Seven years after Iraq was forced to accept international inspections at the end of the Gulf war, President Saddam Hussein appears more confident than ever that his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons will keep him safe.
Armed with enough power to kill tens of millions of people, analysts say, it is just a matter of time until he provokes another crisis by trying to disrupt the work of U.N. weapons inspectors.
Even before the U.N. Security Council this week renewed its economic sanctions on Iraq for another six months, Saddam was issuing veiled warnings that he might retaliate against the countries that voted in favor.
Iraq's ruling Revolutionary Command Council and its Ba'ath party leadership warned April 16 that any countries that maintained the economic embargo "will carry the burden of the previous crises as well as the crises to come and for any harm inflicted on our people."
Laurie Mylroie, a biographer of the Iraqi leader, said, "Minimally, Saddam seems to be planning another challenge, akin to the two that have already occurred" in October 1997 and January 1998.
"Saddam has benefited for provoking each of the past two crises, while he has suffered no penalty. Why shouldn't he provoke a third?"
Saddam's confidence, experts said, comes from two sources: his increasingly accurate reading of U.S. and Western responses to his actions and his apparent belief that he can inflict devastating casualties on those who oppose him.
"The Clinton administration's biggest problem in dealing with Saddam has been that it makes threats to inflict serious damage upon him and then doesn't follow through on them," said Dov S. Zakheim of the Center for Strategic and and International Studies, former deputy undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
"Saddam's calculations are different from those of most of us," said Miss Mylroie, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. "He has a rare understanding of how to use force and violence in political affairs. Thus, he surprises. And he sees weakness in Washington."
Iraq has enough deadly biological agents to kill every human being on earth, according to a Feb. 4 report by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British government.
Baghdad also has the capability to inflict devastating attacks of incurable anthrax and other diseases on U.S. military personnel in the Gulf region, according to U.S. military intelligence assessments.
On March 3, the Pentagon announced an accelerated anthrax vaccination program for U.S. military personnel serving in the Gulf.
At a press conference, Lt. Gen. Ronald Blancke, the Army surgeon general, said nothing could be done for the victims of an anthrax attack once they showed symptoms.