Saddam to hold referendum on presidency

With an upcoming referendum on his presidency, could Saddam be sending a message to Egypt and Syria, two of the most important allies of the United States in the Gulf War in 1991?

No, not on Bush’s presidency, although I’m beginning to think that’s not such a bad idea. (Technically, we have to wait two more years for that chance.) Instead, 11.56 million Iraqis will vote next week (Oct. 15) on another 7-year term for Saddam Hussein as the president of Iraq. Gee, who do you think will win? Reuters reports that tha last time such a referendum was held, in 1995, Saddam received 99.96 percent of the vote of almost 8 million votes cast.

The question that occurs to me is, Why now? To confer legitmacy on his rule, of course. The first referendum was in 1995, and his “term” is up. An overwhelming vote of support (note this is not an election since that would imply there are other candidates) from the Iraq people can be trotted out and presented to the world as “proof” that Saddam should not be deposed. But no one really believes that the vote is full and fair, so who the hell is he trying to impress?

This story offers some clues, I feel. The toppling of a “legitimate” presidency for Saddam (and he is the recognized head of state, for better or for worse) would mean that no head of state is in the area is safe. As Iraqi Deputy Prime Minster said on Wednesday:

“No Arab country is free of the threat, even if it takes part alongside America in the aggression against Iraq,” Aziz told reporters in Damascus. “Don’t think that (they are safe) if they make nice statements and offer bases to the Americans. When the crime ends, they will be made to submit to America and Zionism.”

So, Iraq’s no doubt overwhelming support for Saddam, as evidenced by the vote count, will be used as propaganda to be fed to the masses in other Arab countries who are already deeply antagonistic to United States’ actions. It should be noted that presidents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Bashar Assad of Syria, both secular Arab leaders of countries with tense relations with the United States, regularly receive 90+ percent of the vote against non-entities. And like Iraq did in the 1980s, Egypt receives a great deal of aid from the United States. (Granted, Egypt gets it because of the Camp David accords and Iraq got it because it was fighting Iran, but still.)

Could Iraq be sending a message not just to the international community but specifically to Egypt and Syria, two of the most important allies of the United States in the Gulf War in 1991? This might be the case, especially since Assad is also a Baathist, like Saddam. Hm.