November 23, 1990 | Backgrounder on Middle East
No. 798 I The Heritage Found ation 214 Massachusetts Avenue N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002-4999 (202) 5464400 November 23,1990 SADDAM HUSSEXN AND THE CRISIS IN THE PERSIAN GULF I INTRODUCTION The outcome of the crisis in the Persian Gulf will be decided to a large extent by the decision s of one man Saddam Hussein.The ruthless Iraqi dictator precipitated the crisis by ordering the August 2 invasion of Kuwait. He has brought the United States to the brink of war by holding thousands of hostages in Iraq and Kuwait and refusing to heed Unite d Nations resolutions calling on Iraq to withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait. Saddam, more than any other leader has the power to determine whether the crisis will be resolved through diplomacy or through war den shifts in policy, it is difficult to predi ct his future actions. Yet a study of his past, his character, his policies, and his long-term goals sheds light on what he might do next.
Saddam is a born survivor. He escaped poverty through a street gang, became an assassin, organized the death squads i n the late 1960s that propped up a nar rowly based regime and used his control of the secret police to consolidate his personal power. Once installed as Iraqs supreme leader in 1979, Saddam brought to Iraqs foreign policy thetactics that served him in goo d stead throughout his political career: intimidation, conspiracy, terrorism, and the use of force.
Adept in Intimidation. Saddam, say those who long have observed him, is a ruthless opportunist with a predatory personality. He is quick to grab for what he wants and slow to relinquish it in the face of strong opposition. Adept in the art of intimidation, Saddam himself is not easily intimidated. Economic sanctions alone therefore, are not likely to compel him to withdraw Iraqi troops from Kuwait be Given S a ddams repeated ability to surprise his neighbors and the U.S. with sud Nofe: Nothing wriffen here is to be construed as necessarily reflecfing fhe views of The Herifage Foundafion or as an affempf Io aid or hinder fhe passage 01 any bill belore Congress. Y cause such an ignominious withdrawal would jeopardize his political leadership and personal sunrival L Rejecting Face-saving Solution. Only the credible threat or actual use of force will compel Saddam to relinquish Kuwait. Once he is convinced that war i s im minent, Saddam probably will try to head it off and keep the U.S. off-balance by proposing a partial Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, which would split the anti-Iraq coalition and give him a face-saving escape route from his own adventurism. As such, Wa s hington must reject such a Munich-like diplomatic solution because it would enable Saddam to reap the fruit of his aggression and increase his des tabilizing influence in the Middle East. Allowing Saddam to score a diplomatic victory in Kuwait will make i t more difficult and more costly to halt Iraqi aggres sion in the future, when Iraq has developed more lethal weapons of mass destruc tion, including nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
The U.S. therefore must press for a United Nations Security Cou ncil resolution calling for the use of force against Iraq unless Iraqi troops immediately and uncon ditionally withdraw from Kuwait.The longer the stalemate continues, the more time Saddam Hussein has to undermine the solidarity of the anti-Iraq coalition and find support for a face-saving settlement that will leave him free to launch fu ture aggressions SADDAMS EARLY LIFE Saddam Hussein was born on April 28,1937, to a landless peasant family near the town of Tikrit 100 miles north of Baghdad on theTigris R iver. Many details of his early life remain murky because of conflicting biographical accounts. Sad dam (whose name translates as one who confronts) grew up without a father either because his father died before his birth (the official story) or because h e abandoned his family (according to a personal secretary who later broke with Sad dam). After Saddams strong-willed mother, Subha, remarried, the young Saddam was constantly abused by a scornful stepfather, Ibrahim Hassan, a crude peasant who complained o f Saddam: He is a son of a dog [a particularly virulent insult in Arabic I dont want him. Saddam did not begin his formal education until age ten because his stepfather preferred him to take care of the sheep.
In 1947 Saddam was sent to live with his mothe rs brother, KhayrallahTulfah in a working-class neighborhood of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, where many Tik ritis lived. Khayrallah was an ardent Iraqi nationalist who was cashiered from the Iraqi army for joining an abortive anti-British and pro-Nazi upri sing in 1941.
