Perspective: Tyrants Wait in Wings to Resume Reign of Terror; the 'Is He, Isn't He' Debate about Whether Saddam Hussein Has Survived Two Assassination Attempts Has a Familiar Ring to It. America Now Has Two Bogeymen It Is Trying to Find but the Hunt for Both Saddam and Osama Bin Laden Is Sending out Dangerous Mixed Messages
Byline: Paul Groves
The regime may be close to toppling completely, but the hunt for the leader has stepped up several gears.
As long as Saddam Hussein remains in hiding - and alive - the coalition has a serious problem.
It appears that the two high-profile attempts to assassinate the Iraqi president have failed and, privately, senior military officials in both Britain and America are frustrated by the failure to achieve one of their primary goals.
But they should be well used to playing such hide-and-seek games. After all, the man who sparked the war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq is still enjoying his freedom despite an on-going worldwide hunt and a multimillion-pound reward.
America now has two bogeymen to demonise. Saddam and Osama bin Laden are an unlikely and, from what is reported, unwilling double act. Yet if they continue to evade capture they could still have a crucial say in the future of the war on terrorism.
Indeed, the pair could have a critical role to play in the future of both our own Prime Minister and the American president.
George Bush in particular would be vulnerable to criticism if he failed to deliver either of the men to justice - to lose one despotic tyrant smacks of carelessness, but two?
As debate rages about the type of 'regime change' that will occurpost-Saddam - the outcome of the battle between the hawks and the doves of Bush's administration could yet prove more bloody than the battle for Baghdad - the Iraqi leader remains a talismanic figure in some quarters.
The majority of his people may well rejoice that his regime has been toppled, but he still enjoys fanatical support from hard-line militants. Combine these with the sizeable remnants of the al Qaida network and bin Laden's continuing ability to evade capture, and stability and security could yet prove elusive.
Plus, any attempt by Bush to back a fundamentalist regime in Iraq would have far-reaching repercussions in the Middle East - how would staunch US ally Israel react to another hard-line Muslim state on its doorstep? If an American protectorate is put in place instead, how long before disenchantment and distrust rise to the surface in the Arab world?
With bin Laden and potentially Saddam himself waiting in the wings to take advantage of such a situation, America's short-term solutions could well turn into long-term headaches.
The elegant promises that the war on terrorism would move on to the remaining members of the so-called 'axis of evil' are sounding increasingly hollow.
'Everyone is talking about a quick withdrawal,' said one senior British military official this week. 'It has become all too clear that we are here for the long haul.
'How long will coalition forces remain in Iraq? How long is a piece of string? It is as imprecise as that.'
This is now being viewed by those in Iraq as the best-case scenario and every day that Saddam remains out of reach of coalition forces he is fuelling his profile as an iconic martyr.
'He is despised by most Iraqis,' added the official, who preferred to remain anonymous. 'But equally he is revered by many and the longer he evades us the higher his standing becomes.
'The problem is that now, either dead or alive, he is a figurehead for antiwestern feeling.'
There is growing tension between intelligence services and the military about the apparent delay in receiving information and acting upon it.
Intelligence officials maintain they have given the military sufficient warning of Saddam's movements and whereabouts, but each time - including the two most high-profile and spectacular bombing raids - there has been a crucial delay which has allowed the Iraqi leader and his closet allies to thwart assassination attempts. …