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Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK


World: Middle East

Saddam in power: 20 years on



By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

On 16 July, 1979, Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq. The following 20 years have been marked by wars, confrontation with the West and international isolation.


From the BBC Archive: "Operation Desert Storm begins"
Little more than a year after taking over as president, Saddam Hussein sent troops into Iran, setting off an eight-year war with the new Islamic Republic

The war was ruinous to both countries. But it enabled Saddam Hussein to pose as the champion of the Arabs.

Internally, he has relied on a mixture of intimidation and favouritism, rotating military commands and farming out lucrative parts of the economy to competing associates and relatives.


[ image:  ]
Saddam Hussein's riskiest adventure was the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The gamble failed when a US-led coalition took military action.

Saddam Hussein lost control of Iraq's Kurdish north, and western aircraft enforced a no-fly zone in the south as well.

The exiled Iraqi political scientist, Faleh Abdul Jabar, says the president is now very weak.

"There is only a semblance of a state really. Saddam has withdrawn from Kurdistan; in the south he is the ruler only during the daytime. I have never seen such a president who is in hiding all the time - and he is in hiding now more than he was in hiding during his clandestine militancy before he came to power," he said.

In 1995, the Iraqi leader's two sons-in-law defected to Jordan with their families. One of them, General Hussein Kamel Hassan, called for his overthrow.

Hussein Kamel told the Iraqi armed forces to prepare for a change of regime.

But a few months later, he and his brother were persuaded to return to Baghdad and were promptly killed.

In praise of the president


[ image: Saddam Hussein's family surround his picture]
Saddam Hussein's family surround his picture
The realities of life in Iraq have made no difference to the official adulation which surrounds President Saddam.

The Iraqi ambassador at the United Nations, Saeed Hassan, says he embodies national pride and Arab dignity and blames everything on Washington and the sanctions.

"Iraq is not a banana republic; Iraq is the cradle of civilisation, and it's the destiny of Iraq to play a big role in enhancing human civilisation. And in this period, in this juncture...our destiny is to resist the US hegemony."

Opposition crushed

It may be tempting to compare Saddam Hussein with another leader western governments would like to see removed from power, Slobodan Milosevic.


[ image: Ba'ath party member show their support]
Ba'ath party member show their support
But Iraq expert Charles Tripp says the kind of public opposition voiced in Serbia is inconceivable.

He said: "The only demonstrations one sees in Iraq are those organised by the government. Notoriously there has been very little sense of a public space in Iraq where opposition parties could organise."

The hope of President Saddam's opponents is that eventually a section of the military or business elite will succeed in ousting him.

Despite the apparently crushing blows Iraq has sustained in 20 years of supreme power, President Saddam Hussein personally seems far from being crushed. He continues to play for the highest risks.



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