- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

Would Saddam Hussein consider abdicating and willfully disappear into exile if he realized there was no other way out of the current conundrum facing him?

As international pressure on Iraq's strongman continues to mount daily, and an armed assault on his country by the United States appears imminent, diplomatic sources say Arab, Turkish and Russian initiatives are under way for him to leave peacefully and avoid a war.

However, different analysts offer varying opinions. Having enjoyed absolute power over Iraq for nearly a quarter-century, many believe a peacefully negotiated departure of Saddam is highly improbable.

"It's unlikely that this man [Saddam] is going to come down in any other way than to be forced," said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sunday morning.

Some Iraq watchers believe Saddam will go down with a gun in his hand, fighting to the last man and the last bullet. They say he might retrench in his native town of Tikrit, where he will resist to the bitter end, along with his most-trusted inner circle of supporters, defended by units of his Special Republican Guard, mostly fellow Tikritis. Possibly emulating Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler, he could commit suicide rather than allow the U.S.-led coalition capture him and face the humiliation of an international war crimes tribunal, as did Yugoslavia's former dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

Still others believe that once Saddam realizes the game is up, and on condition he is able to negotiate a safe withdrawal for himself, his immediate entourage of family and cronies, as well as for his closest supporters, he might well opt for banishment and leave Iraq.

Faced with similar international pressure, other absolute rulers have done as much in the past; the shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, to name a few.

But assuming Saddam does negotiate safe passage to a friendly Arab state, or agrees to live out his days in a fancy villa in Turkey, Russia, Belarus or some other exotic paradise where he would be granted asylum and immunity from prosecution, extracting him along with several thousand supporters will not be an easy task.

First of all, there is a question of logistics and timing.

Extracting Saddam and his immediate family alone might not be realistic, if a bloodbath is to be avoided. The minute Saddam leaves Iraq, there is bound to be a race to seek revenge by many of those his regime has wronged over the years. And they are indeed many. Members of his dreaded secret police will be hunted down by mobs and slaughtered in the street, as happened in several cities in southern Iraq 12 years ago.

Believing the U.S.-led coalition was about to continue its push north after liberating Kuwait during the 1991-92 Gulf war, thousands of Shi'ites in the south rose up in open revolt against Saddam.

Some Ba'ath Party officials and members of Saddam's security services were defenestrated, mobbed and lynched by rampaging crowds. Of course, the crowds' victory was short-lived.

Once Saddam realized the coalition stopped its advance and was not about to come after him in Baghdad, he lost no time fighting back. He ordered his attack helicopters and units of his Special Republican Guards to immediately quell the rebels and to show no mercy. Thousands were hunted down, arrested, jailed and killed, including prominent and top religious Shi'ite leaders.

Memories run long in that part of the world, and given the opportunity to avenge their dead, the Shi'ites in southern Iraq will not likely pass up on the chance to hit back. Violence may not be limited to the Shi'ites, or the south, either.

Saddam's henchmen know this well. They are also quite aware that with Saddam gone, it will not take long for his formidable security pyramid to crumble, opening the gates to retribution. Many would want to leave at the same time he does, which would constitute a logistical nightmare for whoever is orchestrating his departure.

As it is more likely that only top-echelon officials and their families would be extracted and offered political asylum, lower-ranking members of his security forces would try to flee the country to avoid retribution. Chaos could ensue.

To avoid a repetition of the 1992 slaughters that followed the brief Desert Storm uprising, Saddam's exodus from Mesopotamia would have to be carefully choreographed. His departure from Baghdad would have to coincide with the immediate replacement of his security apparatus by a force capable of maintaining security and preventing the spilling of more blood.

Regardless of whether Saddam goes peacefully or is removed by force, the transition of power in Baghdad may still cause much blood to be shed.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor at United Press International.

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