Iraq: June 23, 2003

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The three vehicle convoy destroyed near the Syrian border on the 18th may have contained Saddam Hussein and one of his sons. The wreckage is being examined and DNA samples taken.

Interrogation of captured Baath party leaders indicates that Saddam Hussein and his sons are still alive. Saddam is apparently still on top of his game in terms of evading detection and capture. Saddam survived in power so long partly due to his ability to stay out of the way of his enemies.

The Cash Kingdom

Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq longer than anyone else in the past century, and he did it with fear, and liberal distribution of cash and gifts. We don't usually think of cash as a means to ruling people, but Saddam was quite clever at it, and apparently still is. Captured Baath party documents indicate a plan was drawn up for continued fighting if Iraq were conquered. Large caches of  cash were established to provide rewards for those who killed American soldiers or committed acts of sabotage against economic targets. Over a billion dollars of cash and gold was found and recovered at the end of the war, but it is thought that hundreds of millions of dollars are still out there under the control of the Baath party. 

Saddam ran Iraq with a combination of terror and bribes. His basic pitch was, "obey me and I won't kill you, and will give you some money as well." During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, Saddam maintained the support of the people by making large cash payments to the families of Iraqi soldiers killed fighting the Iranians. Saddam should have been in big trouble during this war, as it was his idea to invade Iran in the first place, and it was the Iranian counterattack, and demand for Saddam's head, that killed most Iraqis lost in the war. But Saddam used money and fear to keep the lid on resistance. He also rewarded military leaders who were successful, although most were removed from their jobs after the war, lest their popularity and abilities threaten Saddam's rule.

After the  the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the coalition counterattack in 1991, Saddam was in trouble again. He hauled out the cash to buy the loyalty of  tribes and groups who would support against the Shia and Kurd rebels. The cash was also capable of bribing some of the rebels to sit out the fight. Since 1991, cash has been used to keep the security services and Republican Guard loyal. Unfortunately, the cash required to do this came largely from the "Oil for Food" program. While the Kurds spent most of their share of the Oil for Food money on food and public works, and prospered, Iraqis suffered because most of their share went for bribes to keep Saddam in power. You could see how this worked after American troops were in Iraq. Those areas, largely Sunni tribes and cities, that were Saddam backers, were noticeably more prosperous than the rest of Iraq.

But now these prosperous Sunnis have lost their main source of income. Sending out their young men to earn a large cash payment for killing Americans, or sabotaging a pipeline, is a prospect few can resist. But this will not go on forever, because most of these young gunmen get killed when they encounter American troops. Moreover, too many Iraqis are willing to provide information to the Americans, and subsequent raids on Sunni Iraqis leads to the imprisonment of potential attackers and seizure of their weapons. The Baath party leaders are getting rounded up and the cash supplies taken. 

The Iraqi Baath party has few friends in the region. But individual Arabs are coming to Iraq to "fight the infidels." These Islamic radicals don't need cash encouragement, but they do need to be fed and hidden, and this costs money. The Syrian Baath Party has been at war with the Iraqi Baath Party for decades, but sees the survival of Baath in Iraq as preferable to the establishment of an Iraqi democracy. The Syrians can provide lots of sanctuary and a little cash. Some wealthy Saudis  offer cash to help expel infidels from the region. 

The Sunni Arabs who have ruled Iraq, without Saddam, for centuries, face destitution and retribution for as long as they are out of power. The Sunnis look back to the 1920s, when a combination of civil war and resistance to British rule enabled the Sunnis to regain power. Back then, the Sunnis came out on top by cutting a deal with the British, at the expense of the majority Shia and Kurds. The Sunnis see a similar opportunity as their main chance to regain control of the country. Keep Iraq poor, armed, angry and fighting and cash, Sunni cash, will eventually win out. It's not known exactly how much cash the Sunnis have, but Saddam is thought to have at least ten billion dollars in assets outside of Iraq, and several billion dollars in cash inside Iraq. Coalition forces are hunting for that money, especially since cash is turning out to be Saddam's ultimate weapon.

 

 

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