Since the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait in August 1990 the world's attention has focused on President Saddam Hussein. His continuous challenge to the international community and the United Nations resolutions has made many leaders in the region and the rest of the world believe that his removal from power would bring peace and stability to the Persian Gulf. This study argues that in addition to the choices the Iraqi leadership made, other geopolitical characteristics have influenced the country's political orientation for the last several decades and are likely to have an important impact on its future. These include: demographic structure, fresh water resources, oil shipment, and border disputes. The study concludes that the next regime in Baghdad, when it comes, is likely to be less ruthless but still not democratic.
Key Words: Middle East; Iraq, Saddam Hussein; Iraq, future of; Iraq, demographics; Iraq, oil; Iraq, water, Iraq, Border disputes
For several decades oil has been the world's main source of energy. Other sources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear power, and renewable resources (hydroelectricity, geothermal, solar, and wind) contribute to world energy consumption but at lower level than oil. According to the United States Department of Energy, in 1996 the share of oil in world energy consumption was 39 percent.' In 1995 the share of the Persian Gulf in world consumption was 26.4 percent and is projected to reach 41.5 percent by the year 2015.2 In other words, in the closing years of the 20th century the world is dependent on the oil supply from the Gulf and over the next few decades this dependency is expected to deepen. No wonder the stability of the region is of significant concern to all global powers.
The Gulf War demonstrated the international community's determination to defend oil supplies from the region. The international coalition, led by the United States, dealt a heavy blow, but not a fatal one, to the Iraqi army. Since then, several countries have accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of using whatever was left of his military power to de-stabilize the region. Washington, London, Riyadh, Kuwait, and many other states do not hide their mistrust of the Iraqi leader. Many policy-makers all over the world believe that there will not be stability in the Gulf region as long as Saddam Hussein is in power. As an illustration of this belief, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) spent more than $100 million on a covert program to oust the Iraqi leader.3 In short, increasingly the situation in the Persian Gulf has been portrayed as "Saddam Hussein against the world."
This study adopts a cautious approach toward this perception. There is no doubt that the Iraqi leader made a number of miscalculations which have had disastrous consequences to his country. According to a prominent scholar of the region, "this man alone is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold suffering, and a setback to his country's economic prospects that will take decades to repair.4" It is ironic that in Iraq, the country with the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia, people have suffered from intolerable economic conditions for the last several years. The Iraqi leader bears the responsibility for much of this suffering.
At the same time, it is important not to over-emphasize Saddam Hussein's role and not to underestimate the impact of other factors on Baghdad's policy. Before Saddam rose to power in the 1970s, Iraq was not a liberal democracy. At one point, he will leave eventually the scene and will not be succeeded by an Iraqi Thomas Jefferson. Rather, another less authoritarian leader is likely to take his place. In other words, before Saddam and after him important socioeconomic characteristics have continued to shape the Iraqi policy. In the following an attempt is made to analyze these characteristics and how they might influence the choices available for any future leadership in Baghdad. …