Quarrel with Iraq Bombing threat: Reasons for dispute can be found in Baghdad, not Washington.

January 28, 1998

THE CRESCENDO of threats by American public figures to bomb targets in Iraq may be ill-advised. But it is not new and not frivolous. Despite similarities to a satirical new movie, "Wag the Dog," the threats are not cynically designed to distract attention from the scandal in which President Clinton finds himself, but predate it.

What the United States demands from Iraq is to cease developing biological and chemical warfare and to scrap weapons it now possesses. The Iraqis have never given United Nations inspectors an honest declaration of their materials. Inspectors suspect the Iraqis have stores of disease weapons, such as anthrax and botulin, and missiles to carry them hundreds of miles.

The war of nerves and the diplomacy to disarm Iraq have heated up. What sounds like saber-rattling by U.S. officials is the bad-cop part of that. The visit to Baghdad by Russia's deputy foreign minister is the good-cop side.

The Russians want to talk dictator Saddam Hussein into complying with U.N. resolutions, and then to end U.N. economic sanctions. So does France. President Jacques Chirac insisted Monday that Iraq comply with U.N. resolutions and allow inspection of its so-called presidential palaces.

So the United States, while pressing the issue of unimpeded inspections, is not off on its own. Nor should it be. One of the dictator's goals is to drive wedges between the United States and its Arab friends (such as Saudi Arabia), and those of its European friends that wish to participate in Iraq's oil industry (France and Russia). A unilateral U.S. airstrike might serve that purpose. He might be trying to provoke it.

So far, only Britain vigorously supports the United States all the way, preparing to join any airstrike. The goal of U.S. diplomacy must be to restore world unanimity against Iraq's chemical and biological warfare capability. Such a priority does not rule out military action. But it would ensure that none be conducted unilaterally, counterproductively or out of frustration.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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