What The Future Holds Hussein's grasp may be slipping WAR IN THE GULF

March 10, 1991|By Peter Honey

Blessed with a quarter of the world's known oil reserves, Iraq has more than enough latent wealth to pay its way back from the dark ages into which it was plunged by six weeks of U.S. and allied bombing, say Middle East analysts.

But whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his associates, or even the Baath Party leadership itself, will be able to stay the distance is open to question.

Even if Mr. Hussein's Republican Guard loyalists manage to quell and contain the postwar rebellion in the southern provinces, as State Department officials believe they will, many Mideast specialists say the Iraqi leader's days are numbered.

"He's in a Catch-22 situation," said Michael Khatana, an analyst for a defense research group, Forecast International/DMS. To stay in power Mr. Hussein, at the very least, would have to retain the confidence of his party and the military leadership, several analysts said.

For that, he would have to show he could reconstruct Iraq's bomb-shattered economy, which some experts say will require at least $100 billion and a jump-start of foreign capital.

But who would step forward now, with Iraq already $60 billion in debt, and while most countries -- including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the custodians of Iraq's oil exporting pipelines -- refuse to cooperate with a Hussein government?

Col. Ralph Cossa, Middle East specialist at the National Defense University, said he foresees a rebellion within the Baathist and military leaderships that would oust Mr. Hussein and his closest cohorts. It would be an act of self-preservation by the party, he said, producing a new Baathist leader, possibly from the army.

"I don't think the Baathists will go," said Stephen Pelletiere, an Iraq specialist with the U.S. Army's Strategic Studies Institute in Carlisle, Pa. "They've proven themselves stayers in the past, and if they hold the loyalty of the army they have a good chance of staying this time."

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