In August, Middle East observers in the West came up with a whole host of explanations for, and consequences of the flight to Jordan of two of Saddam Hussein’s sons-in-law and closest aides, General Hussein Kamal al-Majid (Iraq’s former minister of military industry) and Gen. Saddam Kamal al-Majid (former commander of Saddam’s praetorian guard). The consensus was that the defection, along with that of another thirty officers, signalled the end of 27 years of Iraqi misrule with Saddam at the helm. That the two daughters Saddam dotes on most accompanied their husbands only added fuel to the “Hitler’s last bunker”-type rumour that loyalty to Saddam was dissolving and that those closest to him were absconding lest they be indicted when the regime falls.
In this light, the al-Majid brothers had every reason to flee. Between them they were responsible for a wide range of human rights abuses, the ruthless crushing of the Shia and Kurdish rebellions in 1991 and the build-up of Iraq’s chemical, biological and atomic weapons stockpile before the Gulf War. General Hussein had even pocketed 10 percent commission on Iraqi arms sales. Both have since informed Western intelligence experts that the regime in Iraq is falling apart and that they can help oust Saddam for good.
But does the West really want Saddam toppled? Both before and after the Gulf War Saddam served US interests; firstly by acting as a buffer to the spread of militant Islam and, secondly, being unpredictable, serving as a reason for neighbouring states to want state-of-the-art defence systems, placing huge order for US weaponry.
For years the US sided with Saddam, giving him covert support and turning a blind eye to atrocities. During the Iran-Iraq War, the US gave Iraq co-ordinates on Iranian troop positions. This support lasted until the end of the year, not even being interrupted when Iraq attacked the US frigate Stark in 1987. In July 1991, one month before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the CIA even gave Saddam the tip- off that senior Iraqi officers were plotting to assassinate him.
Washington is also concerned that, should Saddam be toppled, a lesser tyrant might not prevent the country fragmenting into its constituent parts—Shia, Kurd and Sunni, opening the back door to militant Islam and creating further problems, threatening, for instance, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (both US-friendly) with the export of a philosophy that views the US as the “Great Satan”. Some of Saddam’s fiercest opponents are aware of this and have resigned themselves to the maxim “better the devil you know”.
Ranged against Saddam is the Iraqi National Congress—an umbrella organisation consisting of 19 political parties. However even these appear to pose no present and substantial threat to Saddam. Seven of the groups have either withdrawn recently or frozen their membership and two Kurdish organisations are fighting amongst themselves.
Saddam, though, is still vulnerable. The effects of international sanctions and the oil embargo now means he is deprived of the bribes he could use to stave off a coup and buy support. Whether he genuinely feels that his days are numbered is anyone’s guess. But late August found Saddam appeasing international opposition to his rule and offering fresh information regarding Iraqi weaponry— germ warfare and missile programmes— to UN weapons inspectors. Furthermore, following the defections of his sons-in-law, Saddam carried out an army purge and arrested 10 high-ranking officers— just in case they harboured illusions of deserting him too. Being no idiot, Saddam is also aware that the US presidential elections come up next year, and with Clinton having only exacerbated the situation in Bosnia an overthrown Saddam could provide him with a foreign policy success to lay before voters.
Saddam, all said, is cast in the same mould as all national leaders—out to line his own pockets and to run his regime according to the dictates of profit regardless of the consequences for the people he rules over.
While Western commentators discuss the politics of power, and while the politicians ponder which option will generate the most profit, the Iraqi people, still recovering from a war that blasted them into a pre-industrial age, continue to suffer the effects of the obstinacy and self-interest of those who have the biggest say in their affairs. They continue to hunger and die of curable diseases. They have suffered so much and so long that many don’t care who has power so long as something resembling stability appears soon. Perhaps, like Socialists, they are beginning to realise that no matter who administers the capitalist system, they are all tarred with the same brush.