United Nations Keeps Saddam In Global Spotlight
Unfinished business includes aid and weapons program
UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — TO the consternation of George Bush, Saudi Arabia, and much of the West, Saddam Hussein still rules Iraq.
But a strong and varied United Nations presence there ensures that he rules with much less freedom than he had before the Gulf war.
"The UN mission in effect shines the light of international attention on his every move and it makes it far more difficult for him to rebuild his military potential," says Edward Luck, president of the United Nations Association of the USA. "I think as long as he's in power there's going to be a need for a UN presence there."
The UN played an important role before the war in building a consensus for action. But only at the end of hostilities did the UN's operational role really begin. And a year after the war, the UN still has a laundry list of unfinished business in Iraq:
* A demarcation commission has yet to determine the precise 200-kilometer (125-mile) border between Iraq and Kuwait.
* Lightly armed troops from the Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission monitor the demilitarized zone between the two nations.
* The UN's August 1990 economic sanctions are still very much in place.
One exception to the sanctions is the Security Council's willingness to allow Iraq to sell up to $1.6 billion in oil. Two-thirds of the money would be used to buy food and medicine. The rest would compensate those who suffered in the Iraqi invasion and underwrite escalating UN expenses. Iraq balks at the UN terms as an invasion of its sovereignty, but will discuss the issue again in February.
* UN-coordinated humanitarian aid continues. Just two weeks ago the UN released a new six-month, $145 million extension and hopes to move from relief to reconstruction.
* The Special Commission on Iraqi Disarmament and the International Atomic Energy Agency continue to search for and eliminate Iraq's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and the facilities used to produce them. Low marks on cooperation
Just last week Iraqi officials admitted - when faced with a stockpile of incriminating evidence - that they had bought thousands of parts for centrifuge devices, which are capable of making enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
The UN has long given Iraqis low marks on cooperation. Few TV-watchers will soon forget the parking lot standoff last September between Iraqi troops and UN inspectors. Though they have had to fight hard for almost everything they have found, UN officials have uncovered a much larger and more developed nuclear program in Iraq than most experts suspected.
"I find it extraordinary that the [UN] efforts have uncovered so much that the CIA and other intelligence agencies in the world hadn't known," says Mr. Luck. "The fact that we know now is an important step forward."
President Bush noted last week in his quarterly report to Congress that 62 ballistic missiles and numerous other weapons supports and missile warheads have been destroyed. Central Intelligence Agency chief Robert Gates told Congress that Iraq still had several hundred Scud missiles. UN inspectors will be hard pressed to know when to stop their weapons search.
"The problem is that you never know when you've got it all - that's why you want a long-term [UN] presence," says Thomas McNaugher, a defense expert with the Brookings Institution and an Army reservist who helped coordinate emergency relief in Kuwait City last February. New line of work for UN?
The UN's unusual role in Iraq could mark the beginning of a major new line of work for the UN. The organization helped to demobilize troops in Nicaragua at the close of that conflict and soon will play a similar role in El Salvador and Cambodia.
"Traditionally this has not been a role for the UN ... but the whole world is beginning to move from arms control to disarmament," says Luck. One day the UN may even oversee the dismantling of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, he says.
While sanctions now appear firm, there is growing pressure in some quarters to lift them on humanitarian grounds. Any UN-Iraqi deal struck on oil sales would be likely to ease such pressure. But Bush insists the sanctions should remain as long as Saddam is in power. And some experts say the sanctions do not pinch as hard as Saddam would have the world believe.
"My own view is that there is sufficient leakage in the sanctions," says Marvin Zonas, a Middle East expert with the University of Chicago. "So that while the hardship inflicted on the Iraqi people is substantial, it's not so great that sanctions should be discontinued.... We ought to maintain them."
Mr. McNaugher agrees that most Iraqis are probably not as badly off as many suspect. "My understanding is there's a lot of food coming across the borders from Turkey and Jordan," he says.
However, he is concerned that as news about weapons discoveries in Iraq moves off the front pages, pressure may increase to lift sanctions: "I think we're in sort of a slow-motion race between whether Saddam falls first or the international support for sanctions slowly erodes. There's a potential for serious embarrassment there for the president."