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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 21:49 GMT
Analysis: Saddam and the future
A street vendor sells posters of Saddam on the 10th anniversary of the Gulf War
Saddam has used the West's hostility to his advantage
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

When asked about their vision of a future Iraq, policy-makers in Washington and London depict a free and democratic country, at peace with itself and its neighbours, and no longer at war with the West. An Iraq, in short, without Saddam Hussein.

Qusay, one of Saddam's sons
Qusay, Saddam's second son, is being groomed for succession
The US and Britain have never hidden their desire to see the Iraqi leader overthrown, even though that is not their official policy.

They are convinced the Middle East will never be safe as long as he is in power.

They cannot envisage normalising relations with a regime they regard as both dictatorial and dangerous.

But the Iraqi leader has proved to be one of the great survivors of Middle East politics.

Survival skills

He has survived defeat in war, countless assassination attempts - and a decade of harsh United Nations sanctions.

As a result, say critics of Western policy, talk of a post-Saddam Iraq is mere wishful thinking.

Saddam has survived for three main reasons:

  • Schooled from his youth in the brutal and conspiratorial world of Iraqi politics, he has become skilled and utterly ruthless in holding on to power. His critics are jailed, killed or terrorised into silence, while a loyal clique is rewarded with perks and privileges.

  • He has used the West's hostility to his advantage. Rather than blaming him for the continuation of sanctions, ordinary Iraqis tend to blame the West. A state-run rationing system, designed to mitigate the effects of sanctions, has made Iraqis even more dependent on Saddam and the ruling Baath Party.

  • Even with the support of Washington and London, Iraqi opposition groups abroad have proved weak and divided. They pose no real threat to Saddam's grip on power. President Clinton's decision, during his last few days in office, to give them a further $12 million is seen by many analysts as a largely symbolic move taken under pressure from Congress.

Saddam's health

But there is one threat which even Saddam is unable to laugh off - his own mortality.

Persistent reports that he has cancer, or some other serious illness, are routinely denied in Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein - December 2000
Reports that Saddam is seriously ill are routinely denied in Baghdad
But he is 63 and, after more than two decades in power, the years seem to be taking their toll.

To experienced Saddam-watchers he is looking pale and exhausted.

They are convinced his public appearances are stage-managed to hide his true condition.

For years, the Iraqi leader appeared to be grooming his elder son, Uday, to succeed him.

But Uday has a history of violent and unpredictable behaviour.


After he was seriously injured in an assassination attempt in 1996, Saddam began to sideline him in favour of his younger brother Qusay.

But a smooth succession is far from certain. Qusay would probably have to face down challenges from his ambitious brother, from other members of Saddam's extended clan or from rivals in the army, the intelligence agencies or the Baath Party.

The nightmare for Iraq's neighbours is the country's descent into bloodshed and anarchy.

Some fear the break-up of the state into its three basic components: a Kurdish north and a Shi'ite south, with a Sunni centre sandwiched in between.

One of the dilemmas of the West and its allies in the region is to decide which they fear most - an Iraq ruled by Saddam, or an Iraq without him.

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See also:

16 Jan 01 | Middle East
Aziz blames West for Gulf War
17 Dec 00 | Middle East
Iraq dismisses Powell's threats
01 Dec 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Saddam steps up defiance
16 Jan 01 | Media reports
Press marks Gulf War anniversary
15 Jan 01 | Middle East
Flashback: Desert Storm
15 Jan 01 | Middle East
Gulf War: Iraq's legacy of pain
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