Iraq discredits itself Obstruction tactics: Kicking out inspectors suggests illicit arms program.

January 17, 1998

SADDAM HUSSEIN'S Iraq shows continual bad faith in obstructing United Nations inspections for illicit weapons. It has a history of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons development. It behaves as if its chemical and biological research continues. By denying sites to the inspectors most likely to find evidence, it invites suspicion.

The only reason Iraq objects to the American leader of one inspection team, Scott Ritter, is that Mr. Ritter is competent, trained, good at his job and has found evidence of violations of the conditions for ending U.N. sanctions -- signs of experimentation on human prisoners. Americans do not

dominate the staff of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM). Only a handful of countries produce qualified experts. China until now has refused to contribute staff members but, in the the wake of the latest crisis, is doing so.

It is important for the U.N. Security Council to maintain resolve and focus. Iraq's dictator is thumbing his nose at it, not at the U.S. The proper response would not be knee-jerk air attacks, which would split the U.N. It is to retain sanctions. They are on until United Nations inspectors certify that Iraq is free of chemical, biological and nuclear war-making preparations. Rendering certification impossible keeps the sanctions on.

At least two permanent members of the Security Council, France and Russia, want sanctions to end so they can do oil business with Iraq. They are right. Sanctions hurt innocents and were never intended to be a permanent condition. Saddam Hussein can easily comply with the conditions that would have them lifted, and refuses to do so.

U.S. diplomacy must be directed at keeping France, Russia and China on board, not with escalation of the quarrel but with reminders of what it is about. Their pressure should be on Iraq to comply, not on the U.S. and Britain to forget the purpose of the sanctions.

Iraq's oil is now flowing out in measured amounts to provide humanitarian purchases of food and medicine. Assuming a long test of nerves with a relentless adversary, Western leaders should work on tailoring sanctions that would be felt by Iraq's ruling class and not its common people. This is not easy.

The purpose of sanctions is to get Iraq out of making weapons of horrible mass destruction. It is not to drive Saddam Hussein from power, however desirable such an outcome, or to punish him for past misdeeds or to show American toughness. The U.N.'s ultimatum is reasonable. The governments most sympathetic to Iraq in this crisis should be counseling it on how to end this dangerous stalemate.

Pub Date: 1/17/98

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