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THE MANY SONS OF SADDAM

The American government will almost certainly pay out $ 30 million to the person who fingered Saddam Hussein’s two sons for death. Is it getting its money’s worth'

The number of American soldiers killed by Iraqi guerrillas since President George W. Bush announced the end of “major combat operations” on May 1 is now over a third of the total killed in the war itself. It would exceed that total before the end of this year even at the current loss rate, but the rate is going up steadily: US forces rarely report attacks unless American soldiers are actually killed or injured, but there are now over a dozen incidents a day.

It would be nice for the occupiers if just killing off Saddam’s bloodline — and eventually the monster himself — would end the resistance, but it is deeply unlikely. Nobody really liked Saddam Hussein, not even his fellow Baathists. Like Stalin and the Russian communists, Saddam seized control of a party that contained many genuine idealists, killed quite a lot of them, and turned the Baath Party into a mere instrument of his own personal power. But there are still plenty of Arab nationalists left in Iraq, and quite a few religious zealots too. None of them likes being ruled by Americans.

No one loves invaders

Consider the American soldier who died in an attack on a US convoy passing through Khan Dari only hours after the deaths of Saddam’s sons in Mosul. The bomb that killed him was buried in the median divider of the highway running through Khan Dari and detonated by remote control. The highway is lined by shops and soft-drink stands and overlooked by hundreds of people day and night. Many presumably saw the guerrillas dig up the median, bury the bomb and retire to wait for an American convoy, but nobody betrayed them. Reporters who arrived at the scene after the explosion said most of the onlookers were pleased by the death.

Indeed, proving that the old regime is gone for good by killing Saddam and his family might even stiffen the resistance, as it would simplify the choices of many people in Iraq who hate the occupation but fear Saddam’s return. Besides, it is doubtful whether the secular nationalists of the Baath still dominate the resistance even now: there are indications that many of the current guerrilla attacks are coming from formerly repressed Sunni Islamist groups that have been freed to act by Saddam’s fall.

Pyrrhic victory

It is a great irony that these are precisely the groups in Iraq that would be most likely to make common cause with America’s great enemy, al Qaida, but they are not the greatest threat to the US position in Iraq. The current guerrilla war is a bearable burden; what would turn it into a nightmare for the US is a decision by some major element of Iraq’s Shia majority to begin open resistance to the occupation forces as well.

Given the successful precedent of the Shia-led revolution against the Shah in Iran, there is a good chance that Shia resistance in Iraq would be mainly non-violent. It could nevertheless be very effective, provoking coalition soldiers into using force against unarmed civilians and closing the roads that carry supplies from the Persian Gulf ports to the US troops in central and northern Iraq. Killing Saddam wouldn’t do a single thing to shrink this possibility.

The only thing that will shrink it is handing Iraq over to its Shia majority, but the Bush administration is loath to do that for two reasons. One, the strong sympathy that exists between the Shias of Iraq and of Iran, which Washington perceives as its greatest enemy in the region. The other is the near-certainty that handing power to the Shias would ignite a civil war between the Sunnis of the centre and the Shias of the south. On the other hand, a Sunni-Shia conflict would at least divert the efforts of the Sunni guerrillas who are currently plaguing the occupation forces. Divide and rule is still a good imperial principle.

There was never a real American plan on the way into this mess, and there still isn’t one. But there had better be one soon, or Mr Bush’s cheap “victory” is going to look pretty pyrrhic.

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