Another Saddam Showdown

Baghdad doesn't have the instruments of democratic self-examination that are running overtime in Washington right now. If it did, Iraq would not be facing yet another hail of missiles and bombs to force compliance with United Nations requirements that, ultimately, are as much in its interest as the rest of the world's.

Instead, Iraq is saddled with a dictator determined to hold onto military capabilities that feed his dreams of personal and nationalistic glory. Those capabilities were proscribed by the UN Security Council nearly eight years ago. In the intervening years, UN arms inspectors have made considerable progress in detecting and destroying nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in Iraq. But the job isn't done.

Chief weapons inspector Richard Butler has again reported that Iraqi cooperation is wanting. Key documents are withheld; roadblocks are raised at certain sites. And this after a formal commitment by Baghdad this fall to cooperate fully.

Thus the option of force, by US and British units in the Gulf, is reactivated. There should be no saber-rattling satisfaction in this option. Suggestions that an assault on Saddam Hussein's military installations may serve to deflect attention from President Clinton's domestic problems are overly cynical. But those problems complicate timing - as do calls for more Security Council deliberation on Iraq, and the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan this weekend.

The military option arises because Saddam seems to respond to little else. But every care must be taken to ensure that targets are clearly identified and that civilians are spared. The suffering of the Iraqi people matters greatly.

Whether through tough economic sanctions from outside or repression within, that suffering has one core cause: Saddam himself. His refusal to live by agreements that ended the Gulf War, which he caused, will have to be broken, by one means or another.

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