The Ghost of Saddam Hussein

Hostilities with Iraq are not a thing of the past, says one general, and Saddam may not be as far gone as we think.

One of the General Staff generals refuses to regard Iraq's hostility as a thing of the past. It's not only the story of 1991 and 2003, warned the general, who handles part of Israel's campaign against Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. It could be tomorrow's story too: The Americans will leave Iraq, the Iranians will achieve de facto control, Iraq will become a satellite along with its weak neighbor Jordan, and Iran will deploy along with its Palestinian proxies on Israel's eastern border.

The West's standard magic solution for such cases is to put a gentle despot into power, someone tough but not belligerent, who will be forgiven a great deal if he keeps Iran in check. Iraq, without a strong centralized ruler like the late President Saddam Hussein, is only an oil-rich Lebanon with a large territory and population, with similar tensions between the Sunnis, the Shiites and a third ethnic group - the Christians in Lebanon, and the Kurds in Iraq. They are both artificial countries created by European powers - France and England, respectively. Maybe that is why the FBI sent a Beirut-born agent to interrogate Saddam after his capture.

Saddam Hussein - Reuters - 2005

It is also enlightening to note the similarities between 1991 Iraq and 2011 Iran. "If steps are not taken to block their plans for centrifuges in the coming months, they will in the foreseeable future be able to produce military-grade uranium, and then the road to producing nuclear weapons will be open," said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens on July 20, 1990, less than two weeks before Saddam invaded Kuwait. He was reporting to U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney at the Pentagon, accompanied by the head of Military Intelligence Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit.

Iraq was not the main focus of MI and the Mossad at the time. They were tracking nuclear and biochemical developments and knew long-range missiles could be launched from western Iraq to Tel Aviv, but they could not locate the portable launchers or collect solid information about Saddam's intentions.

But this failure paled in comparison to that of the Americans. The depth of the failure is exposed in the secret cable known as the Glaspie Memo, sent by the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad at the time, April Glaspie, after a meeting with Saddam Hussein on July 25, 1991. WikiLeaks published "Saddam's Message of Friendship to President Bush" in full last week.

Saddam, summoning an ambassador for the first time, said that Iraq was so poor that he would soon be forced to cut the war orphans pension. The interpreter and one of the two note-takers broke down and wept. Glaspie was moved. The discussion, she reported, resumed "after a pause for recuperation."

And then, another pause: Saddam left the room to take an urgent call from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak had told him that Kuwait had agreed to negotiation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and then in Baghdad, no later than July 30, said Saddam. "I told Mubarak nothing will happen until the meeting," Glaspie quoted Saddam as saying in the 2,000-word document, and nothing will happen during or after the meeting if the Kuwaitis "give us some hope."

Glaspie wrote "nothing will happen" before July 30, instead of reporting Saddam's threat that if Kuwait did not surrender to his demands, he would launch a war after that date.

Saddam's final game

Saddam was executed on December 30, 2006. A year later George Piro, the Lebanese-American FBI agent who interrogated him, published his book about his months with Saddam. From the summaries of the discussions, which were cleared for publication in the summer of 2009, it is not at all obvious who was deceiving whom.

The memorandum records 20 meetings, that were more like "interviews" than interrogations, and five other discussions. Throughout them all, Saddam was evasive and disoriented, Piro wrote. Saddam was an Arab, an Iraqi, a Tikriti; he belonged to his city, his clan, his family. The terms "family," "honor," "humiliation" appeared frequently in Saddam's replies to Piro (and Glaspie ). Saddam said he longed to return to a simple agricultural life. Success had not spoiled him; he chose to reject fancy dishes and to eat modest meals like those his security guards received. He also said he chose to dismiss his driver and drive his black Mercedes himself. Essentially, these actions prevented enemies from ambushing him with the help of a traitor from his security detail.

Saddam said he hated Israel and declared that he personally ordered the missiles launched at the country. "Everything that happened to us happened because of Israel," he said. All the "bad things" that happened to the Arabs stemmed from Israeli activities. Israel and Iraq are still in a state of war (and Saddam's successors, who have been under the United States' aegis for almost eight years, have not ended it ). In the 1991 war, whose reasons were "oil and Israel," Saddam wanted to "punish" Israel, and he believed that if Israel "suffers" Washington would stop the fighting.

He denied that the missiles were partially intended to drive Israel to retaliate, and thus to break up the Western-Arab alliance. The deployment of countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria against him "shamed" them; had they left the campaign, this would not have erased the shame, he said.

His relations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat were largely tense (although Arafat made the foolish mistake of supporting Saddam in his invasion of Kuwait ). Saddam supported organizations more extreme than Fatah in the Palestine Liberation Organization's internal conflicts, and helped finance attacks within Israel. He claimed Iraq had excelled at absorbing Palestinian refugees and had granted them the right to own land and homes, even though the Arab League forbids its members from letting Palestinians own homes, fearing they would then refuse to return to a future Palestine when the time comes.

But Iran was always Saddam's top enemy. The Iranians "didn't get the message" in 1982 when the Iranian army withdrew, complained Saddam. "If we don't break their heads, they don't understand." At the start of the war, Iraq's missiles had a range of only 270 kilometers, and the country had no significant rocket power. Later, Iran obtained a limited quantity of missiles from Libya, and Iraq assembled missiles in its factories and managed to extend their range. Crowded Tehran was more vulnerable than sprawling Baghdad.

Iran, claimed Saddam, used chemical weapons before Iraq. In the 1981 Khorramshahr campaign, the Iranians tailed the Iraqis and invaded their country, "threatening its sovereignty," thus justifying Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Iran. Against the American forces in 1991, on the other hand, it would have been "foolish" to do so, said Saddam. The American deterrence, including a clear threat by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker during his meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to bomb Iraq back to the Stone Age, was effective.

Saddam got rid of the country's weapons of mass destruction (although not the ability to manufacture them ), but kicked out the United Nations inspectors - not because he feared they would find weapons, but because he feared they would confirm he had none. Because of Iran, he preferred not to expose Iraq's weaknesses, he told Piro. Despite the claims, he did not use body doubles, he said. Yet perhaps the person who said these things was actually one of his doubles?