After the bombing, we need a gulf policy

Anthony H. Cordesman

June 30, 1993|By Anthony H. Cordesman

WHILE the attack on the Baghdad headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence service is symbolically important, demonstrating that President Clinton is prepared to use force -- and to do so independently -- a larger vision and further action are required.

Our policy toward the Persian Gulf has been in limbo since the cease-fire in 1991.

It has been shaped largely by the hope that the limited use of force combined with the United Nations' sanctions and embargo will force Saddam Hussein from power. But it is by no means certain that this pressure can bring Saddam down. He could be felled tomorrow during internal struggles with his closest supporters or his senior military officers.

Or he could last for years, responding to U.N. and U.S. pressures by forcing new sacrifices on the Iraqi people, provoking new confrontations to arouse Iraqi nationalism and increasing the ruthlessness of his oppressive regime.

U.S. policy cannot be based on hope and a war of attrition or the fate of one man who may be replaced by an equally aggressive leader. It needs clear and achievable goals.

This means Clinton must shift from a policy based on driving Saddam from power to one based on long-term containment that the United States, our allies, in and outside the region, and the United Nations can live with.

Our policy goals might take this form:

* The Kurds. The United States evidently has quietly opposed a formal Kurdish autonomy agreement with the regime because it felt such an agreement would help Saddam stay in power.

The United States should make it clear that while it does not support an independent Kurdish nation, it does insist on the kind of formal agreement on autonomy that protects the Kurds' legal and cultural rights, and their access to a fair share of Iraqi oil revenues.

The United States ought to work with Turkey and its other allies to develop guarantees of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq that are separate from the issue of Kurdish nationalism elsewhere in the Middle East.

* Kuwait's security. Mr. Clinton needs to make it clear that there can be no new relationship and real easing of tension and U.N. sanctions without Saddam's formal agreement to Kuwait's sovereignty and Kuwait's new boundaries.

An agreement signed only by Iraqi diplomats is meaningless, but the Algiers accords on the Iran-Iraq border in 1975 showed that Iraq's leadership could sometimes be forced to keep its word -- for a while.

* The Shiites in the south. The United States should accept the fact that a no-fly zone does nothing to protect the Shiites in southern Iraq, who already are firmly under the control of Saddam's army and internal-security forces. It should acknowledge that the 3,000- to 5,000-man rebel force is no more than an Iranian proxy and cannot overthrow Saddam.

The administration should make it clear that it would drop the no-fly zone in exchange for formal Iraqi agreement to the new Kuwaiti border and recognition of Kuwaiti sovereignty.

* Human rights. We have lost the battle to enforce the U.N. cease-fire agreements on human rights, except in the Kurdish security zone. The Iraqi army, security forces and secret police -- are in control, and formal Iraqi agreements to preserve human rights will be symbolic at best.

We need to shift to a policy exposing Iraq's abuses. That means expanding the State Department's human rights report and helping Amnesty International, Middle East Watch and the world's media by using our intelligence to disclose every new human rights abuse and publicly name the Iraqi officials responsible.

Saddam will ultimately go; even today few officials want to be identified as the henchmen who carried out his orders.

* Weapons of mass destruction. The United states should help the United Nations set realistic goals for what the U.N. Special Commission and International Atomic Energy Agency can actually accomplish in the next six to 12 months, and demand that Iraq meet those goals.

It has to accept the grim fact that nothing the United States and United Nations can do can stop Iraq from eventually recovering its capability to use chemical and biological weapons, launch long-range missiles and exploit its nuclear weapons technology.

The best we can do is to delay this recovery as long as possible.

Washington should insist on a continuing international embargo on the transfer of all technology and equipment that would enable Baghdad to acquire such weapons. It should be prepared to reduce the leakage in such an embargo by sanctions on foreign countries and companies that violate it.

* Reparations, war crimes trials and the economic embargo. The sweeping U.N. resolutions and terms of the cease-fire dealing with war crimes and reparations are already unenforceable and doing more damage to the Iraqi people than Saddam. They are, however, powerful threats.

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