Iraq, UN Continue Test of Wills

Some analysts call for fresh look at standoff following Security Council warning

THE United States and the United Nations Security Council are trying to keep the pressure on an increasingly defiant Iraq.

Baghdad has made it clear over the last several days that it has had its fill of what it sees as harshly punitive UN and Western measures imposed after the Gulf war. The Security Council insists that Iraq itself agreed to the cease-fire terms and must fulfill them.

The US continues to mull various military options, saying no further warning to Baghdad is needed. The Security Council, in a nonbinding statement announced late Jan. 11, accused Iraq of "material breaches" of cease-fire terms and warned of "serious consequences" unless Iraq cooperates. It was the second warning in four days.

US Gen. John Shalikashvili said Jan. 12 that Iraq had rendered anti-aircraft missiles operational in the northern no-fly zone over Kurdish areas.

The current spate of Iraqi challenges began last month when Iraqi planes began to fly in the Western-imposed no-fly zone over southern Iraq. After the US shot down one of the planes, Baghdad deployed several surface-to-air missiles inside the zone.

A day after the US, Britain, France, and the Russian Federation issued a move-the-missiles-or-else ultimatum on Jan. 6, Iraq said it would ban all flights by UN planes to and from Iraq. The Security Council, until then not directly involved, issued a firm reprimand. As Iraq's Foreign Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahaf later explained in a letter to the Council president, Iraq's planes are "parked and rusting" in airports around the world because of UN economic sanctions. He said the Iraqi planes should be l eased and substituted for UN planes.

Groups of up to 200 Iraqis then made several forays into Kuwait, which Iraq still considers its 19th province, in one case removing Silkworm surface-to-surface missiles and explosives.

Iraq had been authorized by the UN to retrieve - by Jan. 15 - supplies abandoned after the war at the former Iraqi naval base, which now straddles the new border between Iraq and Kuwait. Yet Iraq, which does not recognize that border, did not secure the required advance clearance from UN observers there. Iraq also was not authorized to remove any military equipment, which UN troops were to destroy.

The Council also repeated its demand of Jan. 8 that UN weapons inspectors be allowed to use their own aircraft to fly in and out of the country and called Iraq's border activities a "clear-cut defiance" of UN resolutions. The Council asked UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to "urgently explore" a possible increase in the size of the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission.

Iraq has frequently challenged UN cease-fire terms. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has appeared before the Security Council twice since last March to urge that the economic sanctions placed against Iraq in 1990 be removed. The Council has refused to consider any change. A fresh look needed

Yet some analysts argue that circumstances have shifted enough to warrant a fresh look at the situation.

Recent Iraqi moves are less a calculated strategy than a series of reflex actions stemming from frustration over continued sanctions, says Dr. Clovis Maksoud, former Arab League ambassador to the UN.

"Saddam Hussein's reaction is what I might call adolescent or childish," he says. "By the same token, the US, in focusing on that, is equally, if not childish, not mature. Somebody has to bring a certain rationality to the discourse."

"Nobody can tolerate Saddam Hussein's ruthlessness," Dr. Maksoud says. "But on the other hand, it's important to distinguish between humbling the Iraqi regime and humiliating the Iraqi people. That situation is blurred."

"Iraq has been given no incentive to cooperate further except for the stick," says Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at Cornell University. "If Iraq assumes that the real objective of the sanctions is to bring down the government, it's not going to commit suicide.... It's basically a question of who's going to blink next."

Dr. Telhami says a broader look at the Middle East is needed. Israel's refusal to heed the recent Security Council resolution demanding the return of expelled Palestinians has prompted many Arab officials, he says, to question whether the UN is following a double standard by not moving to enforce the resolution. Council lacks balance

Maksoud agrees that by allowing Israel to become what he calls an exception to the rule of law, while requiring Iraq to "meticulously implement" every UN resolution, the Council lacks a certain balance. The result, he says, may trigger even more Arab sympathy for Iraq.

"This is not a savory regime, one that is ready to assume a [responsible] role in the area," says Victor Levine, a Middle East expert at St. Louis University.

"I don't think there is any real room for reassessing the situation," he adds. "One thing we can do is continue to assist Saddam's internal enemies and insist upon [Iraq's] full compliance with the UN resolutions.... This is not the time to say, `Well, maybe you've got a point, Jack.' "

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