Fri, 23 Feb 2001

Iraq chips away at UN inspection

Despite claims that last week's air strikes (on Baghdad) were routine, they took place in changing circumstances. The most obvious is that new U.S. President George W. Bush wanted to send a signal to Baghdad, and the world, that he considers Iraq policy one of the keystones to U.S. diplomacy. He personally signed off on the defensive strikes, which were close to Baghdad, as did Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. The two Iraqi civilians who apparently were killed were too many. But such a low casualty toll also proves the allies' contention that they aimed at military targets.

Iraq has attacked its neighbors, most brutally Kuwait and Iran. Even the highly sympathetic UN aid organization has complained publicly that Iraq imports luxury goods for a few, over the needs of health, education, water and sanitation.

Iraqi agents went to Kuwait to assassinate members of the royal family ... and to Europe to kill opposition members. The dictators have gassed their own Kurdish people and Iranian soldiers. Mr. Saddam's reaction to last week's bombing was to threaten to raise an army to march on Jerusalem. He wants to lead all Arabs, not just his country.

Iraq has refused to allow international inspection of its weapons factories and stores. It continues to threaten to re- invade Kuwait, although that neighbor has not raised a finger against Baghdad. For these reasons, and others, it is important to contain Iraq as long as it is under the current dictatorship. There is general agreement, from Britain to Bangkok, that the 1991 agreement signed by Saddam Hussein is neither working nor work able. There also is worldwide sympathy for the plight of the Iraqis -- which is unlikely to be helped quickly by an opposition uprising, even with US help. Such sympathy and concern is not misplaced. It must not, however, override the primary task, which is to keep Iraq and its offensive government and weapons in check.

The air patrols over Iraq are necessary to watch Baghdad, and air strikes against threatening weapons are fully justified. Allied air strikes are no substitute for a coherent policy, acceptable to most nations. It is not necessary to make war on Iraq again. But it is vital for the UN and its senior members to work together. They need a program that can help Iraqis, while blocking the Iraq government. The aim is unchanged -- to prevent Baghdad from threatening the world.

-- The Bangkok Post