PARIS – Relatively subdued but still defiant, Saddam Hussein showed up wearing a neat suit on Iraqi television to celebrate the 34th anniversary of the Baath Party’s grip on power – and to reassure Iraqis in no uncertain terms that he does not fear the “evil forces” trying to unsettle him (you can only answer American-made demonology with Iraqi-made demonology).
Meanwhile, in London, notorious rhetoric contortionist Tony Blair was telling Parliament there’s no need for a United Nations resolution to justify an attack on Iraq – although the operation must be in accordance with international law. This obviously means once again that the UN is worth nothing. So why should Saddam listen to it?
Anyway, a much more fascinating gathering – also in London, and also concerning Iraq – took place last Sunday. About 60 former Iraqi generals and senior military officers in exile, plus the main Iraqi opposition leaders, mustered in Kensington’s town hall to create a so-called military council that will be engaged in toppling Saddam. According to General Taufik Al-Yassiri, “The main objective of this military council is to coordinate the military aspect in the process of change.” A “change of regime” is how the US is officially defining the whole operation to get rid of Saddam.
Al-Yassiri is very close to Ahmad Chalabi, the less than pristine leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) – the opposition coalition supported by the US. The INC supervised the London meeting – attended by a smattering of Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds. The only point that they seem to agree on is to boost all their anti-Saddam connections inside the Iraqi army – and hope that these insiders can accelerate Saddam’s downfall.
Easier said – in these cozy London fields – than done. Asia Times Online learned from Republican Guard sources in Iraq in April that an extremely paranoid Saddam carries out a mini-pogrom in the army and security services practically on an daily basis. He fears a coup as much as he fears an American attack.
The Americans – the Pentagon and State Department – were at the London meeting in full force. It is heavily ironic that despite a lot of contrary advice, the US insists on preparing the post-Saddam political environment by applying the same formula that has already backfired in Afghanistan.
The most intriguing character at the London meeting was undoubtedly Jordan’s Prince Hasan. He is reigning King Abdullah’s uncle. And most of all he was supposed to be the heir of the Hashemite crown – but he was sidelined at the last moment by his brother, the late King Hussein. Following a carefully prepared script, he behaved in London as just an innocent bystander: “I don’t have a program. I am not qualified to comment on questions regarding Iraq’s future. This question depends entirely on the Iraqi people. I don’t have any message. I am not a member of the Iraqi government.” Adding to all the negatives, Amman felt obliged to distribute a note stating that the prince was not an official Jordanian envoy to the meeting.
Everybody in the Arab world knows – and fears – that Washington’s game involves using Jordan as one of its military bases for a strike against Iraq. Amman – as well as Ankara – keep saying almost on a weekly basis that they are not part of the plan.
Prince Hasan is the cousin of Al-Sharif Ali Ben Hussein, the president of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM) for Iraq, created after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990. Ben Hussein is the maternal cousin of former King Faisal – the last Iraqi king, deposed and assassinated on July 14, 1958 by General Abdel Karim Kassem. Prince Hasan may have taken a lot of pain to brush off any suggestions of a restoration of the monarchy in Iraq – but he also emphasized the “common roots” between the Jordanian and Iraqi branches of the Hashemite dynasty, direct descendants from the Holy Prophet Mohammed.
Prince Hasan may be playing the American card, as well as that of the shaky opposition coalition. But there are no assurances that conflicting, power-hungry opposition factions will be capable of uniting. Monarchists – supporters of Prince Hasan – are in favor of a heavily-centralized government. Kurds are in favor of a federation, totally decentralized. Most of all there’s absolutely no assurances that the exiled Iraqi military would follow a code of honor and restore power to civilians after Saddam’s departure. And it’s impossible to forget history and underestimate the fighting spirit of the people of Mesopotamia: it’s extremely unlikely that an Iraqi opposition installed by American missiles would be able to hold onto power in Baghdad.
Saddam may be consuming planeloads of sleeping pills because to counter all these foreign machinations he can rely on absolutely no friends in the Arab world. Middle East diplomats say in private his newfound cozy relationship with Syria’s Bashar Assad is not really meaningful. His only real ally – since the Lebanese civil war – is a beleaguered Yasser Arafat. The Bedouins of the Arab peninsula hate Saddam. Iranian Shi’ites – as well as Arabs – simply do not forgive him for the massacres in southern Iraq in early 1991. And Turkey fears a strong Iraq capable of attacking the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north.
Saddam’s inscrutable mind may be calculating that the pathological American obsession on getting rid of him may be America’s nemesis. The possibility of a political debacle is immense. There are signs everywhere pointing to the emergence of an Arab anti-American bloc. In the event of an attack against Iraq, Hosni Mubarak’s repressive regime in Egypt may be facing the abyss. Al-Qaeda will be handed over a priceless public relations coup – and pro-Osama bin Laden sentiment will reach the sky all over the Gulf countries and even in Saudi Arabia. More suicide bombers will be even more resolute in their strikes against Israel. Not to mention the serious possibility of a revolution in Yemen. In the end, Saddam’s best allies may be US arrogance and supreme indifference to the highly sensitive regional context – and not a Hashemite has-been and a ragtag, corrupt opposition in exile.