Courtesy Reuters

Getting It Backward on Iraq

LET'S MAKE A DEAL

The latest twist in the Clinton administration's Iraq policy is an attempt to ratchet up military and political pressure on Saddam Hussein. The brief but intensive air campaign of December 1998 -- Operation Desert Fox -- was followed by an expansion of the rules of engagement for American and British pilots patrolling the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. Iraqi provocations and subsequent allied reprisals against Iraqi military targets now occur almost daily.

The administration has also appointed a special coordinator for Iraq, Frank Ricciardone, to oversee implementation of the Iraq Liberation Act and help coordinate efforts by Iraqi opposition groups to overthrow Saddam. Both Ricciardone and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Martin Indyk have held public consultations with opposition figures, including representatives of the largest Iraqi Shiite organization, the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI) -- a group the administration had previously avoided because of its close connections to Iran. A serious debate is now underway between those who advocate a greater commitment of American force to topple Saddam and those who argue that containment of Iraq is the only feasible U.S. goal.

This new level of activity and debate, however, has obscured the immediate crisis that U.S. Iraq policy faces. On the ground in Iraq, there is currently no monitoring or inspection of Iraq's capacity to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The United Nations Special Commission for the disarmament of Iraq (UNSCOM) has effectively ceased to function; its inspectors have been withdrawn and its long-term monitoring systems abandoned.

The United States, meanwhile, continues to support crippling economic sanctions on Iraq that have neither weakened Saddam's hold on power nor prevented him from pursuing his WMD programs. They have, however, reduced the Iraqi people to penury. Iraqi society, once relatively prosperous and solidly middle class, is now mired in a daily struggle for survival. Most people live hand to mouth, relying on inadequate rations provided

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