LONDON, JAN. 19 -- Like a wounded lion cornered by his pursuers, Saddam Hussein has been injured but not destroyed by the first three days of allied air strikes on his forces, and analysts here say he remains defiant, dangerous and unpredictable.
Although the damage inflicted has undoubtedly been far greater than the Iraqi president anticipated, British, Israeli and Arab analysts say they believe Saddam's basic war strategy remains intact: to absorb the first blows, conserve his forces, hold out as long as possible, draw Israel into the conflict and then inflict heavy casualties on allied troops in a final ground battle for Kuwait.
Ultimately, according to the analysts, Saddam still hopes to turn the clock back by withstanding the ultra-modern air and electronic blitz the allies are throwing at him and compelling them to engage his well-entrenched troops in a bloody, World War II-style ground attack in which he can make his foes pay for every inch of ground.
The allies believe that time is on their side militarily and that they will gradually wear down and eliminate Iraq's military potential. But in political terms, analysts warn, time could also work for Saddam, validating his role as self-proclaimed Arab hero. Casualties also could work in his favor: the death of Iraqi civilians may unite his own people and cause revulsion in the West, while a procession of body bags back to the United States may undermine American resolve.
"I don't think he's very desperate yet," said Efraim Karsh of the Department of War Studies at King's College here and author of a new biography of Saddam. "He still hopes to hold out for two or three weeks, so that even if he's pushed out of Kuwait, in the end he can say he stood up to the Americans."
Some analysts have said Saddam still thinks he can win an outright military victory by killing enough allied troops to turn American public opinion against the war and force President Bush to seek a cease-fire. Others say he is realistic enough to know a military triumph is out of the question, but believes political victory is still possible if only he and his regime can survive.
That is one reason why few analysts here accept Bush's statements that the U.S. war aims do not include Saddam's personal demise. To be defeated, they contend, he must be destroyed.
"He himself has to be the target," an exiled Iraqi political scientist said. "Look at the bombing of Baath Party headquarters in Baghdad and the presidential palace. These were not military targets but political ones, physical symbols of the regime."
Another Iraqi dissident with intimate knowledge of the regime put it this way: "Saddam is like a Beirut street fighter. The only way to persuade him of anything is to kill him."
These sources say they doubt reports that portray Saddam as deteriorating into madness in recent weeks. They see instead a clear, cruel logic in his behavior and his preference for military defeat over diplomatic withdrawal from Kuwait.
After Saddam realized he had badly miscalculated the U.S. response to his invasion of Kuwait, analysts say, he embarked upon a three-way strategy to neutralize international opposition. He sought Arab nationalist support by linking withdrawal to the Palestinian question, sought Islamic fundamentalist backing by portraying the conflict as Moslem versus non-Moslem, and tried to undermine American support for a war by playing up the U.S. fear of casualties.
These tactics succeeded in buying him time, but they did not ultimately give Saddam what he needed to justify withdrawal. "He might have gotten an international Middle East peace conference but that was not enough," the Iraqi dissident said. "He couldn't care less about the Palestinians. What he really wanted was some sort of concrete compensation from leaving Kuwait -- money or land -- so that his army would accept withdrawal."
About a month ago, analysts said, Saddam concluded he would not get compensation and decided instead that his best option was to fight. He still believed that the United States, affected by post-Vietnam trauma, would back away from war. If not, however, he was prepared to sacrifice thousands of Iraqis. He told one Western diplomat who saw him before the conflict began, "I can smell the perfume of heaven."
That is why, these analysts say, Saddam ceased the frenetic diplomatic maneuvering that marked the first days of the crisis and why he refused any possible preemptive options such as partial pullout from Kuwait.
But just as he miscalculated U.S. reaction to the invasion, analysts say, Saddam apparently underestimated the impact of the first allied attacks. The destruction of military sites and weaponry such as airfields, antiaircraft defenses, Scud missiles and chemical and biological weapons could limit his options and render him impotent.
Many question whether Saddam can even maintain control over his forces from the underground bunkers around Baghdad or Basra where he is thought to be operating. British military historian John Keegan says there is a conflict between Saddam's personal safety and his ability to exercise command over his forces.
To communicate effectively, Keegan says, Saddam must use a radio network that could readily be identified and traced by the electronic eavesdroppers of Operation Desert Storm. The result would be a "decapitating" strike -- one intended to remove the nation's leader -- by aircraft or missile. Otherwise he is forced to rely on easily disrupted landline communications or personal emissaries.
