After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Saddam, A Retrospective

There are those that say Saddam died when he was captured by the Americans, others that say he died four years ago after losing the war. They are both wrong. In reality it was somewhere around the mid eighties.

You have to understand that the top Baathists were so hated they already saw themselves as dead in the sense that once they loosen their hold on the reigns of power just a little they will all be killed by the people. So, to see when Saddam really died one must understand when he lost full control of power in Iraq.

Saddam may have been an American agent, trained by the CIA and shoehorned into power in Iraq but it was not the Americans that kept him there. That credit must go to the military class that kept Iraq under control for centuries under the Ottoman empire. It was the same military class that backed up the British imposed Monarchy. And the same military class that stopped the Iraqi republic of 1958 creating a popular government. And the same military class that led Iraq into its devastsating war with Iran in 1980.

Part way through the war with Iran the Iraqi army failed. Iran had managed to take back all territory that Iraq had gained initially and culminated with Iran gaining a foothold inside the south of Iraq and threatening to march on to Baghdad. Drastic action was taken. The compositon of the Army wsa changed. First, new military commanders were promoted on the basis of ability and not the previous system of cronyism and, second, a whole generation of University students were drafted into the army. This changed the Iraqi army into an effective defensive force and one that manged to stop a vastly more numerous army overruning Iraq. But also this lay the seeds for a change in the Iraqi army that ended generations of control of the old military families.

This was a significant change. Saddam was forced to stop acting as a pure agent of foreign powers but to allow the Iraqi people more control of their country just to stay in power. This led to a golden era for the Iraqi economy. Saddam loosened his control of the state and Iraqi people built a truly independent economy for the first time since before the Ottoman empire.

Iraq was a major regional exporter arms and building material and other industrial goods to the whole region, challenging the Western monopolies. At the same time the new military were also a grave threat to Saddam. They were no longer under his full control. So once Kuwait threatened the Iraqi economy in 1990 by recalling its loans and undercutting oil prices, their fate was sealed. Saddam could not afford to allow the economy to falter. He had a million soliers reentering the workforce and no money to pay them. His options were stark. Allow the economy to fail and wait for his army to overthrow him or attack the country causing his problems. No-brainer really. The Kuwait war was all about survival for Saddam. After that, well, the rest is history.

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