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Foes Say Saddam's Removal Is a Must

Arabs say to leave him in power would abort victory

By George D. Moffett IIIStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 2, 1991


NORMALLY the result of complex political, social, and economic forces, the future of the Middle East now is hostage to a single event: the outcome of the five-month crisis triggered by Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. Just how the Gulf crisis is finally settled will have a profound influence on every facet of life in the region. As the Jan. 15 UN Security Council deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal nears, analysts predict three possible conclusions:

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Iraq withdraws from Kuwait as the result of a military conflict. A full-scale war would almost certainly dislodge Iraqi forces, cripple Iraq's military capability, and end Saddam Hussein's 11 1/2-year rule over Iraq.

If the war is short and decisive, as United States military planners intend, and if civilian casualties are low, the results could be favorable to regional stability and Western interests: Aggression would be punished; the standing of the US and its coalition partners would be enhanced; new leadership would take over in Iraq; and the weight of the Arab world would shift to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.

If the war is long and costly, the region could erupt in a paroxysm of political violence, unleashing radical forces that could threaten regimes even in countries such as Egypt, where public sympathy for Saddam is low. Even with Saddam's defeat the result could be turmoil and uncertainty in the region for years to come.

``Depending on the length of the war, either the Arabs will be thankful that we beat Iraq and restored security to the region, or some Arabs will hate us forever for killing other Arabs,'' says Marvin Feuerwerger, a strategic fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Many Arabs worry that if Saddam is overthrown, either as the result of military intervention or a popular uprising, the result could be a power vacuum in the Middle East which the US would fill.

Iraq withdraws from Kuwait without a war. The positive result would be that, deprived of the fruits of aggression for the second time in a decade, Saddam's legitimacy would be questioned and he would be forced to focus his attention on retaining power at home.

``If Saddam is not rewarded for aggression, the issue will be how to survive in his own country,'' says one Arab diplomat in Washington. ``The Iraqis themselves, not other Arabs, will be the ones to suffer as Saddam uses more repressive means to stay in power.''

At the same time, the political position of Arab leaders like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia's King Fahd would be enhanced, reinforcing a trend toward political moderation in the region.

On the negative side, Saddam would remain in power and his military might would remain intact. The question, Dr. Feuerwerger notes, would then be ``whether Saddam would say, `I've learned my lesson' or react to his defeat by trying to cause trouble now and launching aggression from a position of greater strength later.''

One option for Saddam: terrorist attacks designed to undermine Arab adversaries like King Fahd, President Mubarak, or Syria's Hafez al Assad.

The crisis ends with territorial compromise. Analysts agree this would be the most dangerous outcome. Despite the relief of avoiding a war, the lesson of the Gulf crisis would be that crime pays. The political independence of the Gulf states would be more vulnerable. Iraq would dominate the OPEC oil cartel to the probable disadvantage of Western and third-world consumers. Tensions between Iraq and Israel would be exacerbated.

Iraq would also be a dominant influence in regional affairs with the leverage to obstruct future regional peace moves.