Saddam's Actions No Surprise

Ruthless moves against international aid workers and Iraqi citizens have kept Iraq in turmoil since the end of the Gulf war

IRAQI President Saddam Hussein's antics at the Kuwaiti border have raised serious concerns about the stability of the Persian Gulf region. But Saddam's behavior should come as no surprise given his ongoing mass murders, mutilations, and assassinations of Iraqi citizens. So why has there been a brouhaha over some 60,000 Iraqi troops, including elite Republican Guards, moving within 30 miles of Kuwait? The concern of the United States that its troops respond quickly is justified by vital US strategic interests in the region and a commitment to ensuring the integrity of the Kuwaiti border. Yet deploying troops and vessels to the Persian Gulf is only a short-term solution to the larger problem of Saddam. The real crisis in Iraq is that the US and its allies have allowed Saddam's reign of terror to continue so long.

We should not be surprised at Iraqi troop movements: Saddam is behaving exactly in the way we have permitted him to act since the Gulf war ended. Terrorism has continued in his postwar tenure, most notably against humanitarian relief workers and local populations, such as Kurds in the north and Shiites in the southern marshlands. In early 1992, after growing bored with bombing humanitarian relief cargoes, Saddam began a campaign of attacking and assassinating relief workers.

By February of this year, Baghdad was offering $10,000 for each successful attack or killing of a Westerner. March and April brought more reckless behavior than usual. United Nations guards were seriously wounded. On April 2, Saddam's terrorists killed a dedicated supporter of the Kurdish people, German journalist Lissy Schmidt. As punishment, Saddam received a slap on the wrist while Iraqi Kurdish officials were formally reprimanded for not acting swiftly enough to apprehend the criminals.

Saddam also continues to threaten and control minority populations. Since 1991, he has maintained an internal embargo against the north, cutting off revenue, food, and supplies traditionally provided by Baghdad to the Kurds. On May 5, 1993, Saddam withdrew the ``Swiss'' 25-dinar note from the economy, replacing it with his own ``photocopied'' dinar. A currency crisis continues today, with north and south further divided by two worthless dinars recognized mainly in their respective regions.

Last year Saddam cut electricity to the northern governorate of Dihok, depriving 750,000 people of power from the commercial grid. Relief provided by US- and UN-procured generators is unlikely to survive future shocks from the south. It has been over 430 days since the people of Dohuk have received full electricity. Further, Saddam has been draining the southern marshlands and conducting military maneuvers in Shiite homelands. These actions have resulted in mass murders and an exodus of over 60,000 Shiites into Iran. Approximately 9,000 Shiites remain in refugee camps along the Iran-Iraq border.

The deteriorating situation in Iraq today is a direct consequence of Saddam's decision to keep local populations desperate and dependent on him. Since September 1992, the UN Security Council has offered Baghdad the option of selling $1.6 billion worth of oil every six months to pay for critical imports, such as food, under UN supervision. Saddam has refused this offer as an affront to his state's sovereignty. In doing so, he has allowed medical warehouses to be depleted, food prices to rise more than 250 percent, and exchange rates to depreciate more than 200 percent in the past year. At the same time, income levels of civil servants and teachers remain on average $5 to $7 monthly.

Whether or not troop movements are a bluff, they also reflect serious internal woes in Baghdad. Over the past year, opposition to Saddam has increased, notably from Iraqi troops and political officials. In late 1993, Saddam responded with assassinations. Some victims were Juburs, members of a southern tribe that traditionally has comprised a significant percentage of elite Republican Guards. Saddam also has reshuffled cabinet posts, firing and executing those accused of plotting against him. Exchange-house merchants have been killed for conducting activities harmful to the Iraqi state, i.e., Saddam and his son's businesses. In the effort to tighten his inner circle and control the state apparatus, Saddam has weakened military ranks. His actions along the Kuwaiti border, preceded by similar but smaller-scale tactics along the Iraqi-Kurdish border, may reflect these manpower modifications and the need to reallocate resources.

The Kuwait border show is another sign that Saddam has not changed. Rapid US military response is certainly necessary. However, we should not deceive ourselves by thinking this action has headed Saddam off. Quite the contrary. Once again, the US has reacted to another Baghdad tactic that presses American containment policy through a show of military force. Instead of expending vital resources and capital outlays for ongoing cat-and-mouse games, the US should take the lead in creating a war and genocide tribunal and initiate proceedings against Saddam's crimes of genocide.

Until then, we will merely respond, react, and wait on the sidelines as Saddam continues to pillage and plunder human populations.

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