Khayrallah was probably the strongest influence on Saddams early political views, infusing him with a hatred of British colonialism and the British-installed Hashemite regime that ruled Iraq after independence from Britain in 19
32. Per 1 p. 27.
Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie, Suddunt Hussein unndfhe Crisis in flie Gulf(NewYork Random House, 19 2 haps trying to emulate Khayrallah, Saddam applied to enter the Baghdad Military Academy, but failed the entrance examination. Althoug h he never servedin the army, Saddam developed a love of military uniforms and guns. Years later, after gaining power he named himself a Field Marshal Street Muscle. Saddam left school at age sixteen and became the leader of a street gang of poorTikritis l iving in Baghdad. He killed his first man at the age of sixteen, by some accounts; others claim he may have been only twelve. In 1956 Saddam, then age nineteen, like most of the Arab world, was electrified by Egyp tian leader Gama1 Abdel Nassers ability t o transform a military defeat at the hands of Israel, France, and Britain into a political triumph in the Suez crisis. Sad dam was inspired by Nassers efforts to unify the Arab world. In 1957, Saddam joined the radical Baath (Renaissance) Party, which was dedicated to restoring Arab glory through pan-Arab unity, secular nationalism, and socialism. Saddams gang gave the Baath Party street muscle. Saddams political career was propelled by his ability to orchestrate and execute political violence.
The tiny Baath Party was relegated to the political sidelines when General Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew Iraqi King Faisal I1 in 19
58. Saddams first politi cal murder is believed to have been the killing of a communist supporter of Qas sim who also happened to be Saddams brother-in-law? Saddam boldly led an abortive assassination attempt on General Qassim on October 7,19
59. Saddam then 22, was wounded in the leg, and dug the bullet out with his pocket knife, ac cording to an official account. Saddam then fled to Syr ia and ended up in Cairo where he spent four years on the Egyptian payroll being groomed by the Nasser regime as a future leader of the pan-Arab cause? While in Cairo, Saddam mar ried his uncle Khayrallahs daughter, Sajida, and finally finished high schoo l at the age of 24. In the meantime, he was arrested twice by Egyptian police, once for threatening to kill a fellow Iraqi student because of political differenges and once for chasing another student through the streets of Cairo with a knife SADDAM RISES T HROUGH THE SECRET POLICE Saddam returned to Iraq after the Baath Party overthrew General Qassim in February 1963 and joined the internal security forces. He became an interrogator and torturer in the Qasr-al Nihayyah (Palace of the End), a Baathist tortur e chamber in the palace where King Faisal and his family were executed in 1958 The Baath Party, weakened by factional cleavages, was ousted on November 18 1963, by the Iraqi army. Saddam was arrested in October 1964 and jailed for al most two years. He con c luded that the Baath Party henceforth should maintain 2 Saddam reportedly was incited to do this by his uncle Khayrallah. Miller and Mylroie, op. cit p. 29 3 Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, October 3,1990, p. 4 4 5 Yossef Bodansky and Vaugh Forrest, Saddam Hussein, House Republican Research Committee,Task Force on Miller and Mylroie, op. cit p. 30.
Miller and Mylroie, op. cit p. 31 3 C strict unity and distrust ambitious army officers who had a tendency to purge non Torture and Terror. Saddam escaped from jail in 19
66. He then founded the Baath internal security forces, the Jihaz Haneen (instrument of yearning).This dreaded organization assassinated the partys enemies, monitored the loyalty of party members, and purged dissenters. The Baath Party re turned to power in a coup in July 1968, in which Saddams security forces quickly purged non-Baathist army officers. Saddams cousin, General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, became Presi dent, but Saddam quickly became the strongman of the regime. As head of the in t ernal security apparatus, Saddam crafted the Arab worlds most ruthless police state. His secret police routinely tortured political dissenters even children, to extract confessions and information from their parents.
Saddams political power base has always been the internal security services which he staffed with members of his own family and clan or neighbors from his home town,Tikrit.This Tikriti mafia became the core of Saddams regime as he continuously purged rivals and potential rivals from the Baath Party. So many high-ranking members of the regime hailed fromTikrit that Saddam banned the public use of the Zaqub, or surname indicating place of origin, to obscure the dis proportionate number of al-Tikritis (people fromTikrit) in his inner circle.
Sadda m ousted his cousin, Al-Bakr, from the presidency on July 16,1979, and ruthlessly consolidated total control over Iraq. Claiming that he had uncovered a plot by pro-Syrian Baathists, Saddam purged up to 500 party members. At a meet ing of hundreds of part y cadres, Saddam read the names of 22 high-ranking party members, who then were led off to be executed. Several senior officials were shot shortly thereafter by a firing squad composed of Saddam and his surviving col leagues.
