Saddam -- 'Father of Victories?'

Article excerpt

SADDAM is a nondescript brown terrier, predominantly Airedale, owned by M. Roland Turpin who, with his brother, runs the local sawmill. He was named after the 'Father of Victories' because he was born as the latter's army launched itself into Kuwait in 1992. It is M. Turpin's only recorded concession to the wider world beyond the confines of his small corner of the Mayenne. But there the resemblance ends. Saddam is a friendly dog who threatens no-one. The only occasion he reminds me of his namesake is when I call at the mill while the MM. Turpin are out. Saddam is left behind to guard it, barking its defiance to the world from a shed, like Saddam in Baghdad.

The implications of any given event, or series of events, are always difficult to determine with certainty, nowhere more so than in the Middle and Near East. But two recent, apparently unrelated, items of news suggest that the situation in the entire region, from the Mediterranean to the Gulf and Indian Ocean, remains as unpredictable as ever. They were the Israeli military withdrawal from occupied South Lebanon; and the claim, by the former United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector, that Saddam Hussein's arsenal of biological and chemical weapons capability remains virtually undiminished; that his nuclear delivery systems remain in situ, and that his warhead design and assembly teams, scientists and military personnel, could be reassembled without difficulty.

It is now ten years since Saddam was driven out of Kuwait. The experience seems to have done nothing to dent his arrogance and ambition though the sanctions imposed by the UN afterwards have brought great suffering to the Iraqi peoples. As always with Saddam they are the chief victims of his crimes and misdemeanours. The twentieth century has been called, among other things, the Age of the Dictators. Saddam is one of that unlovely gallery. But he is more: he is a despot. He thinks only of his self-aggrandisement and his survival. He is patient, cunning and ruthless, impitoyable as the French say. Not even his immediate family is safe. As for his loyal serviteurs ... So the assertion above, even if only partially correct, comes as no surprise. Dissimulation and secrecy are two skills Saddam mastered early in life after killing his first victim at the age of sixteen. Against our habit of hoping for the best he plans for the worst. Against our muddled democratic processes and instinct for compromise, the need t o proceed always on the basis of consensus, he has only himself to consider. He can plot and plan, lie and dissemble without fear of contradiction or enquiry, let alone protest. And always he demonstrates the same capacity for trading upon human weaknesses, on gullibility and greed. It is part of the armoury of survival.

Saddam Hussein has made blunders which in normal circumstances would have been catastrophic, possibly fatal. Invading Iran in 1980 was one and Kuwait in 1992 another. And yet he seems today to be in a stronger position than ever. Since 1992 he has decimated the Shia population of the south of Iraq and the Kurds of the north. He has survived sanctions: it is now Western public opinion which questions not only their effectiveness but their ethical justification, forgetting that Saddam Hussein could spare his population some of their misery if he had their interests genuinely at heart. No less importantly he has exposed the incompetence and division among the Iraqi 'opposition' and raised questions in Western minds as well as those in Arab capitals and elsewhere about the viability of any alternative to himself: 'Better the devil you know...'. It has reached the point now where he is regarded faute de mieux in some quarters as an acceptable guarantor of stability in an inherently unstable and fragmented country . It is hardly surprising that the sanctions debate should become increasingly fraught and difficult for those who see them as the only means of disciplining Saddam Hussein and of reminding the international community of the risks of attempting to deal normally with someone so far outside the pale of normality as Saddam Hussein. …