Saddam Hussein's survival in power seems more likely today than it did in the past. Merely raising the question of the possibility of dealing or cooperating with him affirms that. The prevailing wisdom after the end of the second Gulf war was that Saddam Hussein's days were numbered and he would be gone within months. But developments proved otherwise. Ten years on, he remains in power, underlining the extent to which analysts can be mistaken. Saddam Hussein made the same mistake himself when he was persuaded under the influence of anti-Khomeini Iranians, especially former military men, that the Islamic regime in Iran was frail and could soon be overthrown. That encouraged him to launch a war, which Iraqi officials expected would last a matter of weeks or, at most, months.
Arab and Gulf alliances resemble shifting sands. The Arab Gulf states that were allied to Saddam Hussein found themselves having to deal with Islamic Iran after his invasion of Kuwait. In the past, changing alliances was linked to changes of regime. Today we see alliances changing while the same regimes remain in power. But, when discussing the possibility of dealing with Saddam, it is important not to go to the opposite extreme and assume that he is definitely here to stay and there is no prospect of his being overthrown as a result of a surprise development or organized endeavor. For, while the regime's strength lies in Saddam's stranglehold on power, that monopoly is also its weakness.
The departure of Saddam would in itself result in the downfall of, or radical change to, the regime. However well protected Saddam may be, there remain a number of potential Hussein Kamels within the regime. The prospect of one resurfacing is made more likely by the family rift at the pinnacle of power. Sons Udai and Qusai are at odds, and it is hard to imagine Udai conceding power to his brother. Saddam's half-brothers, while no longer in the inner circle, all aspire to power too.
Clarification is needed when discussing the possibility of Saddam's being replaced by someone similar. Saddam Hussein is a unique case, and it would be hard for anyone, even a son, to replace him. His departure from the scene would open wide the door to change, depending on who takes his place. Even if Qusai were to assume power, the opportunities for dealing with him would be of an entirely different order to those for dealing with Saddam himself.
SADDAM'S POTENTIAL FOR SURVIVAL
Saddam Hussein's survival for the past ten years has created the impression, indeed conviction, among most of Iraq' s neighbors that he is here to stay. At issue is how to deal with Iraq under Saddam. Even Kuwait has found itself facing this question, and some circles in the country, business circles in particular, have commissioned studies about the matter. An assessment of the possibilities for cooperating with Saddam Hussein is aided by an appreciation of the factors that sustain him in power.
Saddam Hussein can be seen as the second-best choice of most neighboring countries, who fear the alternatives and the consequences that a change of regime in Iraq could have. Turkey fears an alternative that could make Iraq's Kurds more independent. Syria fears encirclement by a pro-American regime in Baghdad. Saudi Arabia fears the Lebanonization of Iraq or the south falling into Iranian hands. Jordan fears a radical Islamist alternative or a deluge that could flood it with refugees, as was the case during the second Gulf war. Iran prefers a weak Saddam to a new regime aligned with Washington that might tighten the American noose around it.
The reliance of the United States on a policy of containment implies that it expects the regime to remain in place for some time. It is, therefore, in the business of damage limitation, not change, which it is leaving for future developments and conditions to determine. Expectations of Saddam's survival are strengthened by a conviction that his overthrow cannot be achieved without direct U.S. military involvement; so long as this is not an option, he will remain in power, albeit weakened.
The unwillingness of the United States to engage militarily in changing the Iraqi regime leaves the possibility of a coup, assassination attempt or "golden bullet," none of which can be the basis for a clear policy for effecting change. With the liberation of Kuwait, the international coalition ceased to exist, as evidenced by the rift in the Security Council. France, Russia and China favor opening up to, indeed completely rehabilitating Iraq.
Saddam Hussein has succeeded in neutralizing the Kurds, who have long been a means of unsettling all Iraqi regimes. Ironically, U.S. policy serves to extend protection to the Kurds in return for them not provoking Saddam or providing him with a pretext to attack them. The fragmentation of the Iraqi opposition and the success of the regime's divide-and-rule policies stem from a sectarian, racial and religious status quo that makes it difficult for the Iraqi opposition to unite in joint action without external support. The disillusionment of Iraqis following the collapse of March 1991 uprising makes it hard to count on another popular uprising.
The use of Draconian terror and repression is a major characteristic of Saddam Hussein's rule. He is said to have criticized and ridiculed the shah of Iran for not using enough force to crush the demonstrations that Jed to the downfall of his regime.
FACTORS INFLUENCING POSSIBLE DEALINGS WITH SADDAM
The opportunities for dealing with Saddam depend largely on how he deals with the United Nations. If he succeeds in winning over the majority of Security Council members by acting on French and Russian advice, Washington would find itself isolated. The importance of the sanctions resolutions would then diminish. They would be seen as American sanctions rather than sanctions bearing the stamp of international legitimacy.
U.S. insistence on Saddam's overthrow and stepped-up diplomatic pressure on its friends in the region not to open up to or deal with him would have a clear effect, ensuring that the cooperation of Washington's friends with Iraq remains within the bounds permitted by Security Council resolutions. But if the United States manages with containment to prevent Iraq from rearming or threatening others, without seriously working toward Saddam's overthrow, the extent of other countries' cooperation with Iraq, especially Washington's friends in the region, is likely to increase. Iraq would thus be in a similar position as the former Soviet Union or, at worst, North Korea.