Ruthless Purges. Saddam himsel f is said to have killed 22 men? He personally executed his own Minister of Health, Riyadh Ibrahim, a longtime compatriot, in the middle of a Cabinet meeting in 1982 when the hapless minister suggested that Saddam temporarily step down from power to allow a negotiated solution to the Iran-Iraq war. Soon after, the ministers dismembered body was delivered to his wifes front door in a sack. Saddams use of terror, even against his own as sociates, inspires fear in Iraqis and has assured his domination of Iraq i politics trol of the secret police, which he then used to gain control of the Baath Party through which he rules Iraq. He now seeks to become the undisputed leader of military conspirators after a successful coup b 6 8 Saddam may be understood best as a gang leader. He used his gang to gain con 6 7 8 Amnesty International, Iraqi Children Innocent Victims of Political Oppression, April 1989.
David Pryce-Jones, The Conquering Hero, 77ie New Republic, September 24,1990, p. 19.
David Korn, Blood Baath 7ie Ne w Republic, October 29,1990, p. 13 4 the Arab world. Fittiply, his favorite movie is said to be The Godfather, which he I has seen many times SADDAMS PERSONALITY CULT The Iraqi dictator sits at the center of a web of state, party, military, and secret pol i ce organizations As President and Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Saddam controls all government bureaucracies As Secretary General of the Regional Command of the Baath Party, he leads 50,000 Baath Party members and 1.5 million sympathizers . As Commander in Chief of the armdd forces he leads Iraqs one-million-man army. And through his powerful Special Bureau he keeps close tabs on Iraqs many competing intelligence and internal security agencies.
Giant portraits of Saddam dominate government offices and all public places.
Iraqs state-controlled television periodically flashes Saddams eternal sayings on the screen. His birthday is an Iraqi national holiday To strengthen his claim to leadership, Sad darn has exploited symbols of Iraqs historical glory. He has encouraged comparisons to Nebuchadnezzar the power ful leader of ancient Babylon, who conquered Jerusalem and brought the Jews to Babylon. He is reconstructing the walls of Nebuchadnezzars Babyl on, putting his own name on every tenth brick, as a testament to Iraqs pre-Islamic glory.l0 He has invoked Saladin the brilliant military and political leader who defeated the Crusaders and conquered Jerusalem in year 11
87. Although Saladin also was born nearTikrit, Saddam neglects to recognize that Saladin was a Kurd, the ancestor of the 3 to 4 million mountain people in northeastern Iraq whom Saddam ruthlessly has repressed Demanding Deference. Saddam rules with what seems a messianic sense of mis sion. He seeks to restore the Arab world to what he believes is its rightful place in the world as aThird Superpower. He is quick to take offense at those who do not accord him the respect he feels is due. Since 1986, public insults of Saddam have been punishab l e by death. Even when dealing with foreigners, Saddam demands deference. According to an unnamed diplomat who has met with him, Saddam habitually holds his hand extremely low when greeting visitors to force them to bow as they shake hands to communicate t o his countrymen through a surrogate, often a television an nouncer who bears a striking resemblance to Saddam, who reads Saddams speeches. Saddarn lives and works in isolation, shunning contact with his people Because he lacks personal charisma and is not an articulate speaker, he prefers 9 10 Peter Mansfield, The Arab Nation and Saddam Hussein, Middle East Itrtenratioiral, August 31,1WO, p. 26 11 Wall Street Joimral, September 12,1990 Miller and Mylroie, op. cit p. 24 5probably out of fear of assassinatio n . He is believed to have survived several at tempts on his life and is heavily guarded during his rare public appearances one of his infrequent foreign trips, he brings his own food, a food taster, and his own chair, apparently fearful of sitting on a poi s onous needle. When the lights momentarily flickered out at the February 1990 Arab Cooperation Council syp mit, Saddam dove under a table, apparently fearing an assassination attempt Saddam is extremely distrustful, even of his closest associates. When he g oes on SADDAMS GAMBLES P Saddam has not had the same success imposing his will on neighboring countries as he has had with Iraq. When revolutionary Iran, after Ayatollah Ruhol lah Khomeinis 1979 revolution, threatened Saddams regime by stirring unrest amo ng Iraqi Shiites, who make up about 55 percent of Iraqs 18 million people Saddam responded by invading Iran in September 19
80. Saddam, expecting a quick and easy victory, badly miscalculated the strength of Iranian resistance. Iraq became mired in a blood y eight-year war with Iran that took the lives of up to 500,000 Iraqis and left Iraq $80 billion in debt. Although Saddam eventually won a military victory in 1988 by using illegal chemical weapons on the poorly prepared Iranians and Irans Kurdish allies inside Iraq he had little to show for his victory.The Iranians were forced to accept a ceasefire, but refused to negotiate a peace settlement.
