Iraq will have to be ousted from Kuwait by military action, because diplomatic efforts and trade sanctions are likely to have little impact on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, U.S. government analysts concluded recently.
They said that, based on a careful study of Saddam's recent pronouncements and the increasingly belligerent actions of Iraqi forces inside Kuwait, the Iraqi leader has evidently decided that war is inevitable and retreat impossible.
The analysts have advised senior Bush administration officials that Saddam's resolve to stay in Kuwait shows no sign of flagging as the Middle East crisis enters its ninth week, a circumstance that increases the likelihood of armed conflict.
Even though Saddam and his clique believe war is inevitable, one analyst said, "He's not anxious to fire the first shot." Saddam's strategy for now is "to play for time," another said, so Iraqi forces can improve their defenses and Iraqi politicians can improve the nation's standing among Arabs.
The analysts said Saddam and his aides evidently have staked their tenure in power and perhaps even their lives on a hard-line stance against any retreat or concession to Westerners or the Arab leaders they regard as Western agents.
Saddam's conspiratorial frame of mind, coupled with his reliance on a small circle of unsophisticated and ideologically motivated advisers, has diminished any willingness to negotiate, the analysts say. They discussed their conclusions in interviews last week on condition of anonymity.
The analysts said they advised senior officials that the United Nations-sanctioned trade embargo will not begin to pinch Iraq seriously for more than six months, giving Saddam ample time to attempt sowing dissension within opposing nations by appealing to Arab nationalism.
The analysts indicated nothing has changed since Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney's statement two weeks ago that "what we see through private channels is very much what you're seeing publicly, that is to say that he is -- continues to be -- very bellicose, to give every evidence that he doesn't plan to comply with the U.N. sanctions or . . . resolutions."
During recent mediation efforts by other Arab leaders, Saddam has behaved as though he wanted to put "a bullet through the dove of peace," said one analyst.
Other increasingly hostile actions include house-to-house searches for foreigners trapped in Kuwait, and Baghdad's recent death threat against Kuwaiti or Iraqi citizens caught sheltering foreigners.
"There is not a single chance for any retreat . . . from waging the battle according to principles of honor and deep faith and determination to achieve victory," Saddam's Revolutionary Command Council said in a statement Sept. 21. "Let everybody understand that this battle is going to become the mother (and father) of all battles."
The analysts said Saddam is motivated by intense nationalism, pride, arrogance, and resentment of the region's former Western colonial rulers. A childhood under British rule, the influence of a virulently anti-British uncle, and youthful involvement in revolutionary politics deepened these feelings, the analysts said.
Partly because Saddam rose in his Baath Party through conspiracy, they said, he tends to see current world opprobrium as a continuation of a conspiracy of Zionists, Westerners and their wealthy agents in the Arab world.
"We know that an all-out campaign is being waged against us in America and in the countries of Europe," Saddam told visiting members of Congress last April. "The Arab nation considers this attitude toward Iraq as unjust and born of ulterior motives" and will liberate itself "from the blackmail of the Zionist lobby."
The analysts said that after becoming president in 1979, Saddam consolidated power by having 21 of his close associates shot by those who remained at the top. He set up an internal security apparatus similar to dictator Joseph Stalin's 1950s secret police in the Soviet Union to identify and neutralize potential opponents. Since political losers in Iraq "get carried out feet first," an analyst said, Saddam knows the severe consequences of a defeat.
"Saddam would have a lot of trouble internally if Iraqi forces left voluntarily," probably jeopardizing his job and life, the analyst said. "But if Iraq was forced out in a military conflict, people would say defeat was expected and Saddam had at least stood up to the United States," an outcome likely to keep him alive.
The analysts said Iraq seldom gave up territory during its eight-year war with Iran unless defeated in battle. They dismissed any notion that Saddam would end the current crisis by relinquishing territory in exchange for a peace treaty, as he did last month in negotiations with Iran.
Iraqis accepted that move "only because Saddam retained an alternate route to the sea through Kuwait," the analyst said. Now, Iraq and Saddam "can't be humiliated" by giving up Kuwait as well.
Another analyst noted that "the conquest of Kuwait is very popular . . . and his hard-core advisers have bought onto Saddam's agenda" of using the invasion to dominate the region. "This is a family enterprise" like a Mafia clan, he said, noting that virtually all Saddam's close advisers are members of his family or natives of his home town of Tikrit.
"Kuwait is like the little tailor in a shop and one day the capo comes in, says he wants protection money. The tailor says no, so the capo turns to his men and says, 'Set the place on fire,' " another official said.