When television cameras recorded the technical wizardry which reduced Saddam Hussein's territorial ambitions to dust during the Gulf War in 1991, few in the watching world believed that the Iraqi leader could long remain in power. The idea that he would be unchallenged at home, defying the mightiest nation in the world five years later was, at that time, unthinkable. Yet it is the United States, rather than Iraq, which has been made to look isolated and impotent in the latest offensive. With only Britain fully supporting its military strategy, the alternative US hope of toppling the dictator by covert operations inside the country has also turned to ashes. A series of Central Intelligence Agency blunders from the Bush administration onwards have resulted in the death of many insurgents, and it now appears that there is no longer any hope of fomenting rebellion. Despite being cut off from the outside world, loathed and feared from within and his borders beset with rebellious Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south, Saddam's capacity for survival appears limitless. A combination of ruthlessness, cunning and duplicity keeps him constantly two steps ahead of the CIA's ham-fisted attempts to remove him. The agency's efforts may have been doomed from the start amid the labyrinthine complexities of Middle East politics where the dictates of self-interest among the various factions seem to alter from week to week. Certainly, the CIA appears to have had little true insight into the situation. Every scheme has come to nothing, with the result that Saddam looks as indestructible as ever and the agency appears as far from its goal as when it toyed with the idea of toppling Fidel Castro by making his beard to fall out.