round of civil war. Barzani's statements indicate his intention is not to provoke that, but to ensure autonomy for the Kurds.

A crisis is looming because no central government in Baghdad can permit the Kurds to sign international contracts without obtaining approval from the central government. On the other hand, if the Kurds do not take juridical hostages through oil contracts, they have no leverage in dealings with Baghdad.

This will not end well for the Kurds and the US is no longer in a position to protect them.

Mali: Soldiers announced on state television Thursday that they seized control of the government because of its weak response to the Tuareg insurgency in north Mali. This became a national threat after heavily armed Tuareg and other fighters that had supported Gadhafi returned home from Libya earlier this year.

On national television, a group of about 20 soldiers were shown crowding around a desk, facing the camera. They announced that the country is under the control of a National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, or CNRDR.

They said they were suspending the constitution and dissolving government institutions.

"The CNRDR representing all the elements of the armed forces, defensive forces and security forces, has decided to assume its responsibilities and end the incompetent and disavowed regime of (President) Amadou Toumani Toure," a spokesman said, reading from a statement.

"The objective of the CNRDR does not in any way aim to confiscate power, and we solemnly swear to return power to a democratically elected president as soon as national unity and territorial integrity are established."

Comment: This coup is a ripple effect of the overthrow of the Qadhafi government. Tuareg fighters recently returned from Libya have been stirring up Mali Tuaregs who seek to establish an independent Saharan state. They have inflicted losses and setbacks on Malian troops during the past two months, causing stress in the Malian combat forces.

The catalyst for the anti-government action apparently was a speech by the minister of defense, who was visiting garrisons outside Bamako to bolster morale, which did not address the complaints of the troops about shortages of food and combat supplies. The troops in the audience began firing weapons into the air. Later other garrisons rioted, according to reporting available on 23 March.

The irony is that President Toure would have stepped down in a month. Presidential elections were scheduled for 29 April. The coup leaders, mostly junior grade officers, lack confidence that an elected government would satisfy their needs and wants.

It is a recurring pattern in Francophone African states that junior officers in a military system believe they know more about government than much more educated and experienced elected officials The coup thus far has provided the soldiers the usual opportunities for looting the presidential palace and making Mali an international laughing stock.

Mali had been a success story for democracy in Sahelian Africa, but presidential elections will not be held next month unless the coup leaders can be persuaded to return to barracks. The African Union has had success in counter-coup negotiations, but has not yet reacted. President Toure is safe at a loyalist military base, according to several press reports.

The coup leaders have not yet had enough time to consolidate their power grab and a counter-coup movement remains feasible, at least for a brief interval.

Notes for analysts: When putting together last night's report, the first drafts contained the assertion that the limited information available in open sources during the Watch indicated the probability of a coup was over 60%, strictly applying the coup template. .

NightWatch hedged its judgment and wrote a more cautious evaluation because of the uncertainty about who controlled the media and the absence of information about the reaction of other Army units. Those issues were clarified 24 hours later by the radio and television broadcasts by the coup leaders and by delayed news service reports of military unit revolts outside Bamako.

NightWatch was precisely accurate in advising readers that the guys with the most and most effective guns wins. It is now clear that the presidential guard did not fight the coup plotters. If any army units remain loyal to the president, they have yet to show themselves.

The key lesson is the structured analytical technique was accurate and predictive a day earlier than the news reporting. That has been the experience of US intelligence warning officers for more than 60 years.

End of NightWatch

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