The Last Saddam

Tikrit, Iraq, Dec. 17, 2003 18:28 PM ET, Reuters — “The US military specialists conducted a detailed analysis of the ‘spider hole’, where Saddam Hussein was found three days ago. Ultrasound and infrared equipment was used to uncover another hidden passage at the bottom of the hole” – told reporters Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq. “Opening a Styrofoam trapdoor revealed the second occupant: North Korea’s President Kim Jong-Il.”

Hey, why not? This could happen. I think the US troops should go back to that ‘spider hole’ (apparently Gen. Sanchez is under the impression that spiders in the wild survive by digging Styrofoam-covered holes in the ground), say, a week or so before the presidential election in the States: with any luck they’ll find Osama in there. He will get out of the hole and, just like Saddam, tell Americans in clear English “My name is Osama bin Laden and I would like to negotiate surrender.”

The man in the “dental check” video released by the US Army does look like Saddam. I’ll give you that much. He also looks like Karl Marx. Iraqis find it hard to believe that Saddam did not put up a fight, when he was discovered by the US troops. But, being surrounded by six hundred trigger-happy Yanks, this was only prudent. I find something else hard to believe: a man, who had all the time and resources in the world to plan his escape and survival, could do nothing better than pack a suitcase full of cash, grab a cab and crawl into a hole in the ground ten miles from his home town. Call me paranoid, but something just doesn’t make sense in this story.

For months the US has been advertising the details of its search for Saddam. Americans made no secret that the search was concentrated around Tikrit, supposedly because Saddam has a lot of supporters in that area. And this is exactly where Saddam was found. Sounds logical, right? Not really: it is generally not a good idea to be hiding precisely in the spot where somebody is looking for you.

Since the moment G.W. Bush, through the magic of statistics and the peculiarities of the US electoral system, became the ruler of the world’s only remaining empire, it was clear that another military showdown between the US and Iraq became more than just a possibility. Personal, political and financial agendas of the new administration intertwined to make a new Bush-Hussein war a certainty.

Osama bin Laden intervened and inadvertently delayed the US military action against Iraq. Bin Laden wanted to create a new battleground, where his mudjahadeen would be able to meet US soldiers face to face, as they were growing increasingly tired of meeting with the cruise missiles. Osama wanted Afghanistan to be this new battle ground – the “cemetery of empires”.

Of course, for Osama’s purposes Iraq would have been a much better place to fight the Americans: better roads, warmer climate, convenient location for all the “holy fighters”, oil, money, good food, free weapons under every patch of sand. What else do you need for the most excellent jihad? Bush was a blessing for Bin Laden.

Saddam was always known for his ability to survive. He may not have had the best timing for offensive action, but he always knew when to withdraw. And withdrawing was Saddam’s specialty: the man did not derive nearly as much pleasure from being in power as he did from the process of rising from the ashes and getting back in charge. This wasn’t just the story of Saddam’s life – it was his hobby, like you or me may be collecting stamps or building toy railroads.

In 2000 Saddam ranked a respectable number fifty-five on the Forbes’ world’s richest men list. His fortune was not precisely known, but it was modestly estimated at $7 billion. Now we know that with all the skimming off the top of the UN’s oil-for-food program, Saddam’s fortune had to be at least twice the Forbes’ estimate. Saddam was not the most popular ruler in the Middle East, but he had his fans and he had connections: after all, this wasn’t his first year in business. Did Saddam expect the US to attack? I am sure that his only questions at the time where “when” and “how many”.

What about Bush’s motives? Ignoring for the moment all the geopolitical and financial reasons of Bush’s entourage, the president himself had two very simple objectives in mind. First, G.W. wanted to correct what he believed was a mistake made by his father by ending the 1991 war prematurely and leaving Saddam in power.

At the time this was a major point of criticism against Bush Sr. Of course, behind this decision was a life of a man who experienced war firsthand and who knew, that victory is a fleeting moment and is rarely absolute. This was beyond G.W., who was eager to correct his father’s “mistake”, while simultaneously addressing another pressing issue: a deep-rooted inferiority complex.

Texans often smile when they see their former governor in the role of the US president. Everything from the man’s posture to his speech patterns has mutated beyond recognition. Bush is literally turning inside out to appear something he is not. We may all suspect that Bush is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the poor guy knows this for a fact. You can talk all you want about financial and political motives behind the war in Iraq, but in the end it’s all about a son trying to prove something to his father. And on top of this, of course, you can add everything else: oil, contracts, pipelines, Israel. After all, Bush is not the only one with an agenda in the White House.

Bush Jr. always wanted to remove Saddam from power. He didn’t just want to bomb Iraq: after his father and Bill Clinton the novelty of cruise missile attacks was begging to wear off. G.W. wanted to remove Saddam from power and he made no secret about it. As soon as Bush took power in 2000 the US called for a special war crimes tribunal to try Saddam.

However, let’s get back to Saddam and the ‘spider hole’. The Iraqi dictator had at least three years to contemplate his future with America’s new Bush. Saddam has many character flaws but lack of respect for his personal safety is not one of them. Name me another ruler of the modern world who has more than fifty body doubles (Dick Cheney doesn’t count). Being one of the world’s richest and most influential men Saddam had a full range of options open to him in case of an American invasion. So what did he do?

Myth number one: Saddam did not expect a ground invasion by the US.

From the moment the second Bush descended on the White House, he made no secret of his intention to remove Saddam from power and to dismantle the entire Iraqi political system. Occupation of Iraq was the only way to go. Bush knew it, Saddam knew it – everybody knew it (well, maybe Bin Laden didn’t know it, but he was preoccupied with something else at the time).