Saddam has long been among his own worst enemies. If he deems the willingness of neighboring states to cooperate to be evidence of victory and consequently adopts a hard line, the doors could close again. The opposite also holds true. The person of Saddam Hussein remains a major obstacle to cooperation; his behavior has exacerbated the personal enmity of regional rulers. It is hard to see matters reverting to normal with Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, even though the latter is prepared to have commercial dealings with Iraq in the context of the oil-for-food arrangement.
If world need for Iraqi oil could prompt further cooperation, the opposite also applies. If Saddam were to commit the kind of "fatal error" awaited by the Americans - using proscribed weapons or threatening U.S. allies like the Kurds in their safe haven or U.S. regional interests - this would virtually eliminate any chance of positive dealings with him. Internal political developments in Iran could have a major effect on dealings with Baghdad. An Iran hostile to the West and to U.S. allies in the Gulf could serve Saddam's purposes in the name of anti-imperialism. Ironically, however, that would encourage the Gulf states to seek the rehabilitation of Iraq so as to counter Iran. The Gulf states and other Arab countries would also fear the prospect of change in Iraq in favor of the Shii Islamist current, which would work to Iran's advantage.
An outbreak of Iranian-Arab conflict of any kind, be it in the Gulf or even in Lebanon, would open the doors wide to cooperation with Saddam as a balancing factor.
The containment policy is based on the principle of stabilization, as opposed to resolution, of the existing problem. The aim is to keep Saddam Hussein weak or "in a box," as the U.S. State Department puts it. And to maintain stability, Iraq's minimum needs must be met to deter adventurism on its part. If Washington wants to eliminate weapons of mass destruction but not bring down the regime, the lure of commercial and economic dealings can be used to that end. This is a role that could be played by Washington's friends in the region, including Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states.
The UAE' s fear of an Iranian threat prompted it to seek Iraq's rehabilitation, to the extent that Baghdad has started offering Abu Dhabi its military and security expertise. Baghdad has also sought to trade off with Bahrain its intelligence on Shii Islamist movements linked to the Bahraini opposition. Qatar for its part has an interest in playing the Iraqi card against Saudi Arabia and its ally Kuwait, to the extent that Doha has employed its key propaganda weapon, the Al Jazeera television channel, in Baghdad's service.
Economic sanctions are a major component of the containment policy, but the side effects of sanctions and the suffering they cause have served Baghdad in terms of enabling it to blackmail Arab rulers. However much Washington tries to blame Saddam for the sanctions, Arab and Islamic public opinion remains convinced that America is to blame. This has prompted some Arab rulers to facilitate commercial and economic dealings with Baghdad in order to counter public anger. The UAE's relaxed attitude to Iraqi smuggling is, quite apart from the profits it makes on this trade, one facet of this.
Jordan's need for Iraqi oil, coupled with public pressure, has caused it to appease Baghdad to a great extent. But occasional curbs by Jordan, such as its recent restrictions on visits by Iraqi officials, have prompted Baghdad to turn to Syria as a transit point. Economic cooperation with Syria has gathered pace since the signing of the 1998 agreement on repairing the oil pipeline between the two countries, featuring exchanges of visits between commercial delegations and an increase in Syrian exports to Iraq for the first time since 1980.
Saddam knows how to use trade as a tool in external relations and has succeeded in that regard with France and Russia.
In the event of a policy's being adopted of cooperation with or rehabilitation of Saddam, what are the minimum conditions he would have to meet? The primary concern of Iraq's ruler is preserving his power, not becoming rehabilitated. In exchange for not being undermined, he would be prepared to cooperate in the implementation of U.N. resolutions, especially as regards the return of arms inspectors. U.S. dealings with North Korea could serve as a model. The lifting of sanctions would not result in Iraq's recovering its economic health. It would still need further external aid.
A policy based on the gradual restoration of dealings with Saddam could rebuild confidence without sacrificing the interests of friendly countries. Specific domestic reforms could be required, such as the regime's adoption of a system of Kurdish self-rule under U.N. auspices. But democracy in Iraq is not an issue for the neighboring Arab countries or Turkey.
Inflows of Western capital for Iraq's reconstruction would create new conditions, assisting the development of a healthy social class capable of promoting reform and stability.
Iraq could participate in bringing about a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, including by absorbing Palestinian refugees. Such an approach could restore consensus in the Security Council, thus strengthening the stature of the United Nations, and also restore strategic balance in the Gulf vis-a-vis Iran.
Finally, the continued presence of U.S. forces in the Gulf will remain the ultimate deterrent. As for the prospects for dealing with Iraq under Qusai or another leader similar to Saddam, the emergence of any new ruler - even Qusai - would enable other countries to save face and provide the regime with an opportunity to change its approach. Any new Iraqi leader would need the United States and the Gulf states to gain rehabilitation and would be more responsive and willing to provide assurances. Under such a ruler, the options described above would stand and could be pursued more rapidly.