Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aggression Seen to Provide Boost for Saddam

AMMAN, Jordan -- Saddam Hussein may be paying the price for his weekend blitz into northern Iraq's Kurdish zone. But the view from Amman is that the Iraqi president's gamble appears to be paying off, shoring up his political standing at home, exposing the limits of Western ability to control his behavior and consolidating government access to key trade routes through northern Iraq into Turkey.

By capturing the city of Arbil in the Kurdish haven protected by U.S. and British warplanes, Saddam has done more than reassert government sovereignty, however fleetingly, over an area that had been outside his control since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

On the domestic front, he has demonstrated to his sanctions-weary populace that he still commands the loyalty of a formidable military machine, notwithstanding coup plots and widespread unhappiness with his rule.

Moreover, Saddam's forces invaded at the invitation of the Kurdish Democratic Party -- one of two factions vying for control of the Kurdish enclave -- and the Iraqi Army has operated within Iraq's internationally recognized borders. As a result, it has not violated UN resolutions stemming from the end of the gulf war.

On a pragmatic level, Saddam's budding military alliance with the Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP -- led by Kurdish tribal chieftain Massoud Barzani -- could also serve to ease Baghdad's isolation, improving its ability to smuggle oil through northern Iraq into Turkey in return for food and other badly needed goods.

"He will be much stronger, and that's what worries me,'' said Tahsin Muallah, a former dean of Baghdad University Medical School who now works with the Iraqi National Accord, an opposition group backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia with offices in Amman.

Among Baghdad's explanations for its attack on Arbil by up to 30,000 Republican Guards is the alliance between neighboring Iran and the KDP's leading rival in Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. According to the Iraqi National Accord, Iran has supplied the PUK with arms and seeded much of northern Iraq with Iranian intelligence officers. There also have been reports -- denied by Tehran -- of Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighting alongside PUK militiamen in recent weeks.

The U.S.-led coalition created the so-called no-fly zone above the 36th parallel in northern Iraq after Saddam's forces crushed the Kurdish uprising of 1991 and sent more than 1 million Kurds fleeing toward Turkey.

Saddam apparently has been laying the groundwork for intervention in the north since warfare erupted between the two Kurdish factions in 1994. Baghdad has gradually improved its ties with the KDP, restoring electricity to some KDP-controlled areas and providing Barzani's forces with between 50 and 60 tanks, according to the Accord's Muallah.

Although some analysts predicted that Saddam might try to press his advantage by turning his guns on other PUK strongholds, few expected him to try to reassert control over more than a fraction of the mountainous region. But even the limited action of this weekend is likely to pay dividends that may outweigh the U.S. retaliation, they say.

"In the short term, he [can say to] the Iraqis, 'I went into Arbil and the U.S. wasn't able to interfere.' This is for internal [consumption], to show the Iraqi people that he is still strong,'' Muallah said.