Having the last laugh: the US Administration has devoted vast amounts of time and money to attempting to understand what goes on in the mind of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein but there are few indications so far that any of the research has paid off.

Author:Darwish, Adel
Position:Current Affairs

The US Administration's predictions of Saddam Hussein's reaction to pending aggression led American strategists to prepare impressive plans to deal with every conceivable scenario. All are means to the same end: unseating the Iraqi president. However, there is one nightmare scenario for which Washington planners do not seem prepared: Saddam's full cooperation, in accordance with UN resolution 1441. In designing their great strategy, did America's planners accurately gauge the level of Saddam's cunning; or did they simply stare at a caricature profile drawn up by his enemies that dismisses him as an `irrational and deranged psychopath?' New books and essays, churned out by authors, none of whom has ever met with the Iraqi leader or known him closely, might offer a good read, but do they provide accurate data for strategists planning America's next move?

The CIA employed psychiatrist Dr Jerrold Post to spend years studying `the inside of Saddam's head.' Dr Post has never talked to his `subject' once; yet he was able to convince his employers, on the event of passing UN resolution 1441, that Saddam's violent childhood would compel him to hold on to his war toys at any cost, thus triggering an early war. The Americans placed their first big bet on the Iraqi leader rejecting the UN resolution. Administration officials who served President Bush's father, expected Iraq to copy its tactics of the Kuwait invasion crisis 12 years ago, which basically involved adopting a stance of outraged indignation at all requests--and refusal to comply.

This time around, the Iraqis remained indignant but were much more amenable to US requests, throwing the opposition in Washington into disarray. While President Bush accused the Iraqi leader of non-cooperation with UN inspectors, at the same time UN chief Kofi Annan was praising the Iraqi efforts. Back in 1975, when Saddam Hussein was only known as `Mr Deputy' he charmed visiting Fleet Street reporters--including this correspondent--with generous measures of whisky and his analysis of the mafia film The Godfather. His obsession with the movie's central character and the storylines--on which he modelled many of his later tactical moves--is a key to understanding some of his recent manoeuvres.

Some of the deals the Godfather made, Saddam explained back in the 1970s, "might seem to the naive like a series of humiliating concessions, but in fact, they were actually calculated tactics that enabled him [the Godfather] the last laugh on his enemies." These are exactly the tactics now being deployed by the Iraqi leader, who plans to be laughing louder, later and longer...

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