Saddam Would Have Survived the Arab Spring

The fall of other dictators lets Iraqis imagine an alternative to the 2003 invasion. But it's only a fantasy

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Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

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If the Tunisian and Egyptian templates could not have been applied to Iraq, might the Libyan and Syrian models have worked? That would have required an armed rebellion rising from a part of the country where the dictator's grip was at its weakest and where antiregime forces would have a safe haven--like Benghazi in Libya. The most logical place for an armed uprising against Saddam was Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, which enjoyed a high degree of autonomy from Baghdad and the protection of U.S. aircraft enforcing a no-fly zone.

But the Kurds are a separate ethnic group, long resentful of being ruled by Iraq's Arab majority. The fierce Kurdish militia known as the peshmerga was dedicated to protecting its own kind but had little sympathy for Arab groups--like the southern Shi'ites--that suffered under the dictator's rule.

That leaves only the Syrian example: a long, bloody rebellion that devolves into a sectarian war. Iraq already had its version in 1991, and the regime won easily.

That's why Iraqis usually conclude that, absent the U.S.-led invasion, Saddam Hussein would still be ruling from Baghdad. Would Iraqis, with the benefit of hindsight, have preferred that? My guess is that they would not--but we don't have a reliable poll.

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