Saddam: Back Again?

August may mean beach lolling for most people in the northern hemisphere. But it's hardly holiday time for pols and soldiers. World War I rumbled into action in August. So did the 1965 India-Pakistan war over Kashmir. Boris Yeltsin outfoxed two Moscow coup attempts in August.

And then there's Saddam Hussein. He started action against Iran in August 1980, leading to eight years of savage war. That ended in an August 1988 cease-fire, millions of casualties later, with the Iran-Iraq Gulf border back where it started. Then, two years later - in August - Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait and abruptly made peace with Iran, presumably hoping to dominate world oil supplies.

That August the UN imposed sanctions against Iraq and US forces were dispatched to Saudi Arabia. The latter led to Desert Storm. The former foreshadowed the tough post-war UN sanctions intended to abolish Iraq's nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs.

Now it's August again and there are signs that President Hussein will try another showdown to end UN sanctions and get full oil revenues flowing. There's speculation that he may see President Clinton's Lewinsky problems as providing an opening.

That could be another miscalculation by the otherwise clever leader who blundered disastrously in invading Iran, gassing Kurdish separatists, and invading Kuwait. He might provide Clinton both a crisis and a villain to divert Americans' attention from scandal headlines.

Ironically, neither Saddam Hussein nor Bill Clinton served in the military before becoming commander in chief. In Hussein's case this has led to frictions with some commanders as well as bad strategic judgment. He's not likely to get UN sanctions erased, since the US and UK wield vetoes - even though Iraq has gained sympathy in the Mideast and Europe.

The most he can hope for is some further easing for humanitarian purposes. That much, Washington should concede.

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