Twelve Months Later

A YEAR after Iraq's tanks flattened the Kuwaiti Army, the complaint against Saddam Hussein's regime is not invasion, but evasion. Despite punishing economic sanctions and threats of bombing, the Iraqi government has dodged United Nations demands to divulge the full extent of its nuclear and chemical weaponry.UN inspectors say the official Iraqi tally on chemical arms grossly understated the facts. They also charge that Iraq has tried to destroy or bury nuclear equipment before inspectors could get to it. UN teams now in Iraq note, however, a more "forthcoming" attitude among Saddam's officials. Baghdad had been clinging to the nationalistic bravado that led to the events of last Aug. 2. The resumption of air attacks to eliminate Saddam's nonconventional arsenal would carry a host of political risks - risks heightened by the slow, but still hopeful approach of a regional conference on the Arab-Israeli dispute. But such attacks can't be ruled out as a final response to Iraqi intransigence, and Saddam would compound the monumental misjudgment of last August if he assumed otherwise. The presence of Saddam - still playing chicken with the international community and trying to placate his people with pledges of democratization - is the most galling piece of unfinished business from Desert Shield and Desert Storm. But his personal removal, though endlessly discussed, was never the goal of US and allied operations. Neither was the establishment of democracy in Kuwait. The immediate goals were attained: a rollback of Iraq's invasion and protection of Saudi Arabia's oil lode. So are the lofty aims of a new world order and a more peaceful Middle East, often evoked during the Gulf crisis, simply distant dreams? No, but they entail extraordinarily difficult work that could absorb diplomats and policymakers for years to come. The violence unleashed by Saddam remains a powerful incentive to push ahead with efforts to resolve the Middle East's central, demagogue-breeding conflict and to curb the region's appetite for ever more deadly weaponry.

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