Saddam Hussein has Fide chess men in cheque

After a year of negotiations and prevarication, the International Chess Federation (Fide) has found a sponsor for its world-championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Gata Kamsky. It will be in Baghdad, with President Saddam Hussein guaranteeing a $2m (pounds 1.3m) prize fund and performing the opening ceremony when the battle begins in June.

It brings new hope of recognition to a regime shattered by years of war, starved of international investment through its own internal conflicts and the unpredictable decisions of its autocratic leadership. Iraq has had problems too, but over recent years has been relatively peaceful compared with the world of chess.

Fide's problems came to a head in 1993 when Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short broke away to found the Professional Chess Association (PCA) and take their world title match away from Fide. This resulted in two rival championship contests, with Anatoly Karpov winning the Fide crown, while Kasparov took the PCA version. Both organisations found it increasingly difficult to attract and maintain sponsorship: Fide lacked the the strongest player in the world, while the PCA lacked the official sanction of the world governing body.

In 1994, Fide's president, Florencio Campomanes, was re-elected on a platform promising to reunify the titles. A year later, however, he had neither delivered a peace treaty nor found an organiser for the Karpov- Kamsky world-title match.

In January, Campomanes was replaced by Kirsan Ilumjinov, 33, the millionaire President of Kalmykiya, an oil-rich republic within Russia. He has taken some extraordinary decisions, the most controversial of which, before the Baghdad bombshell, was to replace the three-year world championship cycle and gladiatorial title matches with a single annual knock-out tournament lasting a couple of weeks.