Are Saddam Hussein’s days numbered?
Prof. Dr. Hüseyin BAĞCI – 11 February 2002, Turkish Daily News
Turkey is once again in the line of focus since the “letter exchange” between Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein became public two days ago when the translation of Saddam’s letter was sent to the Turkish press. In his letter, Saddam gives a “lecture on real politics” to his counterpart that Turkey should not be following the same policy as the United States. Indeed, Saddam Hussein has given the same lecture to the Turkish side as he did in spring 1990, when then Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim Akbulut paid an official visit to Baghdad. At that time, Saddam said to the Turkish delegation in an undiplomatic way that the Cold War had ended, NATO would be dissolved and that Turkey should be very careful. It was considered as an open threat to Turkey by President Turgut Özal, who was against Saddam since that moment, and Prime Minister Yildirim Akbulut did not respond and was criticized very strongly after his return.
Saddam has “Turcophobia” like many other regional countries, and this is understandable within the historical context, which concerns Ottoman-Arab relations. But, the main reason for Saddam to be against Turkey was the Turkish support for Prime Minister Nuri al-Said in the ‘50s, who sided with Turkey to establish the Baghdad Pact in 1955 together with Iran, Great Britain and Israel. When the military coup d’etat took place in 1958 against Nuri al-Said in Iraq, where al-Said was mercilessly slaughtered by military officers when he tried to escape from the palace in women’s clothing, it was clear that the Baath regime should be kept at a distance. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Ecevit has always been sympathetic to Saddam, he was described as “Third Worldist” for his policies by Turkish circles.
When Bülent Ecevit visited him just before the Gulf War in his capacity as a journalist, even then Saddam was not giving any clues that he would leave Kuwait without using force. It means that he was relying very much on Soviet support and his oil revenues. Like Ecevit, he had another sympathizer in the Soviet Union at that time with the name Yevgeni Primakov, an Orientalist and journalist who had been a close friend of Saddam. Even Yasser Arafat supported him, but Arafat is now paying the price for this wrong assessment. But President Turgut Özal had a different perception of Saddam than Bülent Ecevit, and 10 years later it is very clear that Özal was right. Özal was very pro-U.S. in his policy orientation and was always saying in his official statements that Saddam is a danger to peace in the Middle East and should be neutralized politically.
When Iraqi forces were losing and leaving Kuwait in 1991, it was Özal who advised U.S. President George Bush to press on to Baghdad and replace him immediately. However, George Bush did not do it and Özal insisted that it would be the greatest mistake the United States would ever make in the Middle East, not just for now but also for the future. Indeed, this proves that the U.S. administration was wrong. People like Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Powell were all in the U.S. administration at that time and it is now those same people who will try again. Therefore, the conditions changed and no doubt Saddam is now internationally much more stronger than he has ever been in the last 10 years. Even more so since Sept. 11.
The mental and political change of Ecevit has to be studied very carefully now. His letter to Saddam was correct and necessary. But, he and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem knew exactly what kind of answer they would receive. It was more than a political scandal when Cem refused to divulge the contents of the letter Saddam sent. But, the Turkish public is not the same as 10 years ago, and this time there is no room for manipulation.
The United States is determined to attack Iraq sooner or later, despite the fact that it doesn’t have an international coalition behind it. In the words of Donald Rumsfeld, “The mission defines the coalition, not the coalition the mission.” This is true, and Turkey is a decisive country for an international coalition and military success whatever scenario one should think. It means that Turkey remains on the side of the United States unconditionally, and Ecevit is the most important realizer of this mission at the moment. The “letter exchange” is also a game for making very clear to the domestic and international public that Turkey, under no condition, will side with Iraq.
Last week in the Munich Security Conference, more than 350 experts from around the world gathered together, where I also sat as an international observer during the two-day conference, how Turkey was very much put forward by Paul Wolfowitz, the number two in the U.S. Defense Ministry and Senator John McCain, Arizona, as the country which has to be supported by all means and by Europeans, including full membership of the European Union. No doubt Ecevit is a much desired person for U.S. policies in the region, and Mr. Ecevit is indeed on the U.S. side, of course not without any reason. Northern Iraq is a key issue for Turkey’s security policy and a replacement of Saddam will create new conditions there. Whether Saddam will be replaced or not, that is a question of time, but this time the issue is more serious. Many EU countries, Russia, China, India are against any U.S. military intervention.
This was also very clear during the Munich Conference. However, the fact is that a new regional order will be designed and in this design there is no place for Saddam. This process will take place, but there will be no return as far as one can analyze it. The price will certainly be higher than 10 years ago. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld asked the U.S. Congress to provide an extra $10 billion. It means some extra support in addition to the $376 billion defense budget. The U.S. administration is more determined. The United States is the greatest world power that the rest of the world has experienced on such a scale. Whether Europe is with it or against it, it does not matter, as Richard Perle said directly to EU politicians during the Munich Conference.
What Turkey may do when the operation starts is not an open question anymore, on the contrary, Turkey has to act with the United States. Another chance will not be given. Saddam has played his cards very well up until now, but time is working against him. It will not be long until he is replaced. Can he change the pace of history? It seems not anymore. The other big powers will only be spectators if this operation starts. Any examples in the past, look at Roman history! At least Ecevit has read this before.