If the reports that Saddam Hussain has joined the exclusive club of the world’s billionaires, boasting an estimated fortune of $6 billion, are even partly true, he will then have even greater contempt for the Iraqi opposition-groups in exile whose proudest possessions are fax-machines and an expensive rented office in London provided by the US. And as a man who owes his longevity in power to his ability to concentrate on his real target, Saddam will now concentrate on replacing Bill Gates, the chief executive of Microsoft who is now worth $90 billion, as the leader of the billionaire-pack.
According to the 1999 edition of Forbes Magazine, the Iraqi leader is now in the top half of the word’s 100 richest people, having acquired his ill-gotten gains by raiding state-coffers and running a smuggling operation masterminded by his son Uday. In the past Saddam was accused of smuggling oil to buy arms, but this is the first time western reports charge him with salting away a fortune for his own use. Forbes Magazine publishes two lists each year - one for what it calls the ‘100-richest workers’ and the other for the richest ‘king, queen and dictators’.
Leading the list of rulers are the Sultan of Brunei, ‘worth’ $30 billion, and king Fahd of Saudi Arabia, a close second with an estimated fortune of $28 billion. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan of the United Arab Emirates holds $21 billion, and the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Sabah, with $17 billion: third and fourth respectively. Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Maktoum, is in sixth place with $12 billion in his coffers. Saddam hogs the seventh place on the list, no doubt privately happy that he has beaten his Ba’athist arch-rival, Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, who has surprisingly made it to the tenth and last place with $12 billion, allegedly diverted from state oil and agricultural revenues.
The accuracy of the Forbes Magazine’s report may be grossly overrated, as it is based on estimates, and the wealth of dictators, in many cases well hidden, is notoriously difficult to estimate. And there could be political reasons for exaggerating Saddam’s fortune. The western allies who are incessantly bombing Iraq, and who are opposed to lifting the sanctions that have impoverished its people, are anxious to show that it is Saddam’s greed that is the real cause of his people’s misery, rather than their criminal persecution.
But the Iraqi dictator will lose no sleep over either the publication of the list or the reasons for revealing his alleged wealth. It suits his purposes that the Iraqi opposition-groups in exile, who are at least as corrupt as he is, should know that he has billion of dollars salted away in foreign countries. After all, the Americans are offering them only $97 million and they are not even handing that out. Saddam also knows that Washington does not take them seriously anyway, and that it suits US strategic plans for the region that he stay in power, though contained.
The US congress authorised the payment of $97 million to Iraqi opposition-groups for the purpose of overthrowing Saddam last October, giving the Clinton administration 90 days to designate those factions considered eligible to receive the military assistance. But the scheme was unrealistic and, in any case, so opposed to US strategic planning for the region that US generals openly attacked it - an unprecedented move for America’s military top brass. General Anthony Zinni, the chief of US Central Command in the Gulf, said in a statement on October 22 that he knew of no ‘viable’ opposition in Iraq to Saddam and warned that any attempt to remove him by force would fragment Iraq and destabilise the entire region. He added that Iran posed a greater long-term threat to US security interests than Iraq under Saddam.
The Clinton administration - no doubt privately agreeing with the general and, at any rate, seeing no US interest in overthrowing Saddam, a declared enemy but secret ally - told the Iraqi groups that they would not receive military assistance but were welcome to office-equipment such as faxes and computers. And by mid-June they received the faxes and had an office rented for them in London for ú10,000 a month.
But it is not only the US and Arab governments that have such a low opinion of the Iraqi opposition-groups. Arab and British commentators and experts on the region freely broadcast their opinion on the hapless factions. The London-based Next Century Foundation, for instance, organised a discussion-event on Iraq last November, reaching the conclusion that the Iraqi opposition is ‘at its best a secondary nuisance and, and its worst, a group of fraudsters seeking wealth’.
Well, if Forbes are right, then Saddam has got the wealth now, and conveniently outside Iraq. Perhaps they too will seek it, perhaps using the equipment they were given to overthrow him in order to contact his representatives!
Muslimedia: July 1-15, 1999