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S P E C I A L: The Standoff with Iraq

For Hussein, conflict never ended, it just took a break

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein  
In this story: February 17, 1998
Web posted at: 11:06 p.m. EST (0406 GMT)

From Correspondent Brent Sadler

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein never thought that when the Gulf War ended in 1991 he would be boxed in by more than seven years of economic sanctions.

Nevertheless, he has continued to portray his defeat in the Gulf War as a triumph, despite the appalling toll the sanctions have taken on the Iraqi people, and in the process he has rebuilt his Baghdad power base.

But last year the Iraqi leadership finally realized that there would be no escape from the sanctions -- that U.S. policy had turned them into a political battering ram to force a change of rule in Iraq.

When U.N. arms inspectors began searching out and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Iraq had, by its own admission, no intention of revealing all of its deadly secrets.

But now, Hussein wants the world to believe he is telling the truth and that he is the aggrieved party in this standoff with the United States.

He tells visiting envoys that the United States is prepared to launch a military strike on the flimsy pretext that his palaces are hiding prohibited weapons.

Iraq has powerful supporters

And for the first time since the Gulf War ended, the Iraqi president sees his country competing evenly in the propaganda war.

Boris Yeltsin
Russian President Boris Yeltsin is opposed to the use of force in Iraq  

Iraq also has the support of a number of powerful nations such as Russia and China that want to avert military action.

Some of Baghdad's fiercest critics believe that Hussein is tempted to take a massive military hit in the hope of exploiting those international divisions.

But Riyadh al-Qaysi, Iraq's deputy foreign minister, disagrees.

"No government desires to inflict more harm on its people just simply because it wants to divide the world," he says.

Perhaps, but Hussein could still use another war to build on his argument that Washington recklessly defies the collective will of many nations regardless of the consequences.

Iraqi officials say that if there is a real loser in an attack, it would be the United States, not an unbowed Hussein.

Arab support swinging toward Iraq

They say that would be especially so in the volatile Middle East, where Iraq senses that popular Arab support is swinging its way, and that governments supporting the United States could feel the heat.

"The U.S. would succeed only in one aspect," says al-Qaysi, "the creation of a perpetual prescription for hatred for everything akin to America and everything America stands for."

When Iraqi generals signed the Gulf War cease-fire in the desert, the fighting stopped, but Hussein never surrendered in his mother of all battles. In his mind, the conflict never really ended, it just took a break.

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