Reports indicate that up to the last moment Saddam was trying to negotiate a deal with the US. I believe it but this doesn’t mean Saddam did not expect a war: Iraq could not fight the US so negotiating was the only option. There’s nothing surprising that Saddam was trying to negotiate with the US and this wasn’t the first time either.

Myth number two: US troops advanced too fast cutting off Saddam’s escape routes.

The US and British forces did not advance faster than expected. In fact, for about two weeks coalition forces were bogged down near the Kuwait border fighting paramilitary units and villagers armed with pitchforks and shovels. The progress of the US forces in Iraq fell well short of expectations. The movement of US troops through Baghdad was predicted every step of the way by’s Ramzaj, among others and was published all over the Web. No surprises there. The only person apparently unaware of the US troops’ movements was Iraq’s information minister – the only member of the Iraqi government to do his job literally to the last possible minute.

Myth number three: Saddam planned to fight off the US invasion.

If there was one man in the world who knew the worth of the Iraqi army, it was Saddam. He did not have to read “Jane’s” to figure out the combat potential of his army. Hussein had no plans of fighting the US: except for token defensive structures along the border and around key intersections the US and British troops found no signs that Iraq was even planning to slow down the invasion.

Myth number four: Saddam planned guerilla war against the invaders.

Guerilla warfare against regular troops is most effective in large cities. No signs were detected of any preparations by the Iraqi army or irregular forces to wage this type of a war against the US troops. Cities had no defenses, roads and bridges were not mined, absolutely nothing was done to prevent the Americans from quickly capturing all key strategic locations. Iraqi army and irregulars fought bravely for a couple of weeks just to disappear into the night without a trace with all their weapons and equipment.

Myth number five: Saddam was betrayed by his generals.

This myth is the most persistent despite being the most absurd. No preparations of any kind were done anywhere in the country to repel or even to slow down the invasion. Iraq had at least three years to prepare. Saddam had a powerful security organization with eyes and ears everywhere in the country. He had a clear picture of his country’s defenses, just as he had a clear picture of nearly everything else happening in Iraq.

It is entirely conceivable that several high-ranking Iraqi military commanders could have betrayed Saddam during the war. However, this does not change the fact that Saddam ordered no preparations for the war. And even betrayal by a few generals during the war would have been nothing Saddam’s security apparatus did not handle before.

Whatever remains, however improbable…

What we are left with in the end is this: Saddam knew for years that the US is planning an invasion of Iraq with the purpose of removing him from power and dismantling his government. He made no preparations to repel the invasion. Saddam made no preparations for guerilla warfare in the cities, despite all the talk of Baghdad becoming Stalingrad for the Americans. So what did Saddam do? From what we know, not a damn thing.

If Saddam did not plan to fight, then, perhaps, he planned to run. He certainly had all the time and resources in the world to spend his retirement anywhere he wanted without much risk of being discovered. Lose a few pounds, shave that horrible mustache, and do something about those bushy brows and Saddam could have retired in Florida and, with any luck, voted Bush out of the office next year.

Saddam could have escaped to any of the Arab countries, Belarus, Russia, Afghanistan, or Latin America – anywhere. He would have been safer in Tel-Aviv than in Tikrit. If Saddam could not make up his mind, he could have asked Bin Laden for a good suggestion: holes in Afghanistan are a much safer bet than holes in Tikrit. Instead, we are expected to believe that Saddam could come up with nothing better but to find the highest concentration of US forces in Iraq, dig a hole in the ground right in the middle of it and sit in there on a suitcase full of cash and valuable intelligence about the Iraqi resistance.

Saddam’s two sons, who also had the time and money to plan their escape, were driving around the country visiting friends and family until they finally got killed. Does that make sense? And what do we know about the several dozen Iraqi officials from that deck of cards? All but fifteen of them have been captured by the US forces. In fact, most of them, according to the US military, surrendered voluntarily. Apparently, Saddam’s ministers and generals did not mind the possibility of joining Milosevic in The Hague and did not care about a good chance of being lynched by a “tribunal” put together by the provisional government consisting of former exiles and dissidents. All of these former Iraqi government officials had all the resources they needed to leave the country and they weren’t nearly as high-profile as their boss, which would have made their escape so far less complicated. Instead, they voluntarily preferred a prison (or worse) in Baghdad to a retirement on some island paradise. Interestingly enough, even though the US military claimed to have captured some forty or fifty Iraqi government officials, we did not see any pictures of them in captivity. The only Iraqi official who we know for a fact tried to surrender to the US forces was Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Iraq’s information minister.

The US military claims that they found Saddam hiding in a hole in the ground near Tikrit – precisely where the US was searching for Saddam for the past ten months. The soldiers opened the lid covering the hole and out came out Iraq’s president. “My name is Saddam Hussein” he told the soldiers in English and handed them a suitcase full of money and intelligence information… Americans didn’t find any of Saddam’s fifty or so body doubles: why bother when you can just hit the jackpot. Too bad Lewis Carroll isn’t with us: this is a great scenario for a sequel to “Alice in Wonderland”. And the most interesting thing about Saddam’s capture is this: if the man in the video was not really Saddam and the US government is lying (hard to imagine, isn’t it?), there’s nothing anybody can do to prove the US wrong. Even if Saddam himself would stand tomorrow in full uniform on the balcony of the Al Rashid hotel in Baghdad and proclaim his determination to return to power, the US military will simply claim that it’s one of the fifty Saddam’s doubles they didn’t catch.