Saddam Hussein is a two-time loser whose latest blunder has cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis and consigned millions more to misery amid the smoldering rubble of a nation that only months ago was striding proudly toward modernity.
He's also a ruthless and cunning survivor who already is busy churning out the mythology intended to channel his burgeoning popularity among non-Iraqi Arabs and Muslims into the basis for new strength at home.That's why even analysts who believe the Iraqi president is finished aren't yet willing to write him off - particularly as long as his lethal internal security apparatus remains intact.
But over the long term, no credible analyst believes Saddam, 58, can retain power in Baghdad.
"I think he's finished," said one senior diplomat here, reflecting the general consensus that through either an assassination, a coup or perhaps even a popular uprising, Saddam will be ousted by Iraqis.
Over the years, he's killed or run out of the country any trace of organized political opposition. But analysts say it's a given that some of his own generals want to assassinate him, if he doesn't kill them or flee the country first.
Another diplomat said Saddam's own Baathist political party might cut a deal to get Saddam out and save what's left of the government.
"I could even see a scenario where he could be offered his life and a town house in . . . some country that would take him," the diplomat said.
As the dust began to settle in Baghdad this weekend, Saddam's friends and foes alike were coming to terms with a realization that was startling to some, sobering to others: Saddam was still there.
"He's still got his air force, he's still got the missiles, the chemical weapons, and he's still in control in Baghdad," said Salameh Ne'Matt, a political analyst here.
What's saving him, observers believe, may be his security apparatus, a secretive police force of thousands who employ torture, murder or prison terms to shield Saddam from would-be assassins and political challengers.
Ever since Saddam ordered Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, Baghdad Radio has been claiming that the military performed well on the battlefield and that Iraq emerged from the war with at least a political victory.
His protection is remarkable
Saddam's shadowy security forces are closely integrated with the military, partly to prevent generals from plotting a coup. The security forces and the military don't work in tandem; they're more like rivals that hold each other in check.
For that reason, allied forces may well have strengthened the hand of the security forces by bringing Sad-dam's army to its knees.
Little is known about the security forces' postwar morale, loyalty or effectiveness.
"This is the big question," said Efraim Karsh, a professor of war studies at the University of London and author of a biography on Sad-dam.
Public uprising likely
Karsh, an Israeli, said Saddam may be facing his most dangerous period in the coming weeks, as an embittered nation comes to terms with the death and destruction resulting from Saddam's policies.
In the aftermath of six weeks of allied bombing, parts of Iraq are believed to be sliding toward chaos. Saddam's foes might perceive an opportunity amid the disarray.
"It depends on the public mood, whether people become less afraid of their security apparatus," Karsh said. "If there would be some kind of popular uprising, I think this apparatus could collapse very quickly, like in Romania. The point is whether there will be a popular uprising in the streets."
Military is most unhappy
Yet it may be the military that Saddam most fears. His generals have good reason to want Saddam dead.
Through a combination of bluster, miscalculation and blind ambition, he's led the Iraqi army to two devastating defeats: one against Iran, the other against the Allies.
Iraq's angriest generals, however, can't get to Saddam. The troops and officers who have survived the allied onslaught are now trapped by those same allies in southern Iraq, hundreds of miles from Baghdad.
Washington has made it plain that removing Saddam has become a central policy objective of the Gulf war end game. The allied forces occupying southern Iraq are sending signals that they might not go until he does.
Who would emerge to lead?
Middle East experts said a new leader could emerge from one of three groups.
The most likely, they said, is the president's inner circle, which includes many men whose reputations for savagery eclipses even Saddam's. Names that have appeared in press accounts include Barazan Ibrahim, Saddam's half-brother, and Taha Yassin Ramadan, one of the president's chief aides.
The second is the military, whose leaders have been kept from prominence under Saddam's regime. U.S. officials reportedly would prefer to see a military government emerge if it promised to quickly hand over power to a democratically elected civilian one.
The third possible source of a new government is the Shiite Moslem clergy. Shiite Moslems are a majority in Iraq, but the political power of the sect was hurt in the 1980s because of its ties to Shiite-led Iran.
Whatever happens, it is virtually certain that post-Saddam Iraq will be led by "another strong man," said Karsh.
Iraqis have staged demonstrations in at least two towns outside Baghdad since the end of the gulf war, and anti-government unrest is expected to grow once Iraqi casualty figures become publicly known, military officials said Friday.
A French newspaper reported Friday that Sad-dam Hussein is expected to seek exile in Algeria after resigning or being forced out of power. The United States said Algeria had denied the report.