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How Powerful Is Saddam Still?

Ten years have now passed since Saddam Hussein ordered Iraqi military forces to invade and occupy Kuwait. Even after a U.S.-led coalition soundly defeated the Iraqi army and liberated Kuwait after six months of brutal occupation, the Iraqi strongman remains in power, dominating what one State Department official calls "the most ruthless regime in modern history" and causing the international community no end of mischief.

The United Nations Security Council has established its second weapons inspection team called UNMOVIC, and its head, Hans Blix, has been busy assembling a staff and making the rounds of senior officials in Washington, hoping soon to be able to enter Iraq and resume on-site inspections for hidden weapons of mass destruction.

UNMOVIC replaces UNSCOM, the U.N.'s first inspection regime, which was barely tolerated by Iraq's government and eventually thrown out, unable to do its job because of Iraqi resistance to what the government deemed were intrusive inspections.

Has U.S. policy been a success or failure? Put another way, does one look at the Clinton administration's policy and conclude the glass half full, or half empty?

Not surprisingly, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently emphasized the positive, telling the Veterans of Foriegn Wars that America "pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait" and has since then been able to "contain the Iraqi military." Albright is fond of saying "Saddam is in his box."

But critics say the administration has been slow to help groups opposed to Saddam's regime. Even when Congress made $97 million available for help, the administration has been reluctant to provide arms to help the opposition force a change.

Money has been spent to coordinate the activities of the various opposition groups and hold conferences, but that's not yet resulted in any meaningful challenge to Saddam's rule.

"You're in a Catch-22 situation," says a State Department official with expertise in the region. "How do you engineer support for a change in the status quo, without being willing to commit U.S. troops, and, at the same time, preserve the...territorial integrity of Iraq?" - in other words, to not see Iraq split into separate geographic parts dominated by Kurds, Shi'a and Sunni Muslims. "That's a delicate surgery," said the official. "And we have very blunt instruments."

Even among U.N. Security Council members, while there is a difference of view on how to proceed with United Nations-imposed sanctions, there is no one advocating a lifting of sanctions until Saddam cooperates with weapons inspectors.

Baghdad currently is saying it will not cooperate with inspectors. But State Department officials basically responded, saying the Iraqis can't have their cake and eat it, too. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch says, "The only path to having sanctions adjusted in any way is to cooperate with the United Nations."
Another area where the United States is attempting to pressure Saddam is by moving to charge him with war crimes. Mountains of evidence has been turned over to non-governmental groups alleging war crimes against the Kuwaiti people during Iraq's occupation of the oil-rich Persian Gulf state.

There is also photographic imagery, which has been made public, that U.S. officials allege indicates possible abuses against the Shi'a in Iraq's southern marshes.

This material will have to be processed and analyzed by prosecutors. International legal action against Saddam Hussein on war crimes charges is not on the near horizon.

Amatzia Baram, an expert on Iraq at Haifa University, having watched Saddam Hussein for more than twenty years, expresses some surprise that Saddam lasted more than two or three years after his army was defeated in the Gulf War.

There's a little irony, Baram says, that the "largest, strongest, in fact the only world power - the U.S. - having won a huge victory and destroying the Iraqi war machine, and suffering very little losses of its own, cannot get rid of this guy."

Baram offers one possible explanation: "For the U.S., Iraq is a very small percentage of concern. For Saddam, survival is 100 percent of his concern."

Keeping an iron grip on power and maintaining a presence on the world's political stage has always been the bottom line for Saddam. Much to the annoyance of officials in Washington, the Iraqi leader is very good at what he does.

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