Why US keeps Saddam Hussein alive?

US policy makers think with their heads and not from their hearts. They could have taken Saddam's life away any time since the Gulf War but they have chosen to keep him alive and in power.

The name of President Saddam Hussein is synonymous with death, destruction and, for most people, with evil. He has successfully crushed his opponents at home, terrified his fellow citizens into submission and invaded his neighboring countries at will. The Iraqi dictator has reduced his country which, before the Iran-Iraq War, was on its way to becoming a regional economic superpower, to a pariah with a ruined economy, devastated industrial infrastructure and little hope for immediate future. Perhaps, never in the modern history has one man wreaked so much damage on his own people and country with his wayward and haphazard policies.

But of all his quixotic adventures, Saddam's invasion of Kuwait angered the world, most which decided that enough was enough and that it could no longer ignore him. Thus, a coalition of forces was quickly built up, assembled in the scorching desert and marched into Kuwait to liberate the Gulf kingdom. However, once the Iraqi forces were driven out of Kuwait and some Iraqi territory seized, the US decided that objectives of the war had been achieved and there was no need to go to "extra mile." Thus, Saddam Hussein survived.

The US policy not to do away with Saddam may have been good enough had the Iraqi leader learnt what he needed after his defeat in the Gulf War. But Saddam is only an infirm mortal who finds it difficult to mend his ways, specially his habit of pursuing his objectives at gunpoint, ignoring the norms of current diplomacy. His apparent motive for defying the United Nations time and again is to force the UN Security Council into lifting the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the war. Or, as some people believe, it is to divert the Iraqi public's attention from domestic troubles.

Whatever it is, Saddam has put back the sanctions issue and the suffering of the Iraqis on the international agenda. He also succeeded in making it apparently clear to the world that the "Saddam of the Gulf War" has not changed. "What we learn from history is that we never learn from history," says the adage.

Should the sanctions on Iraq stay or go? Should their intensity be further increased? Or, should all efforts be made to remove Saddam Hussein instead of waiting for the Iraqi people to do it for themselves and for the world? These questions, though academic in nature, point at the bitter truth that the survival of Saddam Hussein remains an "unfinished agenda" of the Gulf War.

Nevertheless, the question about Saddam’s survival is the most important. While for most people, specially the Kuwaitis, it is a foregone conclusion that Saddam has to go, it is, ironically, not easy decision for the American policy planners, despite their rhetoric and condemnation of the man whom The Washington Post once called "an unregenerated potential repeat offender." These policy makers think from their heads and not from their hearts. They know that it is not prudent to sacrifice long-term interests for sort-term gains. Till now, they have greatly succeeded in their plans.

So why have the West, specially the Americans, kept Saddam alive?

The Deluge of Weapons

The success of the coalition forces over the Iraqi Army saw one suggestion pouring in from every corner of the world that arms sales to the Middle East be curtailed. What exactly happened in the aftermath of the war was just the opposite. Every major arms producer headed either for Saudi Arabia or Dubai or Kuwait to sell weapons of all types and specifications. The economic interest and practical considerations clashed with the ideology. The former naturally got the upper hand. The ideology was left to the rhetoric and rhetoricians.

Sagging defense budgets and industry’s struggle to survive in a filtering arms market have dictated the boost in weapons sales to the Gulf region. It was also motivated by a great profit margin. The interest of the buyers in sophisticated and advanced equipment was a further boon for the suppliers. In the post-Cold War period, the Middle East is proving to be the most lucrative arms market. According to some observers, the GCC countries alone are keeping many armament factories in the West running for quite some time.

In all, the US alone has contracted to sell weapons worth more than $60 billion to the Middle Eastern countries, who had already bought arms worth more than US$250 billion since the 70s.

Many observers argue that military sales to the Gulf have always been motivated by money and not by genuine security threat. The say that the business and jobs are the main consideration for the sellers. It is widely believed that it is in the Western interest to keep Saddam in power in order to keep alive and promote their defense industries. The arms race continues and the Iraqi dictator remains in power.

US foothold in the Gulf

Before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf States, because of political and domestic reasons were hesitant in giving the outside powers an explicit role in their security affairs. They thought that, as members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), they could collectively counter the external threats. However, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait proved otherwise. The war brought the US into the picture – the only power that could act as a guarantor.

According to former US assistant defense secretary Lawrence Cord, the Iraqi menace was "sufficient justification for Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to swallow their worries about domestic considerations and accept what could become a permanent US troops presence." He said that the US had been trying to station troops in the Gulf region because it was critical in terms of oil supplies.

The US now has troops, permanent military facilities in the Gulf. It can now dictate its own policies to the regional countries in return for providing security to them.

