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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Saddam's tactics: Divide the enemy
Saddam Hussein is back on his old tactical path of trying to divide his enemies and so head off a military attack.
He now appears to be making an effort to drive a wedge between the United States and Britain by capitalising on anti-war sentiment in the UK.
The new move follows his twin offer to the US Congress and the UN to send delegations to make inspections for weapons of mass destruction.
That in turn came after a diplomatic peace offensive aimed at his immediate neighbours.
The Iraqi leader's envoy in London, Mudhafar Amin, told The Guardian newspaper that the Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri al-Hadithi would be willing to come to the UK "to talk to any British official".
The Iraqis have not been slow in identifying a growing hostility to any American-led invasion of Iraq.
Some senior former military and diplomatic figures as well as church leaders, including the next Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, have joined the opposition to a war.
Sir Michael Quinlan, a senior official at the Ministry of Defence under Margaret Thatcher wrote in the Financial Times that "a UK Government decision to participate in a US-led assault could provoke more severe domestic division than Britain has seen since the Suez crisis."
The Suez crisis erupted in 1956 when Britain and France in collusion with Israel attacked Egypt after President Nasser had nationalised the Suez Canal.
The invasion prompted huge demonstrations in London and the operation eventually ended in humiliation after the United States intervened.
The very name "Suez" still haunts British political leaders.
Is Saddam serious?
The chances of such opposition forcing the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to separate himself from President George Bush depend in part on whether Saddam Hussein is serious about allowing weapons inspectors back in.
If the Iraqi leader is playing his old games, then his offer will be exposed and his initiative will fizzle out.
Mr Blair will then have been strengthened. He would be able to argue that Saddam Hussein had once again failed to accept UN demands and must accept the consequences.
But if an agreement is reached to get the inspectors back in, the British Government would be faced with a very difficult choice, especially if Washington does not change course.
Would Britain continue to maintain, as Mr Blair did in front of a parliamentary committee recently, that the issue had gone beyond weapons inspections and into the realm of removing Saddam Hussein as a threat?
Or would it argue for at least a pause in order to let the inspectors do their job, something which would take months or even years?
The British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien told the BBC from Libya that Saddam Hussein had to comply with international law and allow inspectors back in.
Mr O'Brien went on: "If international law is complied with, of course the position will then be very different."
The implication of his remark is that Britain would indeed have to reassess its position.
But remarks by junior ministers abroad do not constitute firm government policy and as yet in any case no decisions about military action have been taken.
Bush on a mission
All this might be academic for a US administration determined to get rid of Saddam Hussein.
While it might be nice for Mr Bush to have Mr Blair and others at his side, it is not necessary. The United States military is so powerful that it could do the job itself, with the help of Kuwait as a land base and perhaps Qatar as an airbase as well.
President George Bush is embarked on a mission. After 11 September he argues that he cannot wait for action against America before he takes action to defend America.
And that means, in his view, action against Saddam Hussein. There would be huge recriminations between the United States and Europe if Europe stood aside.
The future of the Nato alliance itself might be cast into doubt.
Saddam Hussein himself always seems to be one step behind the game.
After his invasion of Kuwait, he failed to realise the strength of the coalition against him and made concessions far too slowly.
On the eve of the action to remove his forces from Kuwait, he began to move them out. It was hopelessly late.
If he had agreed to the weapons teams going back in months ago, he might have forestalled a US decision to remove him.
At that time, Iraq had been put on hold while the Taleban and al-Qaeda were being dealt with.
But he did not, mistaking an American decision not to act against him for the moment as an American decision not to act against him at all.
Now he is playing catch-up.
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