While the world tried hard to find a peaceful exit for the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. to spare the Gulf region a devastating war, he remained defiant. A day after Hans Blix's report to the Security Council gave more momentum to the Anglo-US drive to give Iraq until 17 March to disarm or lace war, Saddam called for disarming Israel and America instead of Iraq.
It was evident during the Arab summits at Sharm el Sheikh and the emergency Doha Islamic conference four days later (see page 12) that the ruling Iraqi Baathist regime was kicking away every ladder dangled down to help them.
One Qatari official used the term meystibia'een to describe the Iraqis. The Egyptian slang word, plural of meystabi'a, first emerged around 1900, at a time when gangsters carved out blocks of influence for themselves in urban areas. It means a desperado who cares for nothing, not even for his own safety; one who would provoke a fight without giving much thought to the consequences.
Saddam, who has no conscience, no qualms or concerns that many of his fellow countrymen and women could perish in the confrontation, calculates that no responsible statesman in the civilised world would have the stomach to fight him to the bitter and tragic end. He is banking on the fact that at some point the civilised world would halt the confrontation, when it realised the cost would be too high for the world to bear.
Given the inevitability of death and destruction resulting from war, the unknown fear is the kind of Iraq Saddam Hussein will leave behind. Driving the despot out of Baghdad and destroying his malicious Baathist regime is likely to be a picnic compared to the task that would face America the morning after --clearing up the mess left in his wake. It is certain to be a costly and unpleasant business. Iraq is a country divided along more than half a dozen ethnic groups. There are 35 major tribal confederations, some of which span more than one ethnic and sectarian divide. An oppressed Shi'a majority in the south, warily dominant Sunnis in the west, precariously autonomous Kurds in the north, a smattering of Christians, Turkmen Assyrians and Armenians, all make up a part of the bigger Iraqi picture.
Modern day Iraq was forged 80 years ago when Britain captured three neglected but known to be oil-rich, Ottoman provinces, losing 20,000 troops in the process. The Iraqis are historically difficult to rule as Britain, even with its long colonial experience, soon discovered. A revolt in 1920--which took the use of mustard gas to subdue it--taught the empire that it could not by-pass the authority of the country's tribal chiefs and warlords in any workable strategy.
Eight decades later Iraq is no better. Twenty years ago it seemed immune to the Islamism that bedevilled the region at the time. Now secularism has retreated in reaction to the evident bankruptcy of Baathism, but also in response to the regime's manipulation of religion to sustain its own...