Saddam and Arafat: Go

March 05, 1991

The allies reportedly are ready to release 300 Iraqi prisoners of war today following the release of six American, one Italian and three British POWs. Saddam Hussein must be relieved. If 3,000 or 30,000 captured Iraqi soldiers were let go, all in a swoop, the defeated Iraqi dictator would be in even greater trouble than he now is.

Every one of the Iraqi POWs in coalition hands (and there are 60,000 of them) is a potential bacillus ready to afflict the Baghdad military regime with a mortal illness. Presumably the prisoners have been bathed, deloused, fed, treated decently and exposed to a little indoctrination on what Saddam did to the Arab world he professes to love.

How much better their fate than the beaten, battered troops, often threatened by execution squads, who escaped from the battlefront and are already challenging Saddamist rule in the strife-torn city of Basra. During the midst of the conflict, President Bush urged the Iraqi people to overthrow the leader who had brought them a decade of war, bloodshed and defeat. Perhaps the beginning of that process is at hand.

Mr. Bush's first order of business is to secure the release not only of all remaining allied POWS but of tens of thousands of Kuwaitis suspected of being in Iraqi hands. Saddam's days for holding hostages must be brought to an end. Immediately. American leverage is at its peak, and we are confident Mr. Bush knows how to use it.

Now that the postwar era has begun, all nations party to the gulf war should ponder the removal of another Arab leader -- Yasser Arafat.

This is a not the first time the boss of the Palestine Liberation Organization has led his people to disaster, but it should be the last. The Arab League should rescind its ill-considered recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. With Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other Middle East powerhouses disaffected by Mr. Arafat's embrace of Saddam Hussein, the moment for getting rid of him may have arrived.

Israel then would be more ready to deal. The process could begin with bilateral gestures between Israel and Arab states, perhaps on such subjects as trade and water and even the Golan Heights. Then, if the Palestinian people were represented by a group more acceptable than the PLO, progress could be made on self-determination and even the delineation of a Palestine homeland.

With the departure of the Saddam-Arafat duo, a new peace order really could start to take shape in the Middle East. The reconstruction of Iraq and Kuwait, the restoration of Persian Gulf waters, an end to arms trafficking, a fairer distribution of the region's great wealth -- these and other steps are clearly needed. But first must come such war-end measures as the release of all prisoners in Iraqi hands plus the deposing of Saddam and, ideally, his ally, Yasser Arafat.

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