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Source: The Economist, "Greed, Fear and Confusion to Saddam's Rescue", 24 January 2002 The performance could be delayed a bit but America is still writing scripts for the exit of Saddam Hussein and his regime. This calls for ingenuity. Iraq has been devastated by an 11-year siege, and made friendless by a government that is widely despised, not least by its own people. But its dictator lives on, helped by a closing of Arab ranks, and by the greed, fear and confusion of many of his foes. Take greed, to start with. Iraq's predicament has taken an appalling human and economic toll at home, but many of the regional allies that America would need in a war have profited nicely from Iraq's distress. Although the country has vast oil reserves, sanctions have withered investment and throttled exports, allowing competitors, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, to produce more oil without glutting the market. Over the past decade, Iraq has forfeited potential revenue of some $150 billion, all to the advantage of others. In addition, oil-importing neighbours, such as Jordan and Turkey, enjoy heavily discounted energy supplies from Iraq. And the Kurds of northern Iraq, who live under semi-autonomous UN protection, have grown dependent on the tidy income they earn from the transit of Iraqi fuel. All of Iraq's neighbours are agitated, sometimes fearful, about what a change of regime might bring to the region. With Iraq's population 60% Shia Muslim, both secular Turkey and Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia harbour fears, for different reasons, of the emergence of a fundamentalist theocracy aligned with Shia Iran. The Gulf monarchies would hardly be happy with a democracy next door, either. Some Americans have spoken of using Iraq's Kurds as a Northern Alliance-like bridgehead to Baghdad. This also makes Turkey nervous. Having squashed its own Kurdish minority, Turkey looks askance at the rewards America might dole out to Kurdish collaborators. It is even more alarmed at the idea of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan that might reignite Kurdish aspirations elsewhere. Perhaps with this in mind, Turkey has taken to muttering about its right to “protect” the tiny minority of ethnic Turks who live in the Iraqi enclave. For the time being, the unprecedented freedom the Kurds currently enjoy, with both Mr Hussein and the Turks kept at bay, may look too precious to risk. Few doubt that the world would be a better place without Mr Hussein, but a big problem is that those baying for his blood have consistently failed to explain why his removal is an urgent necessity rather than a desirable outcome. Attempts to link the country to the al-Qaeda terrorist network have not borne fruit, which is no surprise considering that jihad-minded Islamists consider Mr Hussein anathema. Nor, in the region, is there much concern about Iraq's illicit weaponry or aggressive tendencies. Kuwait, understandably, remains apprehensive, but Iraq's other neighbours no longer consider Iraq to be a major security threat. The argument that Mr Hussein must go because he hates America and might one day be a danger to it, fails to convince Iraq's neighbours of the need for an expedited change of regime. The proposed means for bringing this change about are even less convincing than the reasons. America does not, to date, have a legal mandate for serious military intervention. Given the reluctance of Iraq's neighbours, it has no place to install the 100,000 or so troops that might be necessary for Mr Hussein's overthrow. And the Iraqi opposition remains as divided and feeble as ever. The Bush administration's recent suspension of funding to the most pro-American group, the Iraqi National Congress, over suspected financial malfeasance, is a case in point. Sensing a breathing space, Iraq has launched another of its sporadic charm offensives. Top officials have taken to praising the Gulf monarchies, waxing on the virtues of Arab unity, and even hinting at a future dialogue with America. Mr Hussein himself is said to have proposed some new initiative to Amr Moussa, when the Arab League's secretary-general visited him in Baghdad last weekend. The visit, the first of its kind since the Gulf war, was widely seen by Arab commentators as an attempt to bring Iraq back into the fold at a time when a joint Arab approach is urgently needed to face the consequences of America's anti-terrorism campaign. Mr Hussein may be spared from this campaign, for the moment. But this does not translate into alleviating the suffering of his people. America's prickly mood has already led to a surge in the number of “holds” put on contracts under the UN's oil for food programme. Some $5 billion in orders, all but a fraction of them intended for humanitarian purposes, now languish undelivered due to American fears that they may serve some military purpose. Meantime, oil prices have fallen 30% since September, and the stringent new mechanism the UN now imposes, whereby prices for Iraqi oil are set retroactively every 15 days, is frightening off customers. The Iraqis' meagre income, already less than a quarter of pre-Gulf war levels, looks set to shrink even further. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com CASI's website - www.casi.org.uk - includes an archive of all postings.