It is one thing for a tank to crush a monument to Saddam Hussein under its tracks or to tear down his portrait in an Iraqi hospital. It is quite another to dispose of the tyrant himself in one way or another - to kill him, capture, or put on trial.
Meanwhile, the United States seems to be facing the worst-case scenario. Saddam Hussein has disappeared. Iraqi television last promised to show Hussein addressing the nation on Tuesday, April 1. But he did not show up. Perhaps Saddam Hussein did the worst thing for the Pentagon as a final gesture - he went into hiding. Moreover, in the halo of an unbeaten defender of his country against the American devil, almost a great martyr, an adored figure for the Arab man in the street. In transparency terms Hussein is approaching the status of bin Laden. He is nowhere and everywhere. A mystical figure the US is unable to ferret out. The result is a most unpleasant outlook for the Pentagon: an invisible and elusive dictator organises an endless guerilla war against occupying forces, which gradually wears down the average man in America, at home. This promises to happen soon.
In the meantime the Pentagon reckons that Iraqi troops' resistance is fuelled by their faith that Saddam Hussein is alive and runs the country in ways unknown to the world. Should the Iraqis know that Hussein is dead or incapacitated, they would capitulate at once. Guided by this premise, the US administration is launching a psychological campaign in order to sow in Iraqi minds doubts concerning their leader's physical wellbeing. Practically not a single recent remark or comment by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer has been without a reminder: Hussein does not appear on television, Hussein does not administer the country, and Hussein, according to some sources, is wounded. Reports are multiplying that the Iraqi elite, including perhaps Hussein, have fled Iraq. These statements are translated into Arabic and broadcast at local Iraqi frequencies from flying US army radio stations.
But neither the Iraqis nor the authors of such claims hardly believe in such propaganda. Hussein has found refuge abroad? Inconceivable. It is hard to imagine a country bordering on Iraq that would tolerate the presence of a fugitive Iraqi dictator, let alone offer him some semblance of hospitality. Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, all loyal US allies in different degrees, are excluded by definition.
Syria? Last week Rumsfeld wagged a finger at Damascus for some feeble attempts to give clandestine assistance to Baghdad's war machine, but, as CIA officials confide in private conversations with the press, the appearance in Syria of Saddam Hussein is as improbable as the second coming of Christ.
Iran? Once Saddam's name is mentioned to Iranian mullahs who fought the Iraqi army for eight years, the utter fallacy of such a supposition becomes immediately apparent. The Iraqi leader is smarter and more cunning than the American administration thinks he is. He may, for example, go to ground in his native town of Tikrit, 50 kilometres north of Baghdad, and run a guerrilla campaign from there by means of some symbols of his existence.
Hussein need not get used to the role of an invisible man, recalls Hashir Taimurin, a well-known Kurd expert on the Middle East. "During the last Middle East war of 1991 he drove across Baghdad in an ordinary taxi and slept in ramshackle mud huts, changing his addresses every night," Taimurin tells us. "This time, according to my information, he may be hiding in the desert close to Tikrit, in the disguise of a Bedouin." Whether a Bedouin, a taxi passenger or a woman after the example of runaway Kerensky, in all his impersonations a living Saddam Hussein will pose a paramount threat to occupation authorities in Iraq. Especially to a provisional Iraqi administration that has been feverishly shuffled up in the US these past days. Although a meeting on Thursday between Secretary of State Colin Powell and 23 European foreign ministers in Brussels ended in a chorus of noises about "harmonisation of the atmosphere" and "the wounds skinning over", few doubt that the United States is prepared to allow the UN only a symbolic role in the administrative restructuring of post-war Iraq. Humanitarian supplies and economic aid are welcome. But a say in forming a new administration is unlikely. This was the message by Colin Powell when he announced as the Brussels conference drew to a close: a US- and British-led coalition "must play the leading role in defining ways for development" of Iraq. As regards partnership with the UN, the US state secretary made what was in the overwhelming view of European participants in the meeting just a courtesy gesture.
64-year-old American general, Jay Garner, head of a Pentagon department concerned with reconstruction and humanitarian problems, is now racking his brains at a villa in Kuwait over how to prepare soil for forming an interim Iraqi government. The general is said to have been driven to neurosis. On Tuesday, Donald Rumsfeld vetoed the candidacies of eight active and former American diplomats with whom Colin Powell intended to reinforce the Garner team. This sharp gesture conceals serious differences between the Pentagon and the State Department around who should take the key post in a transitional Iraqi administration. The military sympathise with Ahmed Chalabi, the head of a London-based opposition grouping known as the Iraqi National Congress. But the US State Department is in grievous doubt: the former banker Chalabi is no more charismatic than a steel safe, and his Shia affiliations will hardly please quarters that wield traditional influence in Baghdad. Washington debates over the future of a post-war Iraqi government is tickling the fancy of American analysts. According to a current version, all 23 Iraqi ministries will each be headed by an American with a staff of four local helpers. But this fuss is overshadowed by a stark and brutal reality. No one has yet seen Saddam Hussein in a grave or on a blood-stained bed in a hospital ward. For the patriotically-minded population of Iraq prepared to wage a years-long guerilla war no news about the leader is not just good news. It is an order to resist.
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