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Analysis: Saddam's inversed pyramid

By CLAUDE SALHANI   |   July 27, 2002 at 11:13 AM
WASHINGTON, July 27 (UPI) -- Talk around the couple of square miles of power surrounding 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. seems to be shifting away from whether the United States is going to war with Iraq and more toward when it is going to war with Iraq.

Before the Bush 43 administration embarks on its Babylonian adventure, it would be worth taking into consideration some of the intricacies of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and to become more familiar with the reasons why the tyrant of Baghdad has managed to remain in power all these years.

To better understand what keeps Saddam so solidly in command when much of the Western world, as well as three main opposition groups in his country - the Shiites in the south, the Kurds in the north and all his other enemies in the center - vie for his demise, one should visualize an inversed pyramid.

Imagine an upside-down pyramid with Saddam at the bottom, in a sort of Herculean manner, keeping the rest of the infrastructure sturdily on his shoulders, and intact. Remove Saddam and the entire pile crumbles.

This prospect is precisely what frightened the Bush 41 team, 11 years ago when they could have gone after Saddam in the waning days of the Gulf War.

Numerous Middle East observers, including this reporter who was on the front lines with coalition troops in southern Iraq at the time, were convinced Saddam would have been overthrown had the Allies maintained their pressure on Baghdad. There was no need to march on the capital. Pressure alone would have brought about his demise.

Already, the Shiites in the area surrounding the southern port city of Basra -- with help from Iran's Muslim clergy -- were up in open revolt against Saddam. It was only thanks to the use of helicopters that Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied commander in chief, inadvertently allowed the Iraqi army to use against the Shiites, that the rebellion was silenced. It was not pretty. Make no mistake about it, Saddam is not a nice man.

Similarly, the Kurds in the northern part of the country also revolted. They, however, fared far better than their fellow countrymen in the south, as the U.S.-led allies declared Iraqi Kurdistan a no-fly zone and set a massive relief operation into motion. Some said it was the largest relief operation since World War II.

So why is removing Saddam Hussein from power so dangerous and so complex? Let's look at these points one at a time.

First, removing Saddam from power. Besides the fact it places the United States in a precarious position as the free world's gendarme, a role it certainly would not want to assume, it also sets an uneasy precedent where Washington gets to decide who is fit to govern and who is not.

That, however, is the least of our concerns. Although such a war unquestionably will generate more anti-American sentiment in the Arab and Islamic world, this is most probably an issue America can live with.

The real danger lies in the unknown. Much as the ancient mariners' map failed to charter the world beyond their immediate boundaries, because they had no way of knowing what was there, in this case, too, one could say the great danger of an Iraqi adventure lies in the unfamiliar waters that lay ahead.

The Pentagon, White House and the State Department can draw up all the plans in the world, and prepare for all sorts of unforeseen contingencies, but the plain truth is that we just don't know what the outcome of such as war will be. That is the reality of war: it is far from an exact science.

Will the south secede to become engulfed into the Islamic Republic of Iran or will it break off to form an independent Shiite autonomous region? The last thing needed at this time is yet another unsettled country in the Middle East that could become a haven for Islamist fundamentalists run by heretofore unknown entities, who will, in most probability, be unfriendly to the United States and the West.

What will happen to the Kurds? Will they try to break away and form an independent nation, something that would suit neither Iran nor Turkey - two countries that border Iraq and have large Kurdish minorities. Any war on Iraq will have to include Turkey because of its proximity and its U.S. bases -- mainly the Incilik air base near Adana -- that would serve as a jump-off point for attacks on the northern part of Iraq.

The Bush administration believes Saddam is eager to obtain weapons of mass destruction. What happens if he already is in possession of such weapons? Knowing full well this time American troops will not stop short of removing him from power, you can bet that if attacked, he will use anything in his arsenal, including WMD, which undoubtedly also will be aimed at Israel. What then? Are we ready for a more generalized Middle Eastern conflict with an unpredictable end?

Now to the second point -- Saddam's reversed pyramid of power. The Iraqi leader has intelligently constructed a complicated system built on direct responsibility. In other words, all his acolytes -- mainly all the top echelons of the ruling Baath Party -- are as implicated as he is in the oppression of the country. With few exceptions, all their hands are dirtied by the blood they have spilled over the years, making sure their power base remains solid.

Saddam's immediate underlings know that if he goes, they too will be deposed. History has shown that in Iraq this never happens in a peaceful manner. If they go, so do their lieutenants. And so on, all the way down to the last layer of the reversed pyramid. Which is why any attack on Iraq will not be an easy mission. Those in the entire pyramid, which is designed to keep Saddam in power, know only too well they, too, will be fighting for their own lives. Not only Saddam's.

In his two decades in power, Saddam and those who serve him have managed to isolate wide portions of the populace. There is far too much bad blood for apologies to be accepted at this point, and the clique that rules Baghdad knows this. They also know the next fight will be their final combat, and as the saying goes, when cornered, an injured beast becomes far more dangerous.

(Comments may be sent to claude@upi.com)

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