Saddams Secret Weapons; At the end of the 1991 Gulf War, few Americans wanted to believe that the Iraqis could just outwait UN sanctions and eventually emerge with their nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs intact. But this is exactly what happened. This was simply the way things were always done in this part of the world. Centuries of foreign domination had taught Iraqis, and other Arabs, that they had to use patience and persistence to prevail against more powerful enemies And although Iraq was defeated militarily after the 1991 war, Saddam Hussein and his buddies still had some powerful tools. Chief among these was credibility in the Arab media and populations throughout the Middle East.
Saddam, like all modern dictators, knows how important control, or manipulation of, the media is. A lot of this has to do with telling people what they want to hear. Despite Saddams many sins, he knows how to say the right things to his fellow Arabs. There is much resentment in the Middle East against foreigners, particularly Europeans and Americans. From the beginning, the Iraqis declared that they were victims of Western oppression. Saying that again and again, and lying as needed, Saddam was derided in the West, but increasingly believed in the Middle East.
Saddam also maintained his image as a mighty Arab warrior facing down the pitiless oppressors from the West. The Iraqi efforts demonstrate, once more, why Baghdad has been the center of Arab opinion shaping for many centuries. Saddam had plenty of skilled media experts who continually fed the foreign press a pack of lies containing just enough truth that at lease some of the Iraqi press releases were run in the West. For example, many Iraqis were indeed suffering hunger and privation. But not because of the embargo, but because they were Shiias, an opposition group that represented about half the Iraqi population, and had been in rebellion against Saddam for several decades. Blockade or no blockade, Saddam would be keeping food and medicine away from his rebellions Shiias. But Saddam knew that the Western press would likely ignore the Shiia rebellion and concentrate on the suffering of the Shiia children. And even buy into the Iraqi fiction that it was all Americas fault.
Saddam's use of civilian suffering is nowhere more evident in the use of civilians and civilian structures to protect military targets. Even during the Gulf War, Iraqi troops would park their tanks, and even warplanes, next to civilian buildings (homes, schools, hospitals) to deter air attacks. This became more and more elaborate during the air "war" during the 1990s. Anti-aircraft guns and missiles were set up civilian areas, and the local civilians forbidden to move. As more and more civilians were killed when bombs hit the anti-aircraft positions next to occupied homes, the United States began using bombs filled with concrete instead of explosives. Using smart bombs, if was found that these concrete weapons were accurate enough to destroy or damage Iraqi guns and missiles. But even the concrete bombs caused some civilian casualties, as when these bombs hit anti-aircraft weapons mounted on top of apartment houses, mosques or hospitals. So last year, even the concrete bombs were withdrawn from service and most Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons became immune from attack.
This immunity made the Iraqis even bolder, and firings on allied warplanes increased. This increased the chance of the Iraqi gunners getting lucky and shooting down an allied aircraft. The Iraqis also pushed their luck even more by resuming commercial air traffic, something forbidden by UN sanctions. The Iraqi propaganda continued to claim casualties from allied bombings, even when there were no bombs. The Arab media, and most Arabs, had been told so long and often that allied warplanes were attacking Iraq, that they were willing to believe any Iraqi claim.
Saddam understood that once he had most of the Arab people on his side, the Arab governments would either lean towards Iraq's claim that the UN embargo was useless and counterproductive, or at least mute their criticism of Iraq. The Gulf Arab nations, who still feared (with considerable justification) Iraqi aggression, knew that they were being outmaneuvered by Iraqi propaganda. Even though most Gulf Arabs were now pro-Iraqi, the Gulf nations formed a military alliance and rapid reaction force. But this was all they could do, and they knew they had to wait for an Iraqi attack before they could do anything to confront Saddam. But the Arab states also realize that Saddam is in a desperate situation himself, even without American and British warplanes patrolling his air space. Iraq is a nation ruled by one of it's minorities. Saddam belongs to the Sunni Arab Iraqis who comprise only some 20 percent of the population. Most Iraqis are Arab Shiias, who hate the Iraqi Sunnis. The Iraqi Kurds are also Sunnis, but in that case the problem was not religion, but that the Kurds were not Arabs. Saddam and his supporters know that they must continue to rule, by any means necessary, or be destroyed by Iraqi Kurds and Shiias who are eager for revenge on Saddam and his brutal Sunni followers.
Saddam is not only clever, but he is also cornered and thus has tremendous incentives to outthink and out maneuver his adversaries. One could say that Saddam's most powerful secret weapon is the desperate striving to simply survive against his more numerous Iraqi enemies.