Saddam was unable to provide war-weary Iraqis with a peace dividend. High world oil prices in the early 1980s and generous loans from the Arab Gulf states had enabled Saddam to coopt many Iraqis with a guns and butter policy that corn bined massive military spending with huge economic development projects. But the fall of oil prices after 1985 reduced Iraqs oil reve n ues and reduced the Iraqi dictators ability to finance ambitious economic development schemes AI though Saddams pervasive police apparatus precluded organized opposition, Iraqis are believed to have grown increasingly disenchanted with Saddams harsh rule B locking Coups. Particularly worrisome for Saddam was the growing restive ness of Iraqi army officers, who had seen at close range the terrible price that Iraqis had paid for Saddams military miscalculations. Saddam surely realized that the biggest threat t o his rule came from the army, which had staged thirteen coups detat between 1920 and 1979.To block possible coup attempts, Saddarn constantly purged high-ranking officers and executed hundreds of officers suspected of disloyalty. Baath Party commissars m o nitored military affairs down l2 Miller and Mylroie, op. cir p. 40 6 to the battalion level. Secret police were infiltrated into the ranks. And an elite Presidential Guard unit was recruited primarily of diehard loyalists from theTik rit region. War heroe s who threatened to become potential rivals of Saddam Hus sein were forced out of public view or placed under house arrest. Even Minister of Defense Adnan Khayrallah, Saddams cousin, brother-in-law and closest friend as a young boy, fell victim to Saddams s uspicions. Khayrallah, who directed Iraqs military effort in the final months of the war, died in a mysterious helicopter acci dent in May 1989 believed by many to have been arranged by the Iraqi di~tat0r.l Following the August 20 1988, ceasefire with Ira n there were a growing number of reported coup attempts against Saddam.The Iraqi internal security forces sniffed out and foiled several plots, including an attempt to shoot down Saddams plane and an attempt to bomb the presidential reviewing stand during a military parade.14 There have been four credible reports of coup attempts this year alone including an abortive car bomb attack to be launched on January 6 during Iraqs Army Day celebrations. Saddam became so distrustful of his own military that he close d officers clubs this July and purged three top military leaders, including Iraqs most celebrated war hero, Lt. General Maher Abdul Rashid.lG Miscalculation in Kuwait. Saddams August 2 invasion of Kuwait was more a mark of economic and political weakness t h an a sign of military strength. Saddam in effect tried to make the annexation of Kuwait Iraqs peace dividend from its war with Iran. By seizing Kuwaits oil wealth, Saddam tried to score a personal tri umph that would discourage challenges to his rule, qui e t grumbling about his fruitless war with Iran, and reverse growing resentment of his brutal dictatorship by exploiting Iraqi nationalism and irredentism. In addition to halting the erosion of his domestic power base, a successful annexation of Kuwait woul d strengthen Saddams claim to the leadership of the Arab world. It would give him additional financial resources, in the form of Kuwaits 94 billion barrels of oil reserves and 100 billion in foreign investments, to accelerate his ambitious military, nuclea r and development programs. Having conquered Kuwait, Saddam would loom large as the new Nasser a strong leader who could stir the Arab masses by championing their long-held dreams for Arab unity and restoring Arab honor by standing up to Israel and the Wes t.
Saddam once again grossly miscalculated the implications of aggression. Al though Kuwait swiftly succumbed to his onslaught, Saudi Arabia, which he probably expected could be intimidated, uncharacteristically boldly chose to resist the expansion of Iraq i power.The Saudis staunchly backed Kuwait and invited 13 Adnan Khayrallah also sided with his sister, Saddams wife, in a bitter family feud ovcr Saddams public affair with Samira Shahbandar, the ex-wife of the chairman of Iraqi Airways. Saddams eldest so n, Uday, awngcd his mothers honor by publicly beating to death the presidential food taster, who had introduced Saddam to Shahbandar.
