The Agony of Iraq

March 26, 1991

Throughout the 1980s, the United States protected Kuwait, which was helping Iraq fight Iran. Then Iraq swallowed Kuwait, and then the United States attacked Iraq. Now the United States and the Shiite fundamentalist regime in Iran, which do not recognize each other, jointly help Iraqi insurgents try to depose President Saddam Hussein. Where will it all end?

The late shah of Iran, who was deposed in 1979 and died the next year, was supposedly a monarchist of the right, while President Hussein is officially a revolutionary of the left. Their similarities are astonishing. The royal shah was actually son of a military usurper who seized power as Saddam Hussein later did in Iraq, and had had himself crowned. The shah ruled by a ruthless secret police who struck pre-emptively at any opposition, as Saddam Hussein does.

The shah conjured up comparisons to ancient Persian emperors, as Mr. Hussein does to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who seized Jerusalem, and Saladin, the 12th Century Kurd who defeated the European Christians in Palestine. The shah turned Iran's oil wealth into an incalculable personal fortune. Mr. Hussein has done the same with Iraq's. A financial sleuth employed by the Kuwaiti royal house, which has vast portfolio holdings itself, says that Saddam Hussein and his associates "skimmed" $10 billion off Iraq's oil revenues and enjoy a stock-holding in Western business of at least $1 billion.

His preference for ancient potentates notwithstanding, Mr. Hussein bears strongest comparison to European fascists of a half-century ago. He is throwing every part of his military machine that escaped destruction against his own people, who were always his enemy. They in turn have gained courage from a perception that his end is near, and fire rifles at his tanks, as Hungarian freedom fighters once did against Russians'.

The Iranian fundamentalist regime sends arms not only to the Shiite Arabs in the south, but also to Kurds in the north, whose kin in Iran are no friends of Tehran. The Kurds have curbed their rhetoric to demand autonomy within Iraq rather than dismemberment of it. The Shiites of the south say a regime cannot be exclusively Shiite. Fighting has spread to the capital. Mr. Hussein shuffled his government in meaningless ways.

Iraqis are suffering hunger, disease, poverty, combat, torture and fear. The sooner the secret police regime of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen is rooted out, the better. Iraq is a diverse and modern state, prosperously endowed with water and oil. It needs a regime that is legitimate equally to its Arab Shiite, Arab Sunni and Kurdish Sunni populations. The sooner that is achieved, the sooner the agony of Iraq may end.

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