West Refines Strategy To Safeguard Shiites

Western allies consolidate support for military moves in Iraq designed to protect rebels in the south

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE Bush administration is sending Iraqi President Saddam Hussein clear warnings that further defiance of United Nations cease-fire terms will likely meet military resistance.

At the top of the UN coalition agenda is putting a stop to Iraq's harsh treatment of dissident Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq.

The United States, Britain, and France have been conferring with other nations over a plan to bar Iraqi warplanes from flying over Iraq's southern marshlands, where Iraqi attacks on Shiites are reportedly on the increase. Kurds in the north have long been protected from Iraqi planes by a similar ban.

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UN Security Council Resolution 688 of April 1991 demands that Iraq stop repressing the Kurds and other civilians, such as the Shiites, and discuss human and political rights.

A new US-led proposal would establish a "no-fly" zone below the 32nd parallel to protect Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq. (US measures, Page 7.) The move coincided with a visit to Baghdad by Jan Eliasson, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, who wants to renew the memorandum of understanding that governs visa and travel arrangements for UN guards and humanitarian workers in Iraq. Many of the workers still there report increased harassment since it expired June 30.

The allied move to further protect Shiites and others in southern Iraq stems in part from a meeting of the Security Council Aug. 11. The session was requested by the US, Britain, France, and Belgium to hear from Max van der Stoel, a special investigator for the UN Commission on Human Rights.

He warned that Iraqi food blockades affecting minorities in both the north and the south could require a major relief operation and that increasing Iraqi air attacks in the south suggest a military push there to regain control.

Before Mr. Van der Stoel spoke, four Council members argued that human rights was an inappropriate topic for the Council. Zimbabwe's representative said the move could make other UN agencies "redundant" and create an institutional crisis.

Such objections would take on added significance if the US returns to the Council for authorization. Right now, however, the US stance is that no further UN authority is needed.

Austria's Ambassador to the UN, Thomas Hajnoczi, who delivered one of the strongest speeches on behalf of human rights on Aug. 11, says he is "quite sure" that any move to intervene on behalf of the Shiites would not get full Council support. He points to the original vote on Council Resolution 688 as an indicator. Cuba and Yemen (neither are Council members any longer) and Zimbabwe voted against the measure. China and India abstained. Iraq, UN claim victory

Iraq's challenges to UN cease-fire terms range from a refusal to accept Kuwait's borders to turning down the Security Council's offer to let Baghdad sell $1.6 billion of oil for food and medicine.

But it was Iraq's early August announcement that no more government ministries would be opened to UN weapons inspectors that drew a strong reaction from President Bush. Iraq's challenge followed a three-week standoff over a UN team's request to visit the Agriculture Ministry. In the end, both the UN and Iraq claimed victory. Iraq allowed the visit, but by a team without weapons' experts from countries that fought Iraq. Iraq also vowed not to permit any more inspections of ministry buildings.

News reports followed that the Bush administration was planning a confrontation with Saddam over access to ministry buildings. A US air strike would follow if Baghdad put its pledge to refuse access into practice, reports said.

Bush and other administration figures angrily denounced the reports of a contrived confrontation aimed at boosting the president's political fortunes. And the latest UN inspection team ended its work apparently without asking to inspect a ministry building, and returned without incident Aug. 18 to Bahrain. The US has long been a key provider of weapons intelligence to the UN. Washington was reported recently to have shared new data with UN experts including tips on documents and materiel in Iraqi ministr ies.

The team got significant new information about Iraq's ballistic missile program, but had no government ministries on its agenda, says Timothy Trevan, a spokesman for the UN Special Commission overseeing disposal of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Still, he says UN inspectors visited Iraq's Ministry of Industry and Minerals in February and may visit other ministries.

"The right is established," says Mr. Trevan. "We will inspect wherever we wish when we have a need to do so. It's not the Iraqi government that decides where we go or what our rights are." Wisdom of a confrontation

If Iraq tries again to dictate terms and the US retaliates, alone or with others, few Security Council members are likely to question the legality of such a response, but many may question its wisdom, says Jeffrey Laurenti, an expert on multilateral diplomacy with the United Nations Association of the USA.

"I think the US is probably risking less in terms of politics at the UN than it is in terms of the politics of Iraq," says Mr. Laurenti.

Noting that Iraqi opposition leaders have argued that an attack against Iraq could rally support for Iraq's president, Mr. Laurenti says that to many "there's a sense that Saddam Hussein is on his last legs."

Asked if there is any enthusiasm among Arab states for a military strike against Iraq if UN resolutions are not heeded, League of Arab States spokesman Hassan Osmann Abdeldaim says, "I don't think anyone would be enthusiastic about military action anywhere."

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