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Enigma: Why Saddam Courts Disaster

As likelihood of US military strikes grows, wisdom of Iraq's course is questioned.

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With the prospects of unilateral American military action against Iraq growing, Saddam Hussein may be making a tactical error in pushing the confrontation this far.

Since igniting the showdown two weeks ago over United Nation's weapons inspections, the Iraqi dictator has scored major political points by exploiting differences between the US and its 1991 Gulf War allies, almost all of whom oppose the use of force to resolve the crisis.

To many analysts, however, Saddam's success in driving a wedge between the US and its allies does not fully justify his decision to risk what would most likely be massive and costly US strikes and the indefinite extension of UN sanctions that have devastated his economy.

"It's a big puzzle," says W. Seth Carus, an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, a Pentagon think tank. "The cost to Iraq ... is almost unaccountable. In terms of direct oil revenue losses, you are talking about surrendering $100 million plus."

If Saddam had cooperated with the UN and turned over suspected stocks of biological and chemical weapons, analysts say, he could have won an end to the sanctions. With the massive infusion of new resources, Iraq could have quietly rebuilt its illegal weapons program.

Now, however, he's confronting once again the world's mightiest military power.

The likelihood of unilateral American military action grew over the weekend with the apparent failure of a US diplomatic drive to drum up international support for using force to compel Saddam to rescind an Oct. 29 order to expel Americans working on UN weapons inspections teams. All six Americans and 68 other UN inspectors left Iraq last week.

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