Nonetheless, Iraq's missile attacks on Israel indicate Saddam still seems capable of playing out some parts of his planned strategy. Militarily, the attacks have been insignificant -- "pathetic," in the words of strategic analyst Lawrence Freedman. But politically they have shaken the Israelis while demonstrating to sympathetic Arabs that Saddam can reach the Zionist enemy even while under massive attack from the allies.
"We said we would do a lot of things," Abdul Rezak Hashimi, Iraq's ambassador to France, told BBC Radio. "Believe me, some of it is still to come. . . . It is going to be a long war."
Saddam may attempt to pull other rabbits from his hat as his military position deteriorates, analysts say, in an effort to win Arab and Moslem support and change the terms of the conflict.
He will almost certainly resort to chemical or biological warfare, if such weaponry remains available to him, against either the Israelis or the allied ground assault on Kuwait, they say. He could blow up Kuwait's oil fields, send troops into Jordan to further provoke Israel or even blow up some of Iraq's Moslem shrines -- and blame allied forces for the desecration. Today's Iraqi military communique, for example, claimed that the cities of Najaf and Karbala, which contain some of the holiest sites in Islam, had been attacked by the allies and that civilians were killed and unnamed religious sites damaged.
But many analysts predict Saddam will not resort to doomsday options. Instead, he will simply attempt to hang on, prolonging the battle and enhancing his stature and his chances for survival.
"This is a person with a very strong personality," the exiled political scientist said. "He'll certainly have been shaken by what he saw on the first days, but this is a person who can recover very quickly. He is convinced the best chance of survival is a war -- and this is still valid for him."
MiG-29, Fulcrum: Iraq's best fighter for air-to-air combat. Roughly equivalent to the U.S. F-15, the highly maneuverable plane carries both heat-seeking and radar-guided air-to-air missiles. Before the war began, Iraq had 30 MiG-29s.
Type: Counter-air fighter with attack capability
Crew: Pilot only
Range: About 1,300 mi.
Maximum speed: 1,520 mph
Armament: Six medium-range radar homing AA-10 and/or short-range AA-11 air-to-air missiles. One 30 mm gun. Can carry a variety of other bombs, missiles and rockets.
MiG-23BN, Flogger-F: Soviet-made, single-seat fighter bomber is also part of the Cuban, Libyan, Syrian and Vietnamese air forces. The plane is equipped with a laser rangefinder and can carry AS-7 Kerry missiles.
Su-24, Fencer: Deep-strike Soviet attack aircraft can carry a wide range of air-to-surface weapons and bombs for ground attacks. Roughly equivalent to the U.S. F-111.
Mirage F-1: French-made fighter and attack aircraft can be used to attack ground and naval targets. An Iraqi F-1 carried the Exocet anti-ship missiles that disabled the USS Stark and killed 37 of its crew in May 1987.
Mi-24: Soviet-made assault helicopter carries anti-tank missiles. The U.S. Apache helicopter is used for comparable missions.
Artillery: Estimated 3,500 pieces of towed and self-propelled artillery. Roughly 3,100 pieces are believed deployed in the Kuwaiti theater of operations.
T-72 Tanks: Soviet main battle tank operated by crew of three. The U.S. Army considers its M-1 tank (55 tons) superior to the T-72 (41 tons).
Roland: French-German mobile surface-to-air missile system primarily intended for use against low- and medium-altitude aircraft and helicopters. Iraq is believed to have about 100.
Silkworm: Iraqis have a version of the Chinese-made anti-ship missile that can be launched from a bomber. Range is about 50 miles.
Improved Hawk: American-made air defense weapons used to shoot down enemy aircraft were captured from Kuwaiti forces. Iraq's forces are now believed capable of operating this sophisticated weapon.
Frog-7: Mobile Soviet-made short-range ballistic missile. Capable of hitting targets 45 miles away. The most accurate of Iraq's ground-to-ground missiles.
SA-6: Sophisticated, Soviet mobile long-range surface-to-air missile.
Scud-B: Mobile Soviet ballistic missile with range of about 175 miles. Launchers are mounted on trucks.
Al-Hussein: Iraqi-modified version of the Scud has increased range of 375 miles and can carry high explosive warheads; the missile may be capable of carrying chemical warheads.
Al-Abbas: Another Iraqi-modified Scud has range of 560 miles. Increasing the range of these missiles has decreased their accuracy.