Efraim Karsh, In Baghdad, Politics is a Lethal Game, 77ie New York Tirries Muguziric, September 30,1990, p. 40 14 The Guar dian (London), March 24,1989, p. 14 15 Wahingrori Post, August 16,1990, p. A34 16 Laurie Mylroie, Saddam Was in DesperateTrouble, 77ie WuII Sfreef Joimiul, August 10,1990, p. A10 7 t American, British, French, Egyptian, Syrian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Moroc can troops (listed in descending order of the strength of committed military for ces) to help defend Saudi territory. This unlikely coalition, supported diplomati cally in the United Nations Security Council by the Soviet Union and Mainland China, i m posed an economic embargo on Iraq on August 6, and threatens to use military force to compel Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait SADDAMS STRATEGY Since the August 2 invasion, Saddam cautiously has sought to consolidate Iraqs control over Kuwait while avoiding a p rovocation that could trigger a war with the multinational forces assembled in the Persian Gulf to curb Iraqi aggression. Sad dam in early August ordered Iraqi ship captains to permit their ships to be boarded and searched by the blockading naval forces e nforcing U.N. economic sanctions. Iraqi warplanes carefully avoid entering Saudi airspace or challenging American or Saudi air forces in the Persian Gulf.
Meanwhile, Iraq steadily consolidates its control over Kuwait. Baghdad declared on August 8 that Kuwa it had been annexed as an Iraqi province. Iraqi troops began taking foreign hostages in Kuwait on August 13 to be used as shields to deter attacks on Iraqi strategic and economic targets. Iraqi troops have ter- rorized Kuwaits PO ulation, driving 500,000 of Kuwaits 750,000 native citizens out of the country.
Thousands of Iraqi peasants and urban poor have been settled in Kuwait Iraq has organized some of the 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Kuwait into a pro Iraqi force, and has permitted radical pro-Iraqi Palestinian terrorist leaders such as Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas to set up headquarters in Kuwait City.
Saddams strategy is to tighten his grip on Kuwait while buying time to sow dis unity in the unwieldy anti-Iraq coalition. He probably reckons that the lon ger the stalemate drags on, the more likely is it that the U.N.-mandated embargo will spring leaks and the anti-Iraq coalition will crumble. By stringing out the crisis Saddam apparently hopes to deflect attention from his own aggression to the Western mi l itary presence and strengthen political constraints in the U.S. and the West against military action by stressing the high costs of war. Meanwhile, Sad dam tries to drive wedges into the anti-Iraq coalition by exploiting the Arab-Is raeli dispute, selecti vely releasing hostages and offering free oil to countries that violate the U.N. economic embargo.
One Iraqi ploy is the attempt to link the Persian Gulf crisis with the Arab-Is raeli conflict. By doing this Saddam hopes to focus Arab attention on the U.S. -Is raeli axis to undermine the anti-Iraq coalition. Saddam offered on August 12 to 17 17 rite Economist, October 20, l!BO 18 Middle East Intenrational, August 31,1990, p. 8 8 withdraw his troops from Kuwait if Israeli withdrew from occupied Arab ter rito r ies and if Syria withdrew from Lebanon. Although the U.S Israel, and most Arab states have rejected this linkage, the October 8 riots in Jerusalem that resulted in the deaths of seventeen Palestinians aided Iraq by diverting the atten tion of the Arab and Muslim countries. Saddam escalated his propaganda attacks on Israel on October 9 and announced that Iraq had developed a new missile, the Hijam (the stone), capable of hitting Israel, like the stones of the Palestinian rioters in Jerusalem. Saddam knows t hat nothing unites the Arab world like an anti-Israeli stand, so he attempts to thrust himself to the head of an anti-Israel crusade.
