If the US had (for whatever reason) refrained from invading Iraq in 2003 and driving Saddam Hussein out of power, might Hussein today be facing the kind of anti-regime protests now taking place throughout the region? If not, why would Iraq be different than Bahrain or Libya?
It depends, I think, on whether the embargo was still in effect, and on theoretical events of how exactly things played out. If Saddam was seen as having caused the Americans to back down, and if the embargo had been lifted then I tend to think that he’d still have an iron grip on Iraq (assuming also that he was still alive…he was getting a bit long in the tooth). Certainly the Ba’athists would still have an iron grip.
On the one hand, you had a large majority Shi’ite population (along with a smaller but fervent Kurdish population) controlled by a minority Sunni population. However, Saddam et al had put both the Shi’ite and Kurd populations down pretty hard after the first Gulf War, and I’m unsure how willing they would be to give it another try without some indication of outside support. On the other hand, eventually even the most brutal tyrant willing to go to the most extreme measures is going to start to lose their grip. To paraphrase Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, the more power will slip through your fingers.
I’d say that IF the Iraqis had started protests along the lines of what we are seeing in the ME and North Africa right now, it would be more like Libya than what’s happening in Jordan and Kuwait…probably much more over the top than what’s happening even in Libya actually, since Saddam had even less restraint about unleashing his military on the populace.