August 20, 1995 in Nation/World

Gulf’s Political Map Being Redrawn

Amos Perlmutter Special To Newsday
 

The defections of Saddam Hussein’s daughters and his sons-in-law, especially Lt. Gen. Hussein Kemal al-Majid, indicate the beginning of the end of Saddam’s capricious and tyrannical Iraqi rule. Jordan, Iraq’s only neighboring ally, has finally and drastically moved from Saddam’s coalition to that of his opponents. Iraq is now completely isolated, as its territorial neighbors - Turkey, Syria and Iran - have now been joined by Jordan. This means he is surrounded.

The defections to Jordan will have considerable strategic implications for the future of the Middle East. First, it bodes great ill to the Persian Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, stemming from the possible splintering of Iraq into three autonomous zones. In the north, Saddam practically lost his domination over the Kurds. In the Shiite south, he faces Iranian-supported insurrection. In the mainland of Iraq, he faces defections and a population that can no longer tolerate the consequences of his tyranny. Furthermore, once Iraq splits, its own territorial integrity could be violated anew by its large neighbors - Turkey, Iran and Syria. This development would be ominous for the Arab gulf and Saudi Arabia.

The Jordanian grant of asylum to Saddam’s opponents, possibly supported by the United States - in fact, the United States promised Jordan military and air-defense support - may oblige the Iraqi leader to face an American-Jordanian-Israeli coalition. That coalition may be supported by the Saudi-Arabian and gulf sheikdoms, which could change considerably the strategic map of the Middle East.

King Hussein of Jordan, in a recent interview with the Tel Aviv newspaper Yediot Aharonot, revealed that the Iraqi defections were actually plotted several months earlier. Al-Majid, the chief defector, was the former head of the military and the Iraqi nuclear project as well as a crucial member of Saddam’s regime. Jordan’s Hussein said he persuaded the general that it was time for peace in the Middle East and that Iraq, possibly under his leadership, could become a partner in the process.

The shock to Saddam is serious. Not in the short run, of course - he may overcome the consequences of the defections, as he has already begun large-scale purges, assassinations and elimination in the military and the defense establishment. What is indeed serious is that the defectors come from the Iraqi revolutionary court itself. Jordan was critical for Iraqi contacts and business activities with the Arab world and the West. The Jordanian port of Aqaba was central to the Iraqi military and other high-tech supply that moved via Jordan to Iraq. Thus, the loss of the Jordanian connection and its king’s defection from Iraq’s camp will have serious implications not only for the region - it can also be said that this marks the beginning of the end.

The last phase of the process, which began with the American coalition liberating Kuwait and the destruction of Saddam’s military might in 1991, is now coming to its end. The noose is tightening and this will continue to create more fissures and greater defections, which of course will be mixed with purges.

The Clinton administration should be advised that it has a most significant role to play. First, to protect Jordan and speed its economic recovery. Second, to establish military coordination among U.S. agencies, Jordan and Israel. Above all, no overt American declaration against Saddam should be employed. Further, U.N. pressure on Iraq to halt its nuclear and military development should be maintained. The U.N. inspection role is just as fundamental as the defections to Jordan, and one should not cancel out the other. The only direct challenge to Saddam must be our firm support of Jordan, as well as coordination with Israel and Jordan if there were any unexpected military move on the part of Saddam. This indicates the necessity of something the Clinton administration is not notorious for - dedicated diplomacy and firm military deterrence.

But if the president finally decided to run American foreign policy, and if his advisers on the Middle East were able to reach an understanding during this window of opportunity to bring an end to Saddam, we could definitely see a different Middle East - one oriented toward peace.

The Iraqis would need to be reassured that no breakup of Iraq is advisable or necessary for American and regional purposes. The political integrity of Iraq under an anti-Saddam leader could certainly enhance the peace, and one can certainly guarantee President Clinton that a new Iraqi ruler would be approached by the Israelis and the Arab-Israeli peace would be complete. Additionally, an Israeli deal with the new Iraqi government would totally isolate Syria’s President Hafez Assad, who may become more reasonable and move away from his unrealistic demands for peace with Israel.

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