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Saddam's Strategy to Draw Out War, say Analysts - 2003-03-30

Leaders of the coalition trying to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein say they will win the war, in President Bush's words, 'however long it takes.' Few, if any, military experts would disagree with that prediction. But in the Arab world, many analysts say Saddam's strategy may be to drag out the war and claim some measure of victory as a result.

Iraqi military forces have employed a variety of widely criticized tactics designed to slow down the onslaught of coalition troops that are closing in on Baghdad.

Among other things, Iraqi troops have raised white flags indicating surrender, only to open fire on advancing coalition forces. There has also been a suicide bombing that killed four American soldiers.

Many Arab military analysts have said that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein knows he is outmatched militarily and that it is only a matter of time before his government is dismantled. Consequently, the analysts say, if Saddam is still alive, his key war strategy may be simply to stay alive and rally his forces to drag out the conflict as long as possible.

The head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University in Beirut, Sami Baroudi, said the Iraqi leader hopes for a long, bloody conflict. Mr. Baroudi said that could generate international pressure on the coalition, and also domestic pressure as a result of daily television images of dead and injured soldiers and civilians.

"Casualties among the coalition forces. More scenes of casualties in Baghdad. So, these are, I think, what he is counting on. And then time will play if these images are continuously repeated. Then that will create a sort of mood in the region that will put pressure on the coalition," Mr. Baroudi said.

Mr. Baroudi said Saddam has been a master of playing for time. In fact, he said, the Iraqi president was able to make military gains by calling for the return of U.N. weapons inspectors late last summer, after President Bush began threatening the use of force over Iraq's weapons program.

Military analyst Mohammed Kadry Sa'id agrees. The former Egyptian army general, who now heads the military unit at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, says the months leading up to the war were critical to Saddam's ability to organize his troops.

"I think Saddam, number one, he succeeded to mobilize his forces and to give them time to prepare a good plan, and I think this happened before the war," he said.

What we see now is not something which was designed yesterday. In my view, it took a lot of time for Saddam and his commanders and party members to, he succeeded to, convince his forces for resistance. I mean, they did not surrender, for example, they are fighting. And this, I think, is a big success, in my view, they are not afraid and this is a big success.

The former Egyptian general said he expects to see more incidents of suicide bombings as a tool to slow the progress of advancing coalition troops. Mr. Sa'id says such Iraqi tactics are intended, in part, to mimic the use of precision guided missiles and bombs by coalition forces.

"It means precision. In fact, the Americans are using [long-]distance precise air attacks. This means that the missed distance is very small. So, the Iraqis are doing the same if they use suicide bombings. The missed distance is zero also, or near zero, and the penetration is also maximum. And this is the importance of suicide bombings in doing harm to others. The precision is very high. It is the counter[part] of the precision-guided American missiles," Mr. Sa'id said.

He said anger, grief, and rage over the coalition bombing campaign appear to be galvanizing the Iraqi population. Coalition leaders say the main factor inspiring Iraqis to fight is fear of Saddam Hussein.

Many analysts believe Saddam hopes to keep his government intact long enough to generate intense Arab anger against the war, and possibly to draw other Arab states into the conflict.

Political science professor Mohammed al-Musfir at Qatar University said the longer the Iraqi leader can at least project the image in the Arab world that he is still in charge, the more hatred he can generate toward the United States.

"I think the Arab world would support them, sooner or later, by hating the American personnel, American civilization, American democracy, American system, and also the interests of the United States will not be as [they] used to be," he said.

Few analysts, if any, believe Saddam Hussein stands any chance of remaining in power. But they say, if he is still alive, he will likely push forward with his strategy in order to enhance his legacy, at least among radical Arabs.

It should be noted that while anti-war protests throughout the region have grown in intensity, demonstrators generally do not express direct support for Saddam Hussein. Rather, the demonstrators express their concern for the Iraqi people.