Jewish World Review May 14, 2003 / 12 Iyar, 5763

Walid Phares

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What this Arabic speaker knows from the Saddam tape | The last Saddam Hussein audio tape released by an Australian media is not a shot in the dark. It has a context, it is dealing with the present, and it is telling about the future. All three in one package. Let's check the messenger, analyze the message and investigate the impact.

As I listened carefully to the Arabic speech as posted on the newspaper's web site, I noticed two matters: One is phonetic, the other possibly telephonic. The voice was similar to Saddam's in its intonation, and the choice of the words was very much what we have been accustomed to. Lyrics and verbal emotionalism.

However the debit was slower. This voice was heavier then Saddam's usual vocal flowing pace. Was it him under stress and in peculiar physical conditions, or was it a phonetic double of him? We will know soon. The other matter is speculative but interesting. It sounded to me that the speech was phoned into another location and taped by a recipient. In sum, Saddam (or whomever) was recording the message over the phone.

Interesting, because it may tell about a "distance factor."

Either Saddam (if it's him) is inside Iraq, but not willing to meet his recorders and distributors face to face. Or, as some are now projecting, he is already outside the country and replaying the Khumainy cassettes strategy to reach out to his supporters. As a matter of fact, the Iranian Ayatollah used audiotapes as a weapon against the Shah regime, from his exile in France during the 1970s But no matter who and where is the messenger, the message remains the most important issue at hands. So what is it about and who is it addressed to?

The speech is about American and British occupation and a call to all Iraqis to resist it. The "voice"declared Iraq under occupation and incited Iraqis - strangely enough Kurds, Shiites and others as well - to fight the infidels. The Islamist terminology may be in contradiction with the original Baathist discourse. But not the surprise of attentive experts.

For since the early 1990s, Saddam opted for a gradual shift into Jihadist linguistics. By the beginning of the US-led march into Iraq, both the master of the regime down to his hallucinating Minister of Information, Mohammed al-Sahhaf, increased their use of Bin Laden's dictionary. After the Fall of the statues in Baghdad, it became clear to Saddam, that unless he inflame Muslims with emotional religiosity, he won't be able to galvanize them anymore. So he did in this audiotape. He played Jihad, Infidels and the whole gamut of Islamist dramatization.

Once he used religious codes, he couldn't but play his ego again, even as artists are sculpting a new edifice on Freedom square while throwing away the last part of his statue, i.e the shoes. Saddam's self centered personality was all over the tape. He praised the "brave Iraqi people who celebrated the leader's birthday even under occupation." If there was any real to the audiotape, it was this portion. Saddam never changes. At a time when he portrays Iraq under apocalyptic conditions, he insert his birthday in biblical terms.

Practically, the most meaningful part is the stick and the carrot paragraph. In clear terms he threatens those who are "the puppet of the Americans," read the opposition-turned Government to-be, with punishment. But he informs the listeners that many are repenting.

In Saddam's lexicon it is a message for those who are still willing to turn their coats over sooner then later. Or else what?

The meat of the audiotape is a veiled threat of his return. He stresses that he is inside the country, which translates into a direct menace against all those who are building the new Iraq. In clearer terms, he is watching you, and he will act against you from his underground. That is the ultimate message.

Saddam or not, inside the country or not, the tape is an expression of Baathist self-reconstruction. Behind the message, one can detect a determination by a group of die-hard Baathists who would do anything to return to power, or bring the upcoming Government down.

Let us remember that Iraq's Arab Nationalist Socialist Party ruled unchallenged for three decades. Its members held all significant positions in the bureaucracy, and absorbed all state resources. Money and power were strictly theirs.

Even if most of the Baathists would repent and join the new Iraq, there will be always be core of radicals who would continue to subvert. Saddam Fedayeen, unabsorbed Mukhabarat or unconvertible Pan Arabists, there will always be a cluster of Terrorists ready to assail Democracy. Those who were involved in Human Rights abuse knows well that they have no place in civil society and public service.

This audiotape is a tip of the iceberg. Others will follow, in this or other shape. Besides, it should be expected and prepared for. In most similar cases removed regimes tried to come back. From the Argentine spasms of military garrisons over the past decades to the Moscow coup in August 1991, dictatorships are not easily tamed.

Saddam will try to destabilize a free Baghdad, and his Baathists will try to undermine a democratic Iraq. They will do it alone or in alliance with other frustrated factions. But one thing is certain, the forces of subversion are omnipresent. The question is to wonder if the Iraqi Democrats can defend their newly freed Republic, or sink in long years of tensions and fear.

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JWR contributor Dr. Walid Phares is a professor of Ethnic and Religious Conflict at Florida Atlantic University. He is an expert on the Middle East and the Jihad movement and a frequent contributor to MSNBC. Comment by clicking here.

07/16/02: The government's focusing on current numbers of Jihadists in America is a waste of resources
06/13/02: Plans for 'Islamic bomb' are well underway

© 2002, Dr. Walid Phares