Keeping an eye on Iraq Kuwait exercises: Jittery Saddam Hussein still knows how to make trouble.

December 22, 1996

GIVE A THOUGHT to the 2,200 U.S. Marines who went ashore in Kuwait beginning Friday to hold joint exercises with Kuwaiti armed forces through January. Was there some good reason they had to miss the holiday with their families? Yes, exactly. They are a signal to Saddam Hussein of Iraq that the United States is not turned off and tuned out, that he cannot mount a sneak attack while no one notices.

In some ways, the permanent crisis in Iraq is diminished. On Thursday, it ordered 300,000 metric tons of wheat from France and Australia for some $40 million. The first of it will arrive in January to begin alleviating the hunger that six years of economic sanctions have produced. This is the first fruit of the deal for carefully monitored six-month resumption of oil sales and humanitarian purchases reached with the United Nations. It should reduce tensions.

But then there was the assassination attempt that wounded the dictator's son, Uday, on Dec. 12. He is the most hated figure in his father's entourage. If motive were all, the suspects would be legion. But the job was bungled. Uday Hussein emerges stronger than ever. For whatever reason, the regime decided to blame the attack on neighboring enemy Iran. Not to let the U.S. off the hook, Baghdad then claimed Friday to have broken up a CIA spy ring.

In New York on Wednesday, the U.N. chief arms inspector Rolf Ekeus told the Security Council that, after his latest visit to Baghdad, he believes Iraq has "a significant number of operational missiles that could constitute a complete missile force, including all support equipment, rocket fuel, launchers and everything." Iraq had prevented his team from bringing rocket parts out for technical analysis.

A complete accounting of all Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is required for the lifting of U.N. Security Council mandatory economic sanctions, which followed Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Iraq is not in compliance.

So while most Americans relax in the comfort of home and family, other Americans in their behalf are playing deadly serious war games in the Persian Gulf. Unending vigilance is the price of being a world power, exercising positive influence on its world environment. The gratitude of all Americans should go to the comparative few whose job that is.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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