- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) — The sensitivity of this subject — particularly on one side of the Atlantic — demands that this analysis start off with a disclaimer: Saddam Hussein is a truly evil man. On that, there is overwhelming agreement.

Having gotten that out of the way, let's now concentrate on what the Iraqi president told Dan Rather on CBS's news magazine, 60 Minutes II.

If one had lived in a news-less cocoon for the last decade, if one had shunned newspapers, magazines, the Internet and television news and only watched that particular CBS news magazine last week, one could well imagine that Saddam was something of a moderate. He came across composed, and almost as a man of peace.

Let's look back at what he said: Saddam said that he did not cross the oceans to attack America. He simply failed to mention that he did cross two of his borders in order to attack his neighbors, Iran and Kuwait. A small oversight on his part, maybe. After all, the Iraqi president does have a lot on his mind.

He corrected one of the two interpreters when he said, "Mr. Bush," and the translator dropped the title, saying simply, "Bush."

"I always show respect," said a statesman-like Saddam. He also omitted from saying that he tried to have "Mr. Bush" assassinated, after the current president's father left the Oval Office. But then again, Mr. Saddam is a strange man, to say the least.

During the hourlong interview (in fact Saddam and Rather spent close to three hours chatting) there was one moment that for me, at least, was revealing of Saddam's intentions in the event of an American-led invasion on his country.

To remain in power as long as Saddam has, and in a country that has a history of violent revolts, you have to learn from your past mistakes, as well as from your successes.

Saddam, there is no doubt, has learned a great lesson from his "mother of all battles" which despite his claims to the contrary, he did lose in 1992 to a far better armed, technically advanced and superior trained American-led coalition.

Although he told CBS that the Gulf War was "not a defeat," he learned not to try and fight a frontal battle in the desert again.

He knows he will loose if he tries that approach again. Saddam may well be evil, but he is certainly not stupid.

If the United States does come face to face with Iraqi troops in the vast deserts that surround the heavier populated cities between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, it will be with regular battalions that Saddam will send to the altar of sacrifice in order to save face.

His loyal troops, the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard units, will under no circumstances be committed to a fight, especially one, Saddam knows he cannot win.

Those units will be deployed in and around his native town of Tikrit and, Baghdad.

During the interview there was that ONE moment of truth, when Saddam, speaking to Dan Rather about the looming war, lit up, smiled, paused, and said one word which he emphasized slowly and with great determination. The word was Baghdad. Or, as Saddam said it, "BA-GH-DAD!"

And there, for me, was an epiphany. A revelation!

Saddam, remember, will not stand and fight in the desert. He will retrench in Baghdad and possibly Tikrit where he and his special units will hold the local population hostage. There are already reports of Republican Guard units redeploying from the area around Mossul in the north, towards the south — Tikrit and Baghdad.

With vast supplies he has surely stashed away, his extended network of secret tunnels and huge quantities of arms caches, Saddam can sustain a prolonged siege in Baghdad, a city larger than Los Angeles. The question here is, can the United States sustain maintaining a prolonged siege on Baghdad and Tikrit?

There is always the danger that the war on Iraq does turn into a long-drawn Stalingrad-like battle. If that does occur, as it well may, what will likely be the reaction from the rest of the Arab world and from Europe? Or for that matter, from American public opinion.

More importantly, what effect will such a siege of an Arab capital by American forces have on the Islamic world, a small but nevertheless vociferous portion of which has already declared war on America?

What happens if Israel is dragged into the war? What happens if the Lebanese Shiite militant group, Hizbollah, activates Israel's northern front, as Dan Tichon, a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, believes it undoubtedly will?

Those are all questions that the planners of war at the Pentagon and the White House need to ask themselves. What happens if Plan A fails, and they need to revert to Plan B. Is it viable? Is it sustainable?

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