Southern Iraq appears to be in chaos, even teetering on the edge of revolution, according to many reports from Kuwaiti refugees, Iranian sources and U.S. military briefers. Since there are no Western reporters in Southern Iraq, the reports can't be independently confirmed.

But it seems clear that fierce fighting is taking place between units of the Republican Guard and opponents of Saddam Hussein, including defeated soldiers arriving from Kuwait.It has even been reported, but not verified, that Saddam's oldest son, Udai was killed in battle, along with the provincial governor and the mayor of Basra.

Anti-Saddam demonstrations also have been reported in five other eastern Iraqi cities, and an escalation in anti-government demonstrations throughout Iraq.

Refugees from Basra said some soldiers returning from Kuwait handed their weapons to the people and joined in anti-government demonstrations, while only the Republican Guard remained loyal to Saddam.

Basra, Iraq's second largest city, was nearly destroyed in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, so this is violence it could do without. According to the Tehran Times, "the pathetic pass in which the Iraqi leadership finds itself gives rise to the strong possibility of drastic change in the political structure of the country."

Many of the government protests were apparently organized by Shiite Muslims, who make up the vast majority of Basra's residents. The Shiites are demanding the establishment of an Islamic republic in Iraq, led by Mohammed Baker Al-Hakim, a fiery fundamentalist preacher who went into exile in Iran after the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power there in 1979.

It is too soon to tell whether Saddam will survive the enormous disaffection. It is clear that he is on shaky ground and that numerous Iraqis have lost faith in him and his leadership.

Moreover, this movement can only escalate, especially as more and more people realize belatedly that they have lost the war - in spite of what Saddam keeps telling them.

Clearly, new leadership and a restructured government, designed to be sensitive to the needs of the people, is needed for the good of Iraq and all the Middle East.

If Saddam survives the revolt - and he appears to have the organization and resources - it will delay much of the aid needed to rebuild Iraq. Many governments, especially wealthy Saudi Arabia, are not going to be happy with Saddam still in charge. In fact, they'll want to wring out heavy reparations.

If Saddam falls, there are just as many serious questions. Who would succeed him? Would it be just another thug from his entourage? In the absence of the dictator, will Iraq fall apart into warring provinces, divided by ethnic groups and religion - independence-minded Kurds or power-seeking Sunni and Shiite Muslims?

One thing is certain; Iraq's suffering is far from over.