George Jaffe, the former Director of Research Center, School of Oriental and African Studies, in one f his analyses had warned that the US intervention in the region would reinforce the divisions between the oil rich kingdoms, its neighbors and other Arab countries to such an extent that only "a permanent and massive US presence could guarantee peace." This is correct.

On the other hand, a friendly regime in Baghdad would provide little justification for long-term US presence in the region.

The Oil Factor

A major reason for the presence of US forces in the Gulf is to make sure that there is no threat to the supply of oil to the Western countries and Japan. Also, that there is no repetition of the 1973 oil embargo on the West.

It is clear that dependence of the Gulf states on the US forces for security would allow Washington to dictate its own policies. One US priority would be that plenty of oil remains available at low prices. A rise in oil price will result in inflation and economic slowdown in the industrialized counties. Also affected by the high oil prices would be the developing countries who suffer economic and social penalties which would upset their balance of the payments and leave little amount of money for development.

The cost of buying arms from the West and maintaining foreign troops is very high, specially in terms of finances. Internal bickering has reduced the power of the oil cartel. The divergent interests make it impossible to use oil as a weapon against the West. To a great extent, Saddam'’ presence is keeping alive the turmoil in the region.


Iran and Regional Security

Saddam Hussein is certainly hated as much in Iran as in Kuwait. He is considered responsible for forcing an eight-year-long war on the Iranians, killing of thousands of troops and civilians and for the destruction of the country’s economy. No matter what it costs them, the Iranians would like to see Saddam toppled.

It is a fact that the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq’s defeat immensely benefited Iran. It gained diplomatic and material benefits by condemning the Iraqi invasion and remaining neutral. In the end, it emerged as a regional power. However, the diplomatic benefits were soon lost because the Western countries and the regional states saw little change in the Iranian policies in the post war period. Iranians were further isolated, forcing them to advocate regional collective security to ward off future wars and to keep away the Western powers from the region.

The Iranian leaders understand that with Saddam Hussein in power, Iraq could never become a part of their strategy for regional collective security. Even if Saddam agrees to join such system, the Iranian public and the military would be strongly opposed to it. But a country’s strategic and economic interests are influenced by global changes. Therefore, it might be possible to do business with Baghdad one the Iraqi dictator has departed. The new leadership of Iraq would be more inclined to shake hands with Tehran if the UN embargo on the country continues. The departure of President Saddam could, thus, benefit Iran in more than one way. That is what the US and the Western countries could not want to happen. Yet another reason why Saddam survives.


The sectarian divide

Iraqi Arabs of Sunni sect form 47% population of Iraq (including15% Kurd Sunni), the Arabs of the Shia sect make up 50%. Arab Christian minority of 3% and some of them hold key government posts.

However the Iraqi ruling elite of the Ba’athist regime, including President Saddam Hussein, is pre-dominantly Sunni. It is ironical that during the Iran Iraq War, the Shia majority in Iraq refused to side the Shia Iran.


Saddam as martyr?

There is a danger that if the US tries to overthrow Saddam overtly, his demise might make him a hero in the Arab world. His killing, say in an air or missile strike, could fuel once again pan-Arabism. Also that the Iraqi dictator might be succeeded by somebody from his family or the Tikrit clan, as great an extremist as Saddam himself or even worse, is not a remote possibility. The end of dictatorship in Iraq is not in sight. One can easily question, however, that why US attacks on Iraq could not fuel pan-Arabism. There are chances that Saddam might be the agent of CIA and invaded Iraq in its behalf to provide US chance of planned military invention in Gulf.



Saddam Hussein, at the helm of affairs in Baghdad, serves the interest of not only the US and the Western powers but also some of the Gulf countries. Saudi Arab must realize that US is not his well wisher and it can get strong military defense from Muslim counties like Pakistan.

What should be clear is that the politics in the Middle East have always been enveloped in treachery, deceit, subversion and violence. Apart form the inner factors, there are outside factors and vested interests that have brought violent changes in the region at a great cost of life.

Before the Gulf War, Saddam survived because of hi s own ingenious ways and constant plotting. After the failed invasion of Kuwait, he owes its existence to outside elements. For this, he should be surely thankful to them, specially the Americans. Meanwhile, the Iraqi & Saudi masses caught between devil and the deep sea, must endure.


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the inner factors, there are outside factors and vested interests that have brought violent changes in the region at a great cost of life.

Before the Gulf War, Saddam survived because of hi s own ingenious ways and constant plotting. After the failed invasion of Kuwait, he owes its existence to outside elements. For this, he should be surely thankful to them, specially the Americans. Meanwhile, the Iraqi & Saudi masses caught between devil and the deep sea, must endure.


Main Page