In February 2002, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence submitted a series of "questions for the record" to the Central Intelligence Agency on a wide range of security issues. On April 8, 2002, the CIA provided answers to those questions. These answers, which were declassified in November, are remarkably frank in their assessments of the stability and prospects of Middle Eastern regimes. Most notably, the CIA doubts Iraq's capacity for democracy, post-Saddam; expects "significant unrest" in Jordan in the event of an Iraq war; and agrees that there will be "potentially violent infighting" among Palestinians after Yasir Arafat is gone. For the full document, see http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2002_hr/020602cia.html.
- Saddam maintains a vise grip on the levers of power through a pervasive intelligence and security apparatus, and even his reduced military force—which is less than half its pre-Gulf war size—remains capable of defeating more poorly armed internal opposition groups. In Baghdad, senior government and military officials view their fortunes as tied to Saddam and their allegiance is probably bolstered by the regime's decade-long propaganda campaign against U.N. sanctions and the West which exalts Saddam as necessary for the survival and integrity of the state. Over the next year the regime will continue to use a carrot and stick approach to control the two main groups opposed to its rule: the Shias in the south and the Kurds in the north.
- The nature of post-Saddam Iraq would depend on how and when Saddam left the scene, but any new regime in Baghdad would have to overcome significant obstacles to achieve stability. If Saddam and his inner circle are out of the picture and internal opponents of the regime band together, we assess that a centrist Sunni-led government would be pressed to accept an Iraqi state less centralized than Saddam's. Iraq's restive sectarian and ethnic groups, however, would probably push for greater autonomy. Decades of authoritarian rule have deprived Iraqis of the opportunity to build democratic traditions and parliamentary experience that could help them master the art of consensus building and compromise.
- Although there is widespread discontent with the current Iranian government, the current regime appears stable for now. Security forces have easily contained dissenters, the public does not appear ready to take to the streets, and no charismatic leader has emerged capable of mobilizing a large cross-section of the population.
- Nevertheless, the public is losing faith in the ballot box as an engine of reform because conservatives' hardball tactics have dashed prospects for reform. The public's preference for nonviolent, gradual change could be quickly transformed into a direct confrontation if the current regime continues to disregard popular will, the conservatives overplay their hand, or the security forces employ excessive force.
- Social and demographic shifts favor the reformers, and over time a new generation of leaders will emerge. Iran has struggled for over 100 years to implement a pluralist form of government, and despite setbacks, this trend has persisted. Although a rapid upheaval is possible, the most likely scenario is a slow transformation of the political process into a more open system.
- King Abdallah maintains the support of key pillars of the regime, including the military and security services and East Bank tribal members—native Jordanians who historically have supported the monarchy. The military and security forces are highly capable and can be relied on to deal with threats to the kingdom.
- Jordanian officials recognize the threat Islamic extremists could pose to the kingdom's stability and actively work to root out such groups. Jordanian authorities have arrested a number of Islamic extremists who have ties to al-Qa'ida and other terrorist groups and have imposed stringent sentences on those found guilty of participating in terrorist activities.
- The majority of Jordanian-Palestinians still believe in the legitimacy of the monarchy. Even Palestinian members of the largest opposition group in Jordan—the Muslim Brotherhood—generally consider themselves part of a loyal opposition and do not seek to overthrow the monarchy. Nevertheless, Jordan's majority Palestinian population identifies with the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank and sympathizes with the problems of the Iraqi people. A sharp escalation in Israel-Palestinian violence or a U.S. strike on Iraq could produce significant unrest.
- The Saudi royal family faces increasingly open challenges to its control. These include opposition from disparate elements hostile to the Al Saud and the U.S. military presence, lack of job creation, a rapidly growing population, and over-reliance on oil income for government budget revenues. The Saudi economy needs rapid reform to invigorate the private sector, attract domestic and foreign investment, and generate rapid job growth. Finally, growing public access to the Internet and satellite television continues to weaken the Al Saud's historical control of information.
- Qadhafi's grip on power appears secure in the near term. He maintains the final decision-making authority on all matters of national interest and has surrounded himself with a core group of apparently loyal supporters who implement his orders.
- Palestinian Authority (PA) and PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] chairman Yasir Arafat has no clear-cut successor, and any candidate will have neither the power base nor the leadership qualities necessary to wield full authority in the PA. Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin), Arafat's principal deputy and secretary general of the PLO-Executive Committee, and Ahmad Qurei (Abu Ala), speaker of the PA's Legislative Council, are poised to assume preeminent roles after Arafat. Security chiefs like Muhammad Dahlan and Jabril Rajub and Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghuti are likely to play important supporting roles in the succession.
- According to PA laws, after Arafat's death, Ahmad Qurei, in his role as speaker of the PA's Legislative Council, would assume the duties of PA president for no more than 60 days, during which a new president would be elected. Israeli academic Ehud Ya'ari predicts the creation of regional coalitions following Arafat's departure in the form of the "United Palestinian Emirates," although not necessarily in a peaceful alliance. He argues that any figurehead will need to possess some of Arafat's credentials and prestige in order to obtain international recognition. It is possible that there will be potentially violent infighting among the competing security services vying for supremacy.
 Ya'ari is in fact Israel's best-known Arab affairs correspondent.