A litany of post-war horrors

April 15, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

THE PERMANENT U.N. cease-fire in Iraq in theory, closes the book on the issue of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. But it is hard to escape the feeling that a Pandora's box has been opened in the gulf, threatening to bedevil the region for years to come.

Baghdad's horrible war against Kurdish and Shiite rebels now lodges like an insomnia-inducing nightmare, disturbing any sense of allied accomplishment for Iraq's humiliating expulsion from "Province 19." Hundreds of thousands of Kurds are taking refuge on the Turkish-Iraq border, prompting the Bush administration to launch what is being touted as "one of the largest humanitarian efforts ever," in the Pentagon's effusive words.

Too bad that effort comes a bit on the tardy side, not only for the many Kurds and Shiites who are now dead or sure to die, but for the reputation of the Bush administration, which had been basking in the glory of the great U.S.-led victory.

But now international criticism is rising -- and domestic doubts. A new Gallup poll shows a 14 percent drop in public approval for the way President Bush has been handling the post-war gulf. Strains are also showing among the allies. The other day British Prime Minister John Major offered an interesting proposal for a U.N.-backed resolution calling for a zone of safe haven for Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. Member states of the European Economic Community strongly backed the idea, but the Bush administration, while shaking a new stick at Baghdad, and warning Hussein from continuing air and ground operations in a wide swath of northern Iraq, scoffed at it.

Too bad. At worst, Major's proposal might have loomed like a fearsome 2-by-4 over the head of Baghdad; even a serious discussion of the proposal at the United Nations might dissuade Saddam Hussein from pursuing his campaign to liquidate the rebels.

Certainly Washington should not shoot down the British plan for aiding the Kurds as quickly as it proposes to shoot down any rebel-attacking Iraqi helicopters or planes.

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