Appealing to Arab Masses. Saddam has appealed to the Arab masses over the heads of Arab rulers opposed to his invasion of Kuwait. Iraq set up a radio station on August 13 that calls on Egyptians to rise up against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has taken a pro-Kuwaiti stand. Iraqi radio charges meanwhile that the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia is a U.S.-Israel i plot to control oil, that Israeli personnel are in Saudi Arabia masquerading as Americans, that U.S. sol diers massacred pro-Iraqi Saudi demonstrators, and that U.S. soldiers have brought AIDS, alcohol, pork, and prostitutes to Saudi Arabia.lg Although S a d dam is a secular socialist who brutally crushed Iraqi Muslim fundamentalist groups, he now poses as a defender of Islam against the infidel West. Saddam calls for liberation of the Holy Places in Mecca from occupation by unbelievers and the Jews.20 Alth o ugh this charge appears specious in the West, the Saudis were nervous enough about the gullibility of Arabs to invite Muslim religious leaders to Mecca in September to certify that the Holy Places had not been vio lated the Western hostages held in Kuwait and Iraq, now estimated at about 2,000, in cluding some 900 Americans. Baghdad announced on August 17 that it was moving hundreds of hostages to strategic and economic facilities in Iraq to deter attack and to raise the domestic political pressures on the U.S. and other states to postpone military action. Iraq initially demanded a U.S. pledge not to attack as a precondition for releasing these hostages.
When this failed to bring U.S. concessions, Iraq began selectively to release hostages to lure foreign l eaders to Baghdad and weaken the unity of the anti-Iraq coalition. The Iraqis believe that the subsequent procession of fawning foreign dignitaries to Baghdad, including former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Na k asone, and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, gives Iraq the opportunity to put its case before the world and reduce the chances of an attack against Iraq. Saddam Hussein announced on last week that Iraq would free all remaining hostages in small g roups beginning At the forefront of Saddams efforts to shatter the anti-Iraq coalition have been 19 77te New York Tirites, September 16,1990, p. 2 20 Tlte Wasliiitgtoii Post, October 5,1s)90, p. A30 9 on December 25 and continuing to March 25, unless some t hing should occur to disturb the atmosphere of peace. Saddams manipulation of the hostages is designed to paralyze the anti-Iraq coalition and preclude concerted military ac tion against Iraq during the winter months, which are the most favorable months f o r military operations due to lower temperatures and reduced numbers of sandstorms SADDAMS FUTURE POLICY Saddam is trapped in a dilemma of his own making. He cannot bow to interna tional pressure and withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait because this would b e political suicide. It would shatter his carefully cultivated aura of invincibility, raise anew strong doubts about his judgment and leave him vulnerable to future coups by disgruntled army officers. Yet he cannot sit tight in Kuwait if that means war wi t h the U.S for such a war would be military suicide though the U.N. economic embargo is beginning to pinch, it will not develop a painful bite for several more months. Saddam can divert scarce food and other supplies to his army, while allowing Iraqi Kurds , Kuwaitis, and Iraqs 2,000 Western hostages to starve slowly for the benefit of Western television cameras.*l The international consensus in support of the embargo will dissipate when it be comes clear that Saddam is willing to starve more people to retai n Kuwait than the U.N. is willing to starve to liberate Kuwait. Saddam took the Iraqi people hostage long ago Stalling for Time. Saddam has proved himself a tough-minded master of brinkmanship. He thus surely will cling to Kuwait until convinced that this w ill lead to a war that he cannot hope to win. Saddam apparently is not yet convinced that war is imminent. One of his closest associates, his son-in-law General Hus sein Kamel, who is the Ministry of Industry and Military Production, recently told a diplo m at: We have nothing to worry about from a war with the U.S.The Americans are not prepared to pay the price of a war with Iraq. Iraqi officials believe that the U.S.-led coalition is a fragile marriage of convenience that will weaken and dissolve over time . They speak of a French and Soviet axis that eventually will end the US.-imposed Gulf crisis.23 Iraq will therefore continue stalling for time to wear down the resolve of the anti-Iraq coalition and drive wedges between its members Saddam is unlikely to be pushed out of Kuwait solely by economic sanctions Al 21 See: James Phillips, Can the Embargo on Iraq Succeed? Heritage Foundation BackgoJtrtder No. 789 September 5,1990 22 nte New York Titires, November 4,1990, p. 2 23 The Wall Street JoJmia November 2,19 9 0, p. A10 10 Surprising Flexibility. Yet Saddam has shown flexibility in the past when con fronted with an unfavorable situation. For example, in March 1975 he struck a deal with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran to adcept Irans territorial claims in a b o rder dispute in exchange for an end to Iranian military aid to Iraqs Kur dish rebels. Later, Saddam withdrew his territorial claim on Irans oil-rich Khuzes tan province, called Arabestan by the Iraqis, in a vain bid to end the Iran-Iraq war in 1982, after Iran had halted Iraqs invasion and pushed Iraqi forces back to the border. Twelve days after invading Kuwait, Saddam demonstrated tremen dous flexibility by suddenly bowing to Irans terms for a peace treaty and withdrawing its troops from Iranian territor y.This concession to Iran, Iraqs bitter historical enemy, must have been unpopular with the Iraqi people, a factor that is likely to make Saddam all the more determined to reject a humiliating forced withdrawal from Kuwait.
Saddam will abandon Kuwait only when convinced that holding on to it will trig ger a disastrous war that threatens his regimes political and physical survival.
Convincing Saddam of this is difficult for Washington, given its need to maintain a broad international consensus, particularly within the U.N. Security Council, for sustained economic and diplomatic pressure on Iraq. When U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Dugan threatened this consensus by publicly threaten ing to decapitate Iraqs leadership, S ecretary of Defense Richard Cheney sack ed him on September
17. This action probably was perceived in Baghdad as a sig nal that the U.S. was not serious about its threatened use of force.
Saddam Hussein is a calculating risk-taker who surely now continua lly is gaug ing not only the capability, but also the willingness, of America to use force. He doubts American will power, not American firepower. According to an unnamed Arab ambassador in Baghdad, Saddam will not consider withdrawal unless he sees the r e d eye (the determination) of his 0pponent.2~ George Bush recently has shown Saddam this red eye by expressing anger over the plight of Kuwaitis and the estimated 900 American hostages held in Iraq and Kuwait. Moreover, the Bush administration has escalate d the pressure on Iraq by announcing on Novem ber 8 the commitment of over 400,000 troops to the Persian Gulf by early next year. Washington also is preparing to push a resolution through the U.N. Security Council supporting the use of force if Iraq fails to withdraw from Kuwait.
Soviet moves may play a key role in determining Saddams future policies. Ac cording to an unnamed Iraqi official close to Saddam, the Iraqi dictator believes that the Soviet reluctance to countenance a war over Kuwait is one of the itrongest constraints on U.S. willingness to go to war. Saddam has iven s ecific instructions that he is to be closely informed of every Soviet move. Soviet Presi dent Mikhail Gorbachevs waffling on the question of military force, particularly his statem e nt on October 29 indicating that military solution was unacceptable in 55 .p 24 rile Wall Street Joiirnal, November 2,1!)90, p. A10 25 John Burns, To Manipulate the World, Mystify It, nre New Yonk linies, November 4,1!BO, p. 2 11the Persian Gulf crisis, c a n only have emboldened Saddam. But if Moscow should signal Saddam that it accepts the need for military force, perhaps in a U.N Security Council Resolution supporting the use of forte to enforce previous U.N resolutions, then Saddams calculus concerning K uwait may suddenly change Fall-Back Position. Once he is convinced that a war is imminent, Saddam probably will seek to forestall military action with a timely diplomatic initiative.
Baghdad already quietly has staked out a plausible fall-back position tha t could resolve Saddams dilemma through a partial withdrawal from Kuwait. Significant ly, when Kuwait was annexed as Iraqs nineteenth province on August 8, a swathe of northern Kuwait that the Iraqis named the Saddamiyat d-Mitlaa, was incor porated into I r aqs Basra province. According to maps distributed to Iraqi embas sies, this territorial enclave consists of Kuwaits Northern Province, which con tains approximately one-third of Kuwaits territory and one-fifth of its oil Refugees fleeing Kuwait report tha t border posts and a concrete wall are being constructed along the new border. If Saddam concludes that he cannot hold Kuwait without a war, he may offer to withdraw to this new boundary, which es sentially corresponds to the historic boundary of the Ottom anTurkish province of Basra. Baghdad may have been preparing Iraqis and other Arabs for such a par tial withdrawal by leaking reports on October 18 that Saddam h d a dream in which the Prophet Mohammed called on him to leave Kuwait.
Such a diplomatic settl ement would allow Saddam to save face by leaving him in control of Kuwaits northern oil fields and the strategic islands of Warba and Bubiyan, which guard the access channels to Iraqs naval base at Umm Qasr.This should be absolutely unacceptable to the U. S . It would give Saddam a war dividend of up to 20 billion barrels of Kuwaiti oil reserves and improved access to the Persian Gulf. As dangerous, it would boost Saddams prestige as a strong Arab leader that faced down the Western powers.This would enhance his in fluence and strengthen radical anti-Western forces throughout the Middle East.
Uncomfortable Saudis. Secretary of State James Baker repeatedly has ruled out partial solutions to the Persian Gulf crisis that would involve Kuwaiti con cessions to Iraq in exchange for a partial withdrawal. But other members of the anti-Iraq coalition may not reject such an outcome, especially if the stalemate over Kuwait drags on without an end in sight. Saudi Arabia, in particular, is un comfortable with the prospect o f an open-ended presence of hundreds of thousands of American troops. While such a huge military force safeguards Saudi security in the short run, it undermines Saudi political stability in the long run be cause it undercuts the chief source of legitimacy of the ruling dynasty- the guar dianship of Muslim holy places in Mecca and Medina.The Saudis privately have pressed Washington for a swift and decisive resolution of the crisis.They are 2lf 26 Oil Daily, Eiicrgr Compass, London, October 26,1!BO, p. 3 27 W all Street Joimral, November 2,19!)0, p. A10 28 See: Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Near East and South Asia Daily Report, October 23,1990, p. 25 12 CONCLUSION believed to be concerned about the possibility of anti-Western protests during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting which begins in March 1991 and during the Haj, the Muslim pilgrimage, which begins in June.
Time is working against both the U.S. and Iraq in the current crisis.The U.N embargo is weakening Iraq economically and undermining Ira qs military poten tial. But Saddam Hussein is unlikely to relinquish Kuwait out of humanitarian concern for his own people, particularly if doing so leaves him vulnerable to over throw by his own army, which is still seething over his miscalculated invasi o n of Iran 29 Middle East Policy Survey, November 2,1!l90, p. 3 13 OY On balance, America loses more from the passage of time than Iraq. Although the military buildup in the Persian Gulf strengthens U.S. diplomacy, the passage of time dissipates the sense o f Iraqi threat, throws up new issues that strain the ad hoc anti-Iraq coalition and increases the natural reluctance of a free democratic people to resort to force As an Arab leader confronting Western forces on Arab soil, Saddam can score easy propaganda points that undermine the political stability of American allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.The longer the stalemate continues, the more Saddam can exploit vis ceral Arab nationalist, radical revolutionary, and Muslim fundament a list currents in the Arab world. And the closer Saddam gets to attaining nuclear and biological weapons that will greatly raise the costs of any conflict High Stakes. To halt the sense of drift in American policy George Bush and James Baker should clearly explain the stakes in the Persian Gulf to the American people. Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator armed with weapons of mass destruction, has made a lunge to dominate the Persian Gulf, the strategic storehouse of two-thirds of world oil supplies. What is a t stake is not the price of oil, but access to oil, which Saddam is fully capable of taking hostage to blackmail oil-dependent industrial democracies If Saddam succeeds in looting Kuwait he will use the plundered assets to accelerate the development of his nuclear, mis sile, and biological weapons programs.This will make him much harder to deter and much costlier to defeat in a future crisis An Iraqi triumph in Kuwait will radi calize the Middle East, threaten the stability of U.S. allies in the Arab world and ultimately could trigger an Arab-Israeli war that could threaten the survival of Is rael, Americas closest friend in the Middle East.
Although the risks of forcing Iraq out of Kuwait are significant, the risks of al lowing Iraq to digest Kuwait are eve n greater.The U.S. must work to strengthen the unity of the anti-Iraq coalition to deny Saddam a diplomatic victory that would permit him to extract political, economic or strategic benefits from his ag gression.The Soviet Union, responsible for providing Saddam with up to 85 per cent of his military arsenal, bears a special responsibility for restraining Saddam.
Bush should press Gorbachev to co-sponsor a U.N. Security Council Resolution that will authorize military operations to liberate Kuwait similar t o the ones that liberated South Korea in 1950-1953, if Iraq fails to withdraw totally and uncondi tionally within five days of the resolutions passage Credible Threat. Saddam will not withdraw his troops from Kuwait unless credibly threatened with overwhe l ming force: Confronted with such a formidable global alliance, Saddam might relinquish Kuwait and risk the wrath of his own countrymen, rather than risk a war that he and his regime would not survive. But if he fails to withdraw, a United Nations mandated war against Iraq would .be preferable to a Munich-like settlement that would reward Iraqi aggression and leave Saddam Hussein free to plot future aggressions.
James A. Phillips Deputy Director of Foreign Policy Studies 14