What is our Iraq policy?

December 04, 1991|By The Sacramento Bee

WITH THE world's attention focused elsewhere, Iraqi forces are again pressing a military offensive against rebellious Kurds in the country's north. At the same time, the Bush administration says it's reviewing its policy options with a view toward taking a more aggressive stance toward Iraq. What does that mean?

In part it may simply reflect frustration over the fact that, nine months after a devastating military defeat, Saddam Hussein is still riding high, even as his people endure shortages of food, medicine and sanitary facilities and face the threat of massive disease and death as a result.

The United Nations has monitors in Iraq to ensure compliance with an agreement made last June allowing U.N. supervision of a Kurdish relief program. That mission has been extended until mid-1992 and ought to be prolonged indefinitely, at least until Baghdad complies with all the terms of its cease-fire with the U.N. Security Council, compliance that now seems very unlikely.

If the administration's get-tough talk is only that, it can achieve nothing -- indeed, may be counterproductive. There are ways to increase pressure on Hussein: Tighten economic sanctions, now routinely violated as Iraqi goods move overland into Iran and Turkey in return for food that goes mostly to the Iraqi military; deploy forces in the north under the U.N. flag in the event of a major Iraqi invasion of the area, combined with logistical support for Kurdish rebels.

Such initiatives involve risks, and so far the administration, mindful of the uncertain political consequences of inactivity as a presidential election campaign approaches, still shows no sign of having anything in mind beyond what it's already done -- threatening